The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Gender Bias

Letters

In 2015, the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar created a questionnaire titled “Survey on Women in the Legal Profession.”  This survey was recently cited in an article in The Florida Bar Journal (“Beyond the Barriers of Bias”) (March/April) as justifying the conclusions that 43% of women attorneys experience gender bias that “favor[s] men over women,” and that it reveals “gender bias across the board” in The Florida Bar. A cesspool of bias and misogyny — but, is that really an accurate representation of The Florida Bar?

Let’s look at the survey.

A good starting point might be to ask whether the survey measured “gender bias” at all. In order to measure something, you need to define what it is you are attempting to measure. Exactly what acts or behaviors was the survey purporting to measure?  We don’t know.  The survey didn’t define the term.  In this survey, “gender bias” could mean anything.

Is saying that your son or daughter is a freshman at college an act of “gender bias?” It could be — it is expressly defined as “gender bias” at some universities. If a court bailiff opens the door for you, is that “gender bias”? What if the bailiff is female? Who knows?

Whatever it attempted to measure, did it measure acts or behavior by men? No.

In fact, the first comment in the survey complains of bias against a female attorney by a female judge. Others identify a female supervisor, a female attorney, and a female office manager as displaying gender bias against women.

Does the survey purport to measure behavior by members of the Bar? No. Numerous responses identified nonlawyers as the culprits, such as clients or witnesses.

What is the baseline? Are the perceived rates of “gender bias” the same for men and women in The Florida Bar? We don’t know. Male lawyers were excluded from the survey.

Because surveys are subject to flaws and bias, there are detailed and specific criteria for testing their scientific validity and scientific reliability. There are entire texts on the subject. This survey would fail even a rudimentary scientific review.

This survey does not measure any defined act or behavior. It does not define the term “gender bias.” It does not measure bias by men against women. It does not measure “gender bias” by members of The Florida Bar.

And yet, The Florida Bar Journal prominently publishes an article stating the conclusion from this survey, that 43% of women attorneys experience gender bias in favor of men and against women across the board in The Florida Bar.

Remarkable.

Edward J. Lyons, Clearwater