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Gender fairness: Facts, attitudes and the future

By Kalpana Yalamanchili

A recent and extensive study of general fairness in Ohio’s legal profession revealed that while much progress has been made, much remains to be done.
 
The Ohio State Bar Association formed a Special Committee to Review the Final Report and Recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Gender Fairness to determine progress and to recommend methods to further achieve the goal of gender fairness in the legal system.

Report and recommendations of the Joint Task Force

In 1991, the Supreme Court of Ohio and the OSBA established the Joint Task Force on Gender Fairness in the Legal Profession, which consisted of 110 members and 10 subcommittees, and focused its efforts on identifying the causes and recommending methods to eradicate gender bias.
 
“Our task will not be completed until the work of men and women is equally valued and equally shared. It is our purpose in this report to not only highlight the inequalities which exist in the legal system but to suggest positive change so that gender will become irrelevant in the professional setting of the justice system.”1
 
The Joint Task Force studied the role of gender at law schools, the workplace, courts, bar associations, the criminal justice system, the disciplinary rules, domestic relations proceedings and education and issued recommendations such as:
 
  • Require that all documents used in the justice system (rules, canons, jury instructions, etc.) contain gender neutral language;
  • Court should monitor and correct gender- based conduct;
  • Encourage law firms to adopt flexible work environments for lawyers who choose to work in a nontraditional manner;
  • Encourage law firms to ensure that all development or marketing efforts for lawyers are held at facilities that are open to all, regardless of gender, race or religion;
  • Continue to monitor the progress of women entering partnership and management positions at law firms;
  • The OSBA and other bar associations should ensure that judicial screening committees be composed of a representative cross section of bar members;
  • Bar associations’ constitutions and other governing documents should contain gender neutral language, and bar associations should regularly publish leadership openings and the criteria for becoming leaders; and
  • Encourage law schools to take affirmative steps to eliminate disparate treatment of women.

Special Committee to Review Gender Fairness

In 2009, the OSBA established a special committee to review the progress made since the Joint Task Force issued its final report and recommendations to determine what remains to be done and make recommendations accordingly.
 
The special committee, co-chaired by Ritchey Hollenbaugh, a former OSBA president, and Melissa Graham-Hurd, a member of the OSBA Board of Governors, quickly concluded that an apples-toapples comparison of the state of gender fairness in the legal profession since the Joint Task Force Report was impossible for many reasons. Additionally, recognizing the enormity of the resources and time needed to duplicate the full work of the Joint Task Force, the special committee concentrated on only four principal areas of the original study: courts, workplace, law schools and bar associations.
 
With financial support from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, the special committee retained the research firm of Laralyn & Associates to help conduct the research and to analyze the information gathered. (See the sidebar on pg. 13 in the 2012 Nov./Dec. issue of Ohio Lawyer on how research was conducted.)

Approach

The special committee concluded that to assess progress with respect to gender fairness, it was important to track both factual changes and behavioral or attitudinal changes. Have there been factual changes since the mid-1990s with respect to progress made by women in the profession? Have those factual and societal changes affected the attitudes and behavior of men and women in the profession?
 
To track factual changes, extensive quantitative data was gathered from the Supreme Court of Ohio and OSBA databases; Economics of Law Practice in Ohio; and from other national studies. The quantitative research was also conducted by use of electronic surveys and questionnaires of OSBA members and judges.
 
To track attitudinal or behavioral changes, qualitative research was conducted through focus groups and one-on-one interviews of lawyers and law students.

By the facts

Ohio generally tracks close to the national average in terms of the percentage of women lawyers (32.9 percent nationally and 29.2 percent in Ohio); women partners (19.2 percent nationally and 18.5 percent in Ohio); and women associates (45.6 percent nationally and 43.1 percent in Ohio). With respect to minority women lawyers, the differences are dramatic (6.33 percent nationally and 2.6 percent in Ohio). Nationally, minority women comprise about 2 percent of law firm partners. In Ohio, they are less than 1 percent.
 
The tracking over the last 12 years is similar for increase in women partners (from 15.04 percent to 19.21 percent nationally and from 12.75 percent to 18.52 percent in Ohio) and in women associates (from 41.39 percent to 45.66 percent nationally and from 40.1 percent to 43.12 percent in Ohio).
 
The most dramatic increase in numbers was in the judiciary. In 1993, 14.8 percent of Ohio judges were women; by 2010, that rose to 25.3 percent. Four of the current seven justices of the Supreme Court of Ohio are women, including the Chief Justice.
 
The percentage of women students in Ohio law schools is largely unchanged (in 1995 it was at 42 percent compared to 43 percent in 2010.) The current national average is at 47 percent. With respect to full-time faculty in Ohio law schools, 37 percent are women.
 
