Saturday, January 31, 2015
Staci Zaretsky, Sexism in the Legal Profession: An Uncomfortable Truth
The truth, however, is that according to the latest report on Women in the Law from the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession, while almost half of all students who graduate from law school are women, they only make up about 34 percent of all practicing attorneys. The truth is that per the National Association of Women Lawyers’ (NAWL) most recent Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, the greatest percentage of women (64 percent) continue to occupy the lowest positions their firms have to offer, while the lowest percentage of women (17 percent) occupy the highest positions in those firms. The truth is that women do leave the profession in droves and thus won't be able to ascend to those leadership positions, but it's not just because they're off having families – according to Suzanne Goldberg of Columbia Law School's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, it's because many law firms are hostile to women's work/life balance issues.
The truth is that per NAWL, the vast majority of the largest law firms in the U.S. refuse to report data about the differences between how their male and female lawyers are compensated. The truth is that, thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we know that the gender wage gap in the legal profession is an insulting constant, with women lawyers earning just 78.9 percent of their male colleagues’ weekly salaries.
The disheartening truth is that these depressing facts and figures are no exaggeration at all.
If you’re a woman in the legal profession, it’s highly likely that you’ve experienced some form of sexism during the course of your career. For example, women who zealously and aggressively advocate for their clients in court are “bitchy”; men who do the same are “excellent litigators.” It’s often considered a great inconvenience when women in the law take maternity leave; when male lawyers take paternity leave, they’re selflessly sacrificing for their family.
Women in the law aren’t respected as attorneys – their own colleagues disrespect them, ignore them, interrupt them, speak over them, and generally treat them like trash. The sooner women in the legal profession are willing to own the fact that they’re denigrated on a near daily basis and treated like interlopers in an old boys’ club, the sooner they’ll be able to do something about it.