The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyer Division just released a random survey of young women lawyers who are 35 years or under or who have been practicing for five or less years. The results reflect that 43% of the women surveyed reported experiencing some form of gender discrimination. Not surprisingly, the survey has received national attention such as here and here. The ABA Journal summarized the findings of the survey as
- 43 percent said they had experienced gender bias in their careers.
- 40 percent said they had experienced insensitivity by their employer or supervisor.
- 37 percent said they had experienced lack of recognition of work-life balance.
- 17 percent said they had experienced harassment.
- 21 percent said they believed they were not being paid the same as their male counterparts.
What is so sobering about these statistics is that they belong to the young women just entering the profession. The personal accounts shared by the women who participated in the survey, are not a shock to any woman reading this blog who became a lawyer twenty years ago. But the reality that gender bias is still pervasive and affecting a high percentage of young women lawyers entering the profession today is disturbing.
The personal accounts included descriptions of being drunk-dialed by senior partners, offers by opposing counsel to run away together, or being assumed to be a court reporter or the boss’s assistant while seated at counsel table. Many of the young women lawyers reported being called “blondie,” “little lady lawyer,” “honey,” or “sweetheart” by other attorneys and judges both inside or outside of the courtroom. Women described being told they didn’t need to worry about making money because they either had or would have a husband to cover living expenses.
The Florida Bar President Ramon Abadin was quoted in the Sun Sentinel as saying that the 90 pages of comments in the report “were just sobering. It’s like a bucket of cold water.” Read the comments from the actual survey here.
I for one, am embarrassed that women that have been in this profession for less than five years still have to endure this kind of discrimination. So how do we begin to resolve these problems? First, openly discussing them is a great start. Secondly, men in the field that are participating in this kind of behavior need to be exposed. Finally, women that have been in the field for many years need to take stock and ask themselves if they are doing everything they can to affect change for themselves, other women in the field, and for women that will follow.
I believe that a culture of fear has existed among women lawyers for many years. This culture promotes women minimizing and criticizing any other woman that complains about bias. This culture promotes women staying silent rather than speaking up against blatant discrimination in fear of affecting their own advancement, losing a referral source, or losing a seat at the table of men. This hasn’t had the effect of stopping bias- it has allowed it to grow and fester. I do not intend to blame other women for what are obvious and intentional acts of discrimination but women have the power to reach out to help one another and there is simply no excuse for continuing to refuse to do so based on a false sense of fear. Even if a few of us succeed by remaining silent in the end we all lose.