Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Women aren't cut out for the legal profession?

So there is this study that has all sorts of interesting tidbits on "gender bias" against women in the courtroom. I haven't been able to find the actual study online, but here are the more notable stats that has thought to publish.
The recently released study included more than 100 interviews with attorneys and judges of both genders, as well as an electronic survey of 765 female respondents. Among the findings were:

More than 70 percent of female lawyers reported experiencing gender bias in the courtroom.

More than 65 percent said there is a glass ceiling for women defense attorneys.

More than 61 percent have considered leaving the legal profession due to gender issues, such as the pressure of raising a family.
As I said, I haven't read the actual study, but what I can tell none of this is hard evidence of actual bias. Is there actual gender bias in the legal profession? Yes. Is all directed agaisnt women? I doubt it. Moreover, the article doesn't state what is considered gender bias, but does give some anecdotal evidence of what would be considered "bias" against women.:
In addition to statistics, the report also cited anecdotal evidence of gender bias. For example, a judge reported that often when female litigators get combative, their voices get shrill and turn off juries. Several male attorneys said they shied away from hiring female lawyers fearing their wives might get angry. And there were reports of judges calling female lawyers "honey" or "dear" and commenting on the way they dress.
Was that judge a women? And even if not, was the comment made in the courtroom in front of the jury? If not, wouldn't shrill voices turn off both men and women who serve on juries? Furthermore, from the standpoint of a male lawyer, women have much greater latitude in how they dress in court and the workplace. The honey or dear comments aren't great, but its probably not that common. Men get dressed down in court for their appearance, too, so...

This press release, issued last week states:
More than half of the women surveyed have considered leaving the practice of law due to issues related to their gender, including work/life balance issues.... [Me: men don't have work/life balance issues???]

More than 52 percent of women surveyed said that the practice of law influenced their personal decision on the timing of motherhood. Many said that they postponed having children so that they could meet demands necessary to be considered for partnership, demands that they perceived to be in conflict with child rearing

Only 62 percent reported having a mentor and only 25 percent of those mentors were female

Nearly all respondents reported an ongoing struggle of working in a male-dominated field and the need to balance being assertive with the fear of being labeled as aggressive
That the practice of law influenced the "personal decision on the timing of motherhood" probably has little to do with the practice of law, as it does with having a high level career, i.e., this influence is not limited to the legal profession.

How many male attorneys have mentors? If its somewhere around 62%, I wouldn't be surprised. Of course, it wouldn't support a claim of gender bias, if it is. Where is it written that your mentor must be of the same gender as you? I work for two female attorneys, who could be considered my mentors given that I only work for them, but I hardly feel discriminated against. Demands that the mentor must be the same gender as the mentee strikes me as a claim for special treatment, and a lack of special treatment based on gender does NOT demonstrate gender bias, but the lack of it.

My reflex to these types of studies/surveys is twofold: First, perception of bias is not itself bias. That someone felt some sort of bias does not mean that there was, moreover, what is the defition of bias? If the judge calls you "dear" or "honey" does that mean favoritism or detriment? If the female attorney prevails in the case does that mean there was pro-woman bias? This is just so subjective that it does not make it easily quantifiable in terms of actual bias. Also, how much do articles and studies/surveys like this promote the perception that there is gender bias behind every comment, business or legal judgment or decision, when the problem is not that widespread?

Second (brace yourself), men and women ARE different. That is the reality of nature. That is not to say that women don't make good lawyers, but as a group they are likely to percieve things differently than men do. Also, women must often choose between career and family because they are the primary caregivers to children, not to mention that they carry them around for 9 months before the kids are born. That doesn't mean there is bias if women are forced to choose. That choice is supposedly what feminism is supposed to provide. Yeah, its difficult, but life isn't perfect.
At least they have a choice. Most men don't.

Lastly, the worst part of gender bias studies like this is that it attributes differences in outcomes or perceptions to bias, rather than other causes like nature (as I just discussed). Is it possible that there are other reasons than bias? Yes, there is. Unfortunately, the politics behind this type of claim is clear. If nature or some other reason other than bias is the cause of the differences in outcomes, there are no need for commissions and studies and reparations and sensitivity trainings, and all the other employment options for professional complainers.