When you feel like an outsider, it’s impossible to feel like you belong. Others will work hard to see your failure, but this just means you have to work harder to show your success. There is a big misconception that gender discrimination is outdated. There is a notion that discrimination is illegal so it must not exist. Ironically, within our judicial system — the people we entrust to interpret our laws and constitution — gender discrimination is still a major problem. The hurdles exist. The justice scales are tipped. Every day women are made to feel like they don’t belong in the courtroom. As a young female, I have been assured that I will never belong in the field I see myself working in. Though women have never become discouraged in the face of discrimination, its time to bring these issues to light and extinguish them once and for all.
According to a recent survey completed by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, of nearly 3,000 lawyers, female lawyers are more likely than their male counterparts to be interrupted, to be mistaken for non-lawyers, to do more office housework, and to have less access to prime job assignments. These may seem like minor inconveniences, but when you take a closer look, it is obvious that these issues are actually majorly interfering with how women perform their work. It is galling that over 50% of female attorneys have reported being mistaken for custodial staff, administrative staff, or other court personnel.
“I have frequently been assumed to be a court reporter. In my own firm, I’ve been asked if I am a legal administrative assistant on multiple occasions, even after making partner,” reported one female lawyer.
Women are expected to be helpful and subservient and therefore face pressure to perform office tasks such as scheduling meetings, planning parties, and cleaning up. This non-legal work takes women away from their important careers at hand.
In order to succeed in the legal field, assertiveness and self-promotion are necessary traits for attorneys. While these traits can be easily displayed for men, women must follow a fine line. In my own experience will collegiate mock trial, judges are quick to praise a man who is aggressive in court. However, when a female acts within the same wavelength, she is asked to refrain from such behavior. “If they are too assertive, then they are criticized for not behaving in a ladylike fashion. If they are not assertive enough, then they are often seen as lacking the confidence needed to succeed” (Elsesser).
Additionally, female attorneys are expected to present themselves in a certain way when in the courtroom. In mock trial, I have witnessed a female be criticized for wearing a pantsuit instead of a dress. I have been told to smile more in court — when prosecuting a mock murder trial. Women are also expected to wear makeup and direct their appearance to the outdated male expectation.
Finally, the gender wage gap is as wide as ever in the legal profession. A national survey of law firm partners found that male partners earned a staggering 44% more than female partners. The bottom line is that women are not taken as seriously as men even when doing the same, and sometimes more, work.
Even though the road to equalizing the legal profession is far ahead, the American Bar association survey authors offer strategies to help women eliminate bias in the law profession:
- Keep track of any pay differences, differences in performance ratings, or differences in assignments given to different groups.
- In order to eliminate possible bias in hiring, organizations and firms should write down exactly what qualifications are required for a particular job. If any of these qualifications are waived, the hire should be investigated for bias.
- Develop a rotation or ask administrative staff to help with tasks of office housework.
- Establish a mentoring program in order to give all employees access to guidance from senior employees.
Gender discrimination is not going to stop women from excelling in their chosen careers. However, it is disheartening to watch decades of women never claim the success they deserve. As a future female attorney, I hope to bring attention to gender bias within the legal profession and work to eradicate it once and for all.
Elsesser, Kim. “Female Lawyers Face Widespread Gender Bias, According To New Study.” Forbes, 5 Oct. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2018/10/01/female-lawyers-face-widespread-gender-bias-according-to-new-study/#5090f32c4b55. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.