Information on the leadership of the OSBA and the six metropolitan bar associations was collected. Each of them made great progress in the number of women who have served as association presidents. At the Columbus Bar Association, 50 percent of its presidents from 1999-2009 were women. In 1993, the OSBA elected it first woman president, 113 years after its founding. Since then, five more women have led the OSBA. Also notable is that three African-American women (Virgina Robinson in Akron, Judge Alice McCollum in Dayton and Kimberly Callery Shumate in Columbus) have served as presidents of their respective associations. At all levels of leadership in bar associations (board, committees, etc.), women have seen gains. In 1999, the OSBA had no women serving on its Board of Governors. Today, six women, two of them African-American, are members of the OSBA’s governing body.
 
According to the 2010 Economics of Law Practice in Ohio, the median net income reported for full-time male attorneys was $100,000 (up from $85,000 in 2000) and the same reported for full-time female attorneys was $85,000 (up from $55,000 in 2000). This percentage of wage disparity is reflected nationally as well through the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 
One of the most striking statistics gathered from the research was that in a representative sample of Ohio women lawyers aged 41-45, some 37 percent had no children, while 23 percent of men in the same age range were childless.
 
Fifteen percent of male attorneys reported dissatisfaction with their career paths, and 23 percent of women attorneys expressed such sentiment.

Education/awareness

A primary goal of the Joint Task Force was to raise awareness of gender bias through education. Indeed, many of the Joint Task Force recommendations related to education and the special committee found that generally, those education and awareness efforts have successfully helped produce a basic sensitivity to gender discrimination. All areas of the profession seem to be aware of the necessity for institutionalizing nondiscriminatory policies and practices. While the special committee found no evidence of overt gender discrimination (with the possible exception of wage disparity), it did find that many in the profession believe that the adoption of non-discriminatory policies have “solved” the problem. As one male attorney expressed in a focus group, “Why are we still talking about these issues? Didn’t we take care of them 20 years ago?”

By perceptions, attitudes and behavior

There were significant and dramatic differences in perceptions between men and women on matters of gender fairness today. OSBA lawyer members were asked to agree or disagree with the statements in the left column on page 11 in the 2012 Nov./Dec. issue of Ohio Lawyer.
 
It is interesting to note that no questions were raised about whether there should be equality for all lawyers, judges, court personnel or law students regardless of gender. Nor was any concern expressed about a woman attorney’s or judge’s competency because of her gender. Yet, the statistics on the right column on page 11 in the 2012 Nov./Dec. issue of Ohio Lawyer indicate that the belief in gender quality doesn’t translate into perceptions and behaviors.
 
When discussing the results of its research, the members of the special committee were met with two different responses. Men generally appeared surprised at the differences in attitudes and questioned the validity of the research, while women’s responses can be summed up colloquially as “duh.”
 
It was striking that almost every young woman law student that was interviewed not only expected to encounter gender inequity in the workplace when she graduated, but was already thinking about ways to deal with it. Many seem to believe that having children and pursuing a successful legal career were incompatible.

Recommendations

While gender discrepancies in the legal profession today do not seem to result from overt discriminatory policies or actions, they still exist. Whether the issue is compensation, opportunities for advancement or time off for childbirth and rearing, women still face obstructions in their careers. While the special committee did not focus on different sectors of the profession, there is some evidence that women in government (including judges) and in the corporate sector did not face challenges related to compensation and opportunities for advancement as their counterparts in private and nonprofit settings. There is also some suggestion as a result of the study that the economic or business model in place in law firms has a negative impact on women with respect to compensation, promotion, family planning, etc.
 
Selected recommendations
  • Educational programs for judges and court personnel need to be broader and not limited to overt sexual discrimination or harassment.
  • The political process for the appointments, endorsement and financing of candidates for judicial offices should be more transparent.
  • Law firms should look beyond economics as the driver of work/life balance policies.
  • The economic impact associated with attrition of women associates of childbearing years should be reviewed.
  • Law firms and law schools should establish joint mentoring programs.
  • Education related to recognizing and preventing gender and minority bias should be included in continuing legal education required of all lawyers.
  • Redefine a successful legal career for law students.
  • Emphasize professionalism in the law school curriculum.
  • Provide practical business training as part of the law school curriculum.
  • Hold faculty, administrators and students accountable for even subtle forms of sexism.
  • Bar associations should take the lead in education and awareness on issues related to gender fairness.

Moving forward

Even with vast differences in perception of gender issues in the workplace, the priorities of men and women lawyers are strikingly similar. The following chart reflects how men and women ranked issues of importance to today’s lawyers.

The almost identical prioritization of these issues by men and women lawyers may be reflective of the larger societal changes where responsibility for home life and work life is increasingly being shared.

The special committee issued its report and recommendations to the OSBA Board of Governors. The Board has charged the OSBA Women in the Profession Section to develop a work plan based on the recommendations. The section, chaired by C. Lynne Day of Chardon, is now moving forward on this task.

Author bio
Kalpana Yalamanchili is the OSBA director of bar services. She oversees the work of 42 committees and sections, the lawyer and paralegal certification programs, and OSBA special projects. She also serves as the primary liaison to metro/local bar/affinity bar associations.

Endnote
1Ohio State Bar Association Report and Recommendations of the Special Committee to Review Gender Fairness in the Legal Profession (September 2011).

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