Lawyers are oftentimes called upon to protect the rights of clients exposed to gender bias and sexual harassment. Labor and employment attorneys specialize in representing victims when those infractions occur within the workplace. But with all that said, is the legal profession guilty of hypocrisy when it comes to policing its own against biases and sexual indiscretions committed against attorneys