Don’t Forget About Women Lawyers of Color

[For Black History Month, we invited some of our alumni to provide their reflections as guest bloggers of the month. This post is from Kristen D. Hardy L’14.]

When probing and prodding at the legal profession’s existential, ever-persisting diversity and inclusion (D&I) crisis, race and gender are routinely discussed in separate vacuums. Thus, inclusion efforts focusing on the improvement of gender diversity have largely come to consider only one subset of women — the majority. Similarly, inclusion efforts targeting racial diversity also tend to focus on the majority, which in most cases refers to men. Articles and conferences promising to break down barriers and unpack bias for women lawyers either completely ignore, or barely mention, the added layer of complexity for women lawyers of color. And without the voices of minority women attorneys, spaces promising to offer diverse perspectives begin to feel homogeneous and exclusive.

There is no denying that many women, regardless of race or background, share similar instances of gender bias and discrimination. But women of color must grapple with a separate set of unique challenges that remain largely disregarded. When the D&I conversation shifts to improving gender diversity, the challenges associated with women of color are frequently, perhaps unintentionally, ignored. Consequently, solutions intended to eliminate barriers for all women in the profession are falsely presented as equally effective for White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indigenous women. This phenomenon is not only isolating, but arguably detrimental to the progression of minority women within the legal profession.

Double-Bind and Double-Barreled Bias

Most know, at least anecdotally, about the double-bind bias apropos to women in leadership. This type of implicit bias is a haphazard blend of gender stereotypes and ostensible leadership characteristics that gum together to form what feels like a catch-22 for women. (more…)

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Implicit Bias and the Gender Leadership Gap

A woman carrying buckets looks up at a ladder leading to the sky; the ladders' rungs are labeled with the various opportunities that have been historically available to women, beginning with "Slavery" at the bottom and "Presidency" at the top.
E.A. Bushnell cartoon from the New York Times, October 1920

On April 29, 2019, I moderated a panel discussion for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity Counsel Program titled “Closing the Gender Leadership Gap.”  The following statistics were shared at the program.  According to a study by the American Bar Association, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law,” half of the students graduating from law school with a J.D. are women.  Yet, only 22.7% of law firm partners are women, 22% of state court judges are women, and 26.4% of Fortune 500 general counsel positions are held by women.  A significant barrier for women in the workplace is implicit bias.  After serving on this panel, I was curious to explore how the concept of implicit bias might contribute to the gender leadership gap in the legal profession.

Implicit bias is the term that describes how the subconscious mind categorizes people.  The concept was first developed by psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald in the 1990s.  Through the use of implicit association tests (“IAT”) Banaji and Greenwald evaluated the time it took for a participant to categorize concepts such as family or career with gender.  The quicker the applicant could categorize concepts, the stronger the implicit association.  The most frightening aspect of implicit bias is that a person may be consciously opposed to gender discrimination but may unknowingly discriminate against women due to an implicit bias that exists only in the subconscious mind.

Studies suggest that implicit bias may play a role in explaining why men are systematically preferred for positions over women.  For example, a Yale study demonstrated a statistically significant preference for men in the field of science.  The study involved sending a fictional resume to 100 faculty members at top universities.  The only difference was that 50 fictional students were named John, while the other 50 fictional students were named Jennifer.  Even though the candidates had identical experience and qualifications, faculty members were more likely to find John competent and were more likely view him as a suitable candidate for lab positions. (more…)

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Israel Reflections 2019–Feminism & Women

Our last chunk of speakers were strong women who work to make Israel more inclusive and safer. Kylie Owens shared her thoughts on our first speaker.

Professor Halperin-Kaddari is a renowned expert in family law, who earned both her L.L.M. and J.S.D. from Yale Law School. Our visit with Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a family law professor from Bar-Ilan University, was truly enlightening. Israel has a unique system of law that regulates marriage, divorce, and child custody issues. Under this system, mainly governed by religious courts, women can be oppressed, the courts completely prevent interfaith marriage, and domestic abuse can be overlooked. Professor Halperin-Kaddari discussed some of these problems in detail and offered a look at the current state of the opposition and efforts to change the system to allow the possibility of civil marriages in Israel.

Our second speaker Keren Greenblatt immediately connected to all of us  when she started speaking having fun when you go out at night.  She then talked about her organization Layla Tov (Hebrew for good night), which organizes bars and clubs to combat harassment.   (News story here.(more…)

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Woman Interrupted: The Pernicious Problem That’s Not Just in Our Heads

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his contacts with Russian officials in Washington D.C. and his conversations with the President about the Russia investigation or about former F.B.I. Director James B. Comey.

The hearing has been called “at times fiery” and Sessions’ testimony “highly contentious.” Indeed, several Democratic senators engaged in some testy back-and-forth with Sessions, with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden saying that Sessions’ answers did not “pass the smell test” and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich declaring that Sessions “[is] obstructing.”

But the grilling of Sessions that has probably received the most attention is that of California Senator Kamala Harris, a junior senator and former California attorney general. Senator Harris was questioning Sessions about his many non-answer answers at the hearing. Sessions claimed he was not answering due to long-standing Justice Department policy. Senator Harris pushed Sessions on this policy.

The New York Times described Senator Harris’ questioning style as “a rapid-fire . . . pace more commonly seen in courtrooms—a style that at times has her interrupting witnesses.” During her questioning, she was interrupted by both Arizona Senator John McCain and by North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Both men suggested that Sessions be allowed to answer. This was the second time in two weeks that Senator Harris has been interrupted by Senators Burr and McCain. Last week, she was interrupted by them while questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Following the Sessions testimony, Jason Miller, a panelist on CNN, referred to Senator Harris as “hysterical,” most certainly a gendered analysis. CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers called out Miller’s gendered statement and pointed out how Miller believed neither Senators Harris (a woman of color) nor Wyden (a man) were “trying to get to the bottom of answers,” yet Miller called only Senator Harris “hysterical.”)

Earlier this year, during a Senate debate about Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted and then formally rebuked by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King about then-U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions, who had been nominated at that time for a federal judgeship. The letter had criticized Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” (The Senate rejected Sessions’ nomination for that federal judgeship.) Later, three male senators read the same letter on the Senate floor, and none were rebuked.

Maybe Harris’ and Warren’s treatment is all about rules of decorum in the Senate. Decorum may be part of it; more than that, though, it appears to be the ages-old pernicious pattern of men interrupting women. It happens to most women, much of the time, in both personal and professional settings.

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Bill O’Reilly & Fox News: Does Money Matter More Than Doing the Right Thing?

Yesterday, Fox News ousted Bill O’Reilly, who for two decades was the top-rated host with his show, The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly’s blustery on-air persona—which inspired Stephen Colbert to create ultraconservative pundit Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Show—minced no words, ever.

As a result, he often said outrageous, offensive, if not downright inaccurate things on the air. For example, he said that the slaves who built the White House were “well-fed and had decent lodging provided by the government.” He called child hunger “a total lie,” and said that feminists should not be allowed to report on Trump “because Trump is the antithesis of” feminism. He’s also been known to make inappropriate comments to women on the air.

O’Reilly’s personal conduct (like that of his former boss Roger Ailes before him) apparently has been similarly offensive. Over the course of his time at Fox News, O’Reilly has been accused of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior involving both women at the network who worked for him and women who appeared as guests on his show. (more…)

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