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March 1, 2016
YLD surveys young women lawyers

By Rawan Bitar
Associate Editor

“I feel that older men do not take me seriously no matter how professional I am.”

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“I have left a firm where I was told by my managing partner that I did not have to worry about making money and moving ahead because I would get married one day and will not have to worry about living expenses.”
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“After making partner, I learned that male attorneys were paid more out of law school than female attorneys with the same qualifications.”
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Gordon Glover These are some of the resonating comments made by anonymous young women lawyers in a recent random sample email survey of 3,137 women members of the Young Lawyers Division, which is made up of lawyers under age 36 or in their first five years of practice in Florida. Four hundred and sixty four completed surveys were received for a response rate of 15 percent, which included 90 pages of comments, suggesting this is an issue that warrants attention, according to YLD President Gordon Glover.

The survey found that nearly half (43 percent) of respondents said they had experienced gender bias during their careers.

“It was disheartening,” said Glover. “I was not expecting those sorts of results, with it being 2016. I didn’t personally think that a lot of the issues that showed up on the survey are taking place and they are. I was extremely surprised.”

Bar President Ramón Abadin said while the results of the survey “paint a sobering picture,” there is reason for optimism.

“The pipeline of young women entering the profession continues to grow and more women are filling out the profession’s top leadership ranks,” said Abadin, noting the ABA’s four top leadership positions could soon all be held by women, including Florida’s become the ABA’s president-elect nominee. (See story, page 1.)

Abadin is scheduled to speak at a series of Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL) events statewide throughout March.

To celebrate women in the profession, Glover said the YLD is undertaking a number of initiatives, including a “Balancing in Heels: Self, Family, and the Practice of Law Interview Series;” and a “Balancing in Heels: Webinar Series.” He said both the interview and webinar series are set for April, a month that the YLD is dedicating to women in the legal field.

Glover said it’s also the division’s hope to host “Engage: The Women’s Power Summit” at the Bar’s Annual Convention in June.

While the survey found that 73 percent of respondents indicated they were satisfied with their legal careers, YLD leaders were surprised by the volume of anecdotal comments returned with the survey, including young women lawyers being referred to as “blondie,” “little lady lawyer,” “honey,” “sweetheart,” and other similar terms by judges and attorneys, inside and outside of the courtroom. Many complained of being mistaken for court reporters or assistants, even though they introduce themselves as counsel.

One woman claimed during her first job for a small law firm, a supervisor said, “I should have never hired a woman.” One survey respondent said a partner began almost every interaction with her by saying, “now, don’t call the gender police on me.”

More comments follow:

• “Assertiveness is generally considered to be a negative attribute for women in the legal profession.”

• “[I] [d]on’t get invited to the client development meetings to which my male co-workers are invited.”

• “I was selected to speak at a statewide conference of trial advocates and was told by my employer that there are ‘older men with a lot more experience than me’ who would have been better suited to speak, and that he had already told the program chair that I wasn’t allowed.”

• “Racial bias should also be included in this list. Racial bias, in addition to the above, are experienced by women of color.”

Although 74 percent of respondents reported having no children or adults under their care, when it comes to motherhood, challenges that interfere with family life were noted. Despite parenthood being a natural course for many young men and women alike, the survey revealed that statements directed at females are often overheard at law firms: pregnancy is “career suicide;” the nonpartner career path is the “mommy track;” there is “no mercy for the new moms.”

“After giving birth to my first child,” one new mother wrote, “I requested from a female judge to take two brief recesses from trial to pump breast milk. Though she stated that it wouldn’t be a problem, no breaks were given from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for a brief lunch at 12:30.”

For those respondents who have minor children, 55 percent have one child and 42 percent have two children.

“I’ve often been asked what are my child-care arrangements, the general health of my child, and if I have grandparents helping me with the child so that I could work late,” a lawyer said. “Every position I have been qualified for, but have been passed over for, has been in favor of a male…because it is assumed the male will work harder and longer and his child’s mother will take care of any issues….It is an attitude I have seen over and over while searching for work.”

“I am fortunate that my current employer has provided me with adequate maternity leave and has been exceedingly generous,” one lawyer said. “However, I have found that as soon as I return back to work, I am expected to maintain the same schedule and long hours that I have always put in with little regard for the 9-week-old baby or 2-year-old that I have at home.”

Gender bias isn’t the only apparent problem, as 40 percent of survey-takers said they have experienced employer/supervisor insensitivity, and 37 percent complained about a lack of recognition of work/life balance. Slightly less than one quarter of survey-takers admitted to resigning from jobs during their legal careers for one or more reasons that impacted their quality of life, including lack of advancement opportunities.

Survey respondents reported being overworked and subject to hostile situations:

• “[My] managing attorney threw a stack of pleadings at me.”

• “I’ve been required to work nights/weekends, even though this tends to put a lot of stress on my marriage. When I’ve discussed it, I’ve been told that I need to choose one.”

• “I had a supervisor who regularly bragged about his victories over charges of sexual and racial harassment. . . . He also bragged about how the company was too small to be subject to [Family Medical Leave Act], and made me work from home when both my parents were ill.”

• “[My] previous employer would make fun of my culture and traditions. I was born outside the U.S [and] was never defined how I could advance at the firm.”

When it comes to equal pay, 39 percent of the women respondents feel they are paid comparably to their male counterparts in their current employment, while 21 percent believe they are not; and 42 percent feel they are being elevated comparably in their current employment, while just 19 percent of respondents believe they are not.

The three most significant challenges they personally face as attorneys? High stress (44 percent), balancing family and work (42 percent), and time management (26 percent).

The women clearly would like to see the YLD offer more free CLEs (60 percent). With respect to how the YLD can assist women attorneys in the next few years, 34 percent would like professional skills training provided; 32 percent would like increased mentoring efforts; and 32 percent would like professional advancement resources.

As a result of being a woman in the legal profession, what are the advantages? The survey revealed 211 “none” responses, but “sometimes clients prefer a woman attorney,” as one respondent said.

“Female clients (especially the elderly) are made to feel much more comfortable,” one lawyer said. “I think I have more empathy and can make clients feel more cared for.”

Only 23 percent of respondents think the number of female judges in their judicial circuit or geographic area represents a similar number of female attorneys in the same region, but 30 percent do not, and the rest are unsure.

One survey question: Have you ever considered applying for a judicial seat or as a member of the JNC? Nearly one quarter said yes, and of those individuals, 44 percent had various reasons for not pursuing a seat on the bench or JNC membership post, including their young age and experience, and 41 percent believed they wouldn’t be selected.

Glover said the Bar and members of the judiciary have taken interest in the data.

“The [Board of Governors] is going to address some of the issues, which I’m grateful for,” he said, “because it’s much more than just a young lawyer problem.”

Glover said the one thing, if anything, the YLD can do is bring awareness to women’s issues in the profession and get the discussion going with Bar leaders, managing partners, and judges.

[Revised: 10-20-2016]