Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Laura Padilla, Women Law Deans, Gender Sidelining, and Presumptions of Incompetence, 35 Berkeley J. Law & Gender 1 (2021)
In 2007, I wrote A Gendered Update on Women Law Deans: Who, Where, Why, and Why Not? which examined the number of women law deans, including women of color, their paths to deanships, and what the future might hold for decanal leadership from a gendered and racialized lens. A Gendered Update reported that in the 2005 2006 period, thirty one law deans at the 166 Association of American Law Schools (“AALS”) member schools were women (18.7%). Only three of the thirty-one women law deans were women of color (1.8%).***
This Article starts with updated data on the number of women law deans, including women of color, and demonstrates increased numbers of both women and women of color in deanships. It then shifts to plausible explanations for this growth: some optimistic and some more skeptical. On the positive side, it is logical that new appointments reflect women’s increased representation in the broader legal population, which serves as the source of most new dean hires. In addition, there seems to be some recognition that women bring something new and different to leadership: a greater willingness to change, be flexible, and approach old problems in new ways. On the other hand, running a law school has become more challenging because of a decline in applications and credentials since 2011, which has translated into smaller classes and budgets, voluntary and involuntary layoffs, more work, and less pay. It may be no coincidence that as the job became less desirable, women were appointed in greater numbers.
Next, this Article provides narrative descriptions of women’s experiences in leadership, including experiences unique to women of color, such as common stories of presumptions of incompetence, and gender sidelining. The stories are culled from surveys sent to all women law deans. The survey responses reveal challenges in leadership roles, risks taken, and battles won and lost, and display increased obstacles for women of color.
The next Part of this Article develops ideas on how to continue increasing the number of women law deans and provide them support for success