Friday, June 02, 2017
Florida Bar report aims at eliminating gender bias in legal profession (Tampa Bay Times)
Serious reforms required because of sexism and misogyny and homophobia in Florida's legal system. While calling someone "sweetheart" does not (necessarily) a judge or law firm partner is prejudiced against women lawyers, pay inequality is a fact. When she chaired of an American Bar Association committee on race and gender bias, Hillary Rodham Clinton travelled across America in the 1980s, jawboning with corporate law firms to hire more women and minority group members. I was honored to shake her hand and congratulate her at an ABA meeting in Honolulu in 1989 for her achievements.
In 1988, I published an article on the issue in ABA's Student Lawyer Magazine, "You're Not on Law Review, Are You," documenting government and corporate law employers use of law review membership and other irrelevant factors as an illegal way to decide who to interview.
The Tennessee Valley Authority and Internal Revenue Service were two of the worst offenders. TVA required Order of the Coif membership, a group not present on most law school campuses, while IRS considered LSAT scores, which are only useful to predict first year performance in law school.
In Memphis, we had one professor who never gave a woman law student an A, detecting feminine handwriting back in the days when most students hand-wrote exam answers. The professor in quo taught Family Law and told his classes that women should not be lawyers, evidently based on his religious beliefs. Finally three successive classes of Memphis law students complained enough that our Dean observed his classes. He retired shortly thereafter.
Many lawyers (and other employees) hesitate to blow the whistle on discrimination out of fear or blacklisting.
And so it goes.
Florida Bar report aims at eliminating gender bias in legal profession
By Laura C. Morel, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2017 4:30am
The Florida Bar will release a report today that outlines widespread recommendations on how to eliminate gender bias throughout law firms in the state.
The report is in response to a survey by the Young Lawyers Division of the Bar that showed 43 percent of women who responded had experienced gender bias. It also included anonymous anecdotes that ranged from being called a "cute assistant" or "sweetheart" in court or the office to sexual harassment by bosses and pay inequity.
That didn't surprise Regina Kardash, president of the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers.
"There's sort of an assumption in today's day and age that gender bias is no longer an issue," she said.
The survey caught the attention of Florida Bar president William Schifino. Last July, he formed a committee of lawyers, judges and firm partners to conduct research on gender bias and create a list of recommendations to tackle the issue.
"We can't just let this end here," Schifino said this week. "This is bigger than just that and we need to involve and engage all of the stakeholders."
Their report outlines 12 recommendations. Among them:
• Creating "toolkits" for law firms with instructions on best practices for family leave and transparent job promotions.
• Recruiting more women into leadership positions within the Florida Bar and other local lawyer associations. The Florida Bar has already made progress, with women being appointed to 51 percent of its committee chairs.
• A reporting platform for confidential gender bias complaints.
Michael Higer, Florida Bar president-elect who also chaired the special committee on gender bias, said the group spent hundreds of hours doing research and talking to experts.
"To have any person be disadvantaged for any reason whatsoever, it's unacceptable," said Higer, partner at Berger Singerman in Miami. "What can we do to implement and facilitate real change that will make a difference?"
Committee co-chair Kristin Norse remembers reading the 2015 survey, which was completed by more than 450 female lawyers ages 36 and younger.
Norse, who graduated from Boston University's law school in 1992 and is a partner at Kynes Markman and Felman in Tampa, said about half of her class were women. It was "jarring," she said, to see young women still experiencing gender bias years later.
The survey results also showed that 21 percent of respondents felt they weren't paid the same as their male colleagues and 42 percent had difficulties in balancing work and family responsibilities. It includes dozens of pages of gender bias stories, like a judge who insisted female lawyers wear skirts and panty hose and a male colleague telling one woman she didn't need to make more money because she would get married one day.
Last year, the committee distributed a second survey, which was sent to 6,000 male and female lawyers of all ages. At the Florida Bar, 38 percent of its 104,647 members are women.
The results: of 1,350 people that responded, one of out of every seven female lawyers experienced gender bias.
The survey also showed that one out of every 25 male lawyers experienced gender bias, too.
"That was really interesting," Norse said. "There were some respondents who had experienced as young male attorneys in a mostly female firm feeling excluded."
Norse said she is most excited to see the impact toolkits, which will be created in the coming months, will have on promoting better pay and parental leave practices.
"I can see that people don't want to be lectured in a room about biases," she said. "So giving people the tools and engaging them in a conversation at a broader level is I think what's going to make a difference."
The report also calls for the creation of a subcommittee that will oversee the creation of the recommendations, which will be reviewed by the Florida Bar board of governors every year.
Kardash said the gender bias committee's recommendations will move the Florida Bar in the right direction.
"Recognizing that there is an issue is the first step in addressing the issue," she said. "As attorneys, it is our responsibility to be leaders for social change where it's needed."
Contact Laura C. Morel at email@example.com. Follow @lauracmorel.
Florida Bar report aims at eliminating gender bias in legal profession 06/02/17 [Last modified: Thursday, June 1, 2017 8:48pm]