Tackling gender inequality has been a war that women have fought for generations in the workplace, at school, and sometimes, even at home. We’ve faced stereotypes, been discriminated against, and have just been downright disrespected — and although we’ve made significant progress in the last 100 years, women in courtrooms and law firms across the country still face unacceptable amounts of sexism.
In fact, a survey by the Defense Research Institute found that 70% of female attorneys experience bias in the courtroom, receiving inappropriate comments on their appearance from male judges and attorneys alike. This behavior should have no place in society, and fortunately, the American Bar Association has taken steps to address inappropriate and sexist comments in court by amending their professional code of conduct in 2016. Although this is a good step, the centuries-old problem of sexism continues to prevail in all aspects of the legal workplace, from inequality in terms of pay to the opportunities available, and there remains much and more to be done.
If you and your firm want to take on a more active role in dismantling patriarchal structures of power in the workplace (and you should), we’ve outlined a few ways you can tackle gender inequality head-on at your firm.
Remove bias from the hiring process
Researchers from the Harvard Business Review point out that the hiring process is biased and unfair - and they’re not wrong. A lot of sexism and gender-based discrimination happens whether the recruiter is aware of it or not. Seek to eliminate this by using strategies that places all applicants on an equal pedestal in terms of demographics. For instance, try out blind hiring. Names carry connotations, whether we like it or not, and blind hiring removes them from the process. You can even seek to exclude or blank out gender and age.
Another way is to have a pre-defined and structured interviewing process. Creating a structured process ensures that everyone gets an equal chance to present themselves, and helps them showcase key skills that are required for the job.
Eliminate the gender pay gap
Not limited to just the legal industry, one serious problem women face is the gender pay gap. At mid-career, the United States Census Bureau reports that female lawyers in the top 10% earn $300,000 annually, while male lawyers in the same positions earn $500,000 annually. To close this 40% gap, ‘Seeing the Way to Equal Pay’ published by Special Counsel recommends conducting internal audits to pinpoint how pay should be awarded. Consider bonuses based on employee skills and business development instead of billable hours, and conduct a comprehensive analysis of pay and bonuses to see gaps that aren’t highlighted by easily seen factors. Encourage women to be powerful advocates of their compensation, and let starting positions have equal pay regardless of gender and other demographic factors.
Set clear policies on discrimination
In fact, a Unilever study on ‘Gender Stereotypes Keep Gender Inequality Alive in the Workplace’ reports that both men and women struggle to recognize and report such behaviours, but it’s a necessary step for getting rid of inequality. Create clear policies that show you do not tolerate any form of discrimination, and actively let your employees know about it through an assembly. Moreover, allow your employees to submit comments to HR reporting discrimination anonymously to encourage more people to speak up.
All in all, our writer Mark E. Cohen argues that diversity and inequality will prevail once the traditional law firm model dissolves — and while this may be true, you can take a stand today with the steps above and encourage inclusivity for women. With these foundations underway, women can and will be more empowered to take on roles that men typically dominate, until bias and inequality is eradicated completely.
About the Author Katherine Jones is a former attorney turned freelance legal consultant. When she’s not working, you can often find her perusing through the aisles of her local library or sitting on the porch of her home in Ohio with her cat, Gracie.