But overall they overcame and succeeded in America's corporate jungle. Here is the advice they offer to today's over-50 minority professionals.
Says Lois Davis, in her mid-50s, "If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be a Philadelphia lawyer, I would have laughed." Davis, who didn't enter law school until she was 43, now works for the U.S. Attorney's office in the civil division. She represents the government in a variety of cases such as discrimination, medical malpractice suits, bankruptcy, drug seizures, or unpaid small business loans, to mention a few examples.
A friendly, accomplished, and energetic woman, Davis grew up in rural Charles County, about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. When she was eleven, her father, concerned about her educational opportunities, moved the family to Washington, D.C., where Davis attended junior and senior high school. Her high school years were significant, says Davis, because Washington, D.C., schools were still segregated in 1954 when she graduated from high school. Her teachers motivated and encouraged her, she says, especially her chemistry teacher.
"There were two separate school systems, black and white," says Davis. But it happened that many of her teachers had Ph.Ds. Some had attended schools like Harvard, but couldn't get jobs in the private sector. As a result, Davis got a first-class education.
When she enrolled in Howard University, she decided to major in chemistry, which she felt was her only option, other than math, because of her mathematical abilities. "All women at that time who took math ended up teaching," she says, "and I didn't want to end up teaching math."
In 1962 Davis married her husband, Wayne, whom she met when he was a senior at the University of Connecticut. After they were married, her husband joined the FBI and began to move around the country. Davis lived and taught math ("the irony," she says) in Washington, D.C., New York, Detroit, and Newark. She had the first of her two daughters in New Jersey and stopped working until 1976.
"It was an exciting time of life," says Davis. She began to become involved in community affairs, which she credits with helping her become a lawyer. But Davis wanted new worlds to conquer. So when a friend suggested that she go to law school, Davis liked the idea, because "It brings together all the social science and scientific training I had. I love to talk and negotiate, all the things I did working for the community."
She studied for the Law Student Aptitude Test (LSAT) and scored in the 92nd percentile. A Phi Beta Kappa at Howard University, Davis says, "I could have gotten into any law school in the country with my credentials."
In 1980 she attended the first year of law school at Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis where the Davis family lived. When she first arrived, she said to herself, "I'm too old for this," and walked into a room to meet with seven other late-bloomer lawyers-to-be ranging in age from their thirties to one woman in her sixties. "We became good friends," says Davis. "We studied together and supported each other,"
Davis graduated in December 1983 from Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan, where her husband had been transferred. During one summer vacation, she worked at the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit. Upon graduation she landed a job in Detroit with Butzel, Long, Gust, & Klein, where she worked for a year and a half before her husband was transferred to Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia, Davis joined a firm with 200 lawyers, where she worked for two years. Then she heard the U.S. Attorney's office needed a trial lawyer. "I wanted to be a trial lawyer," she says, "I really like the work." She applied for the job and got it. Davis learned that life changes quickly and that after five years as a Philadelphia lawyer, she is committed to her job for now. "Later, I’ll make an evaluation," she says. "In the meantime, don't try to plan it all out" is the advice from this Philadelphia lawyer.