Saturday, April 28, 2012
A just released study by the Yale Law Women documents that class participation at Yale Law tends to be disproportionately male (H/T to Jeff and Lior Strahilevitz at Prawfblawg). Although the report offers prescriptive advice for Yale faculty and students on how to close the gap, it does not offer an empirically grounded explanation for why the gap exists in the first place. Coincidentally, I recently read another empirical study that appears to offer an answer.
In an article in the 2012 volume of Adminstrative Science Quarterly, Yale School of Management professor Victoria Brescoll provides compelling evidence that different power rules apply to women than men. Brescoll's article, "Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power, and Volubility in Organizations," found that when women possess the same objective measures of power as men, they are reluctant to use that power to speak up (i.e., be voluble) in organizational settings.
Why are powerful women less likely to speak up? Because of fear of backlash. Further, the fear is justified. Specifically, holding the objective measures of power constant, Brescoll found that when women were more voluble in meetings, they tended to be viewed as less likeable and deserving--and here is the kicker, less likeable and deserving at roughly the same levels by both male and female peers. In contrast, when powerful men were more voluble, their peers--both males and females--viewed them as more likeable and more deserving.
Wow. This is quite a problem. Brescoll observes that "the presciptions for powerful men's and women's behavior may be much more comprehensive than originally hypothesized (i.e., power men should display their power, while powerful women should not)." This differential in power rules is not something amenable to a quick, simple fix. Its root cause appears to be buried deep in both the male and female subconscious. It's hard to fix what we don't understand.
Over at Work Matters (H/T), Bob Sutton posted the perfect cartoon to summarize the Brescoll study:
It is worth noting the Yale Law Women describe social norms at Yale that essentially mirror Brescoll's results. On page 24 of the report, a YLS professor is quoted, "I think there’s an in-group dynamic where when women are gunners, they get punished more than men for doing it. Their classmates’ reactions are harsher.” The report continues, "This observation finds widespread support in the student survey among both men and women. Multiple students mentioned that there are norms about participation and women are either more likely to abide by the norms or are more likely to receive criticism for breaking them." The Brescoll study lends substantial support to this explanation. Again, not an easy problem to solve.
Some readers might be interested in a more in-depth description of Brescoll's research design. So here it goes. Brescoll results are based on the findings of three interconnected empirical studies. She starts with the established empirical fact that powerful people tend to assert their power through commanding more time--i.e., being voluble--in organizational settings. As a historical matter, most power has been held by men. Now that women have obtained some measure of social/organizational power, we want to know whether women, holding objective measures of power constant, are equally voluble.
- Study 1. Is volubility a function of power alone, with equal volubility among males and females with comparable power? According to Study 1, which studied patterns of floor time among male and female U.S. Senators (2005 session, controlled by Repulicans and 2007 session, controlled by Democrats), the answer is no. The connection between more power and more volubility was observed only among male Senators. In contrast, more power was not associated with more floor tiime taken by female Senators.
- Study 2. Following up on Study 1, Study 2 essentially asks, "why are equally powerful females more reticent than their male counterparts?" Using a controlled experiment format with male and female participants with workplace experience (average age 38, most with at least "some college" education), participants were asked to simulate an organizational meetings in which important decisions needed to be made. Holding levels of power constant, female participants were much less likely to speak-up. The primary explanatory variable was fear of social backlash.
- Study 3. The question that flows from Study 2 is essentially, "Is the female fear of backlash justfied?" Study 3 used a similar controlled experiment design to ascertain how male and females reacted to powerful CEOs. The only two variables were volubility in meetings and gender of the CEO. Remarkably, for both male and female study participants, male CEOs who dominated a meetings were viewed as competent and deserving. In contrast, for female CEOs, the opposite was true--more volubility led study participants to view powerful female CEOs as less competent and less deserving.
Very important research.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
Lior Strahilevitz (Chicago, left) has some interesting and thoughtful reactions at PrawfsBlawg to a study performed by Yale Law Women on gendered experiences of a Yale Law School education. The comments are also interesting, and one of them in particular got me thinking. An anonymous female YLS alum wrote: "I don't know how much it relates to my being female, but I do know my confidence level took a beating at YLS. I went in far more confident (and eager to speak up) than I was when I left."
I don't dispute at all that there are gendered differences as reflected in the study. If you look at the report's appendices, however, you will see that the only questions about the student's background relate to race and gender. The reason that is significant to me is that (a) I went to a law school as small and just about as "elite" as Yale, (b) had exactly the kind of substantive first-year small sections that Yale apparently doesn't offer (mine were Contracts with Jack Getman, and Property with Paul Goldstein), (c) for law school purposes I'm probably whiter than your average white male (I'm Jewish), (d) nobody has ever described me as shy or retiring, and finally (e) I felt exactly the same way as the anonymous commenter over at PrawfsBlawg. And I have pretty distinct recollections why. I went to a large public high school (suburban Detroit) and public university (Michigan) and I was intimidated by the Harvards, Yales, Amhersts, Williams, etc. and by the Exeters and St. Albans and University Schools all around me. I knew my LSAT score was at the very low end of the range. Unlike my fellow students at Michigan, my fellow students, even in my supposedly unintimidating small section, seemed to have backgrounds and sophistications that I didn't have (advanced degrees, experience working as paralegals in fancy New York law firms, parents who were lawyers, etc.).
As to the value of "speaking up" itself, I think that's very much a Yale thing, or an elite law school thing, or a law professor thing, or a law school thing, but I didn't speak up much in law school, and I've been a big law partner, a Fortune 1000 GC, and a law professor. I had only one very Socratic professor, the late John Kaplan, who called on me once and scared the living crap out of me. (He was a really nice man, but even looking at his picture now, right, scares the crap out of me.) Moreover, I had some really smart classmates (at least five or six of them are law professors now, including Bob Weisberg at Stanford, Douglas Baird at Chicago, Jan Neuman at Lewis & Clark, Randy Hertz at NYU, Lynne Henderson at UNLV), but I have to say that I have quite a few memories of things my professors said, but I cannot remember a single comment in class by a fellow student (except one: in Trust & Estates, Howard Williams asked Dick Van Duyne, also a really smart guy, the following: "Mr. Van Duyne, you are a Latin scholar. What does nunc pro tunc mean?" To which Dick replied, "Um, I don't know, maybe without tunc?"). No, I did what I think many students did when other students in large classes took the floor: I tuned out and waited until the professor started back with whatever he (and as I recall they were all "hes", so there's another point regarding the reality of the gender issues) was covering. And it impacts my reaction to being a law teacher: I'm very concerned in my somewhat dry doctrinal areas (contracts, securities reg, business associations) that so-called Socratic approaches, even the warm-hearted kind, cause many of the other students to tune out. (My default approach is probably more like a warm-hearted "Bueller, Bueller?")
The point is that the report appears to have important things to say about gender differences at Yale. It also has some pointed and pragmatic recommendations for students and professors in addressing the particular problems of "speaking up" and student-faculty interaction. But I'm not sure at all that it has anything fundamental to say about the inherent problems in legal education!
Thursday, April 26, 2012
In retrospect, it looks pretty simple: (1) find a convenient time for 1Ls, (2) provide pizza, (3) invite successful lawyers to talk about their careers, (4) have law faculty gently moderate, and (5) implement a modest attendence requirement tied to a 1L substantive course.
This is the format for Indiana Law's Career Choices program, which is an important part of our 1L Legal Professions curriculum. The goal of the Career Choices program is to provide students with a more realistic and structured view of modern law practice. The 2011-12 edition, which concluded earlier this month, consisted of 45 lawyer speakers spread over 24 lunchtime programs.
Why does this matter? If students have better information and have a broader view of the profession--created through a balanced and well structured programming--they can make sense of the world more quickly and in turn make better decisions related to their own professional development. Immediate benefits include:
- Shedding stereotypes of what lawyers do--often stereotypes created by the media and pop culture). Almost everything looks different from far away--sometimes better, sometimes worse. Although the up-close view takes time and effort to acquire, it is the view needed for reliable decisionmaking.
- Developing a more sophisticated vocabulary that enables students to adopt and mimic the language of practicing lawyers. This subtly impresses and flatters practicing lawyers. It signals engagement. And it opens doors.
- Broadening minds to consider practice areas, internships, and training opportunties that students would otherwise overlook.
- Improving student time allocation. And time is students' single greatest asset!
Because the benefits of better decisions compound over time, there is no better time to start than the 1L year. Over the medium to long term, this simple action can elevate the entire law school community.
The Career Choices Program evolved over a period of years. It is only one piece of Indiana Law's 1L Legal Professions curriculum, but it is critically important to professional identity formation. Cf. Sullivan et al., Educating Lawyers (2007) [aka The Carnegie Report] (discussing legal education's neglect of the professional identity apprenticeship).
The value of the Career Choices program can be separated into two buckets:
- What the program looks like today--let's call it Career Choices 4.0
- The evolutionary process that produced the current program.
Career Choices 4.0
The success of the Indiana Career Choices program is the result of the joint efforts of the Indiana Law faculty, our two deans of students, and our world-class Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD). Indiana Law's OCPD (staff photos below) deserves special credit. Among their many other responsibilities, they handle all the complicated event planning logistics so that it is an enjoyable experience for both lawyers and students. According to Law School Survey of Student Engagement data, Indiana Law's OCPD is objectively one of the best career services offices in the nation, at least as judged by law student respondents.
In 2011-12, the Career Choices program consisted of 24 programs featuring 45 law school graduates (approximately 85% Indiana Law alumni). It kicked off on the first day of class in January. It was then followed by a program virtually every Thursday and Friday for the next twelve weeks, excluding spring break. Career Choice forums are scheduled well in advance and space is limited (capped at ~40 to 100 student depending upon room size). To attend, students sign-up through OCPD using Symplicity, a widely used career services software.
Career Choice events were typically organized around practice settings (i.e., small firms, big firms, in-house lawyers, personal injury lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, state agency lawyers, public interest lawyers, business and nonprofit executives, etc.) and substantive areas (IP, sports and entertainment law, international law, family law, bankruptcy, etc.) An ideal panel would be one where the practitioners moderately disagree with each other -- this is why we like having more than one lawyer in at a time. When lawyers disagree, students have to engage their minds in order to make sense of the differing perspectives.
The lynchpin of the Career Choices program, however, is its integration into the Indiana Law's Legal Professions course, which is required 4-credit course taught in the second semester of the 1L year. The course covers traditional professional responsibility and the law of lawyering. But it also focuses on the structure of the legal profession itself. The course is explicitly designed to get our students to think about their future careers in a realistic and structured way. Course requirements include:
- Five in-person informational interviews
- Team based projects
- Personality and motivation asseessments
- 360 degree peer feedback
- An end-of-semester reflective essay.
Career Choices is another required element. Every 1L is required to attend at least three Career Choice events. At Indiana Law, we tend to focus on data so we can track evidence of progress, or lack thereof. A ID scanner (placed between the door and the pizza) is how we track attendance. It is very fast.
This year, we have 230+ 1L students spread across four sections of the Legal Profession class. The average 1L attended 5.5 Career Choice events. Well over 60% of the class attended more than the mandatory three sessions, which is pretty remarkable. 1Ls are a notoriously harried group of students. Every hour spent in a non-mandatory activity is one hour less that can be devoted to beating the 1L curve. Ask any law school career services professsional how difficult it is to get students to invest in voluntary professional development -- 600 hours in a single semester for 1L is a miraculous feat. Now that learning is compounding for the students' and, indirectly, IU Law's benefit.
Here is another statistic: we served 2,800 slices over the course of the semester. 1L students are busy and relatively cash-strapped. By putting these events at a time when students would ordinarily break for lunch, we are making it easy for them to give the programs a try. For the last several years, an alumnus has paid for the pizzas. He believes it is a small price to pay to get students in the door. No studennt learning can take place if students never show up.
When guest speakers are available to stay for dinner, the same alumnus also pays for dinners for speakers and three to five students. Over the years, I have attended roughly two dozen of these meals. Many times students tell me that the insights shared over these dinners are among the most memorable and fulfilling learning experiences of their 1L year.
The Evolution from 1.0 to 4.0
Remember that I said that the Career Choices formula looks so simple "in retrospect."
The most important lesson we learned from Career Choices experience is that any significant success in programmatic or curricular changes is going to require several iteratives until the program's progress is reasonably near its ambitious goal. Fortunately, we were sufficiently committed to the mission that we built feedback loops and retooled accordingly. Here is some the trial and error:
- Respect student preferences. During the 1.0 version, we had four mandatory sessions at 4:30 on Thursday afternoons -- and as a result, we were leaning heavily into a headwind. A minority of students resented the imposition on their time; and this negativity affected the general mood of the students, which created an uphill battle for even the finest guest speakers. It is easy to conclude what students "ought" to value. But such judgments don't improve the situation at hand. The smart person accepts; the idiot insists.
- Impact of size on participation. We learned through experience that 1Ls go silent when they are in a big, full auditorium. Even the gunners shut down. Holding speaker quality constant, smaller groups and more intimate venues produced dramatically more student engagement. This meant that four or six Career Choice events, though cheaper and easier to manage, was not going to work. The program had to be bigger to be successful.
- Choice matters. Students can have pretty fixed ideas on who is worth listening to. This is a constraint. But when students can exercise some choice on speakers, they show up with a positive attitude and higher levels of curiosity. These positive experiences bring them back voluntarily --now, voluntary participation is well beyond the minimum. The choice created the way for buy-in.
- Timing really matters. Pizza is not enough to get students to give up a lunch hour. The winning combination is lunch plus content plus a time period when students are not scramblng to read for class. Moving from Wednesdays to Thursdays was huge for student participation--albeit it was less convenient for faculty. We learned that faculty need to bend as much or more than students.
- Faculty involvement. Faculty involvement (or lack of involvement) sends a strong message to students on what is important. Career Choices has been a required element of the 1L Legal Professions curriculum since 2009. But this year, Legal Professions instructors served as the moderators. This enables us to bring the practitioner themes back into the classroom and tie them into our discussions of legal ethics and professional development. Many times faculty attended just to hear the speakers. If I am in town, I am there. Students noticed.
Last week our OCPD/instructor team debriefed on the 4.0 version. This discussion was substantially informed by student feedback. Some improvements for version 5.0 include (1) a better mix of young versus old lawyers, as the best panels had often someone five years out with someone 20 to 30 years out, (2) a more standardized format that permits lawyers to tell their stories but also ties their experiences into specific themes in the course, and (3) careful attention to diversity, something that our students really care about.
Finally, the biggest surprise our Career Choices program has been the reaction of its guest speakers. Although a typical guest speaker's day might include a lunch-time program, meeting with OCPD and faculty, two hour long informational interviews with students, and a long dinner, invariably the lawyers have more energy at the end of the day than the beginning. If you think about it, it makes sense. Lawyers seldom have a time to reflect on their careers to discern meaning and priorities. Career Choices provides them an entire day devoted to just that. Knowing how lawyers react to the program makes it much easier to ask them to participate.
At Indiana Law, the success of Career Choices has enabled us to consider more ambitious goals for the future. 5.0 will be better.
[posted by Bill Henderson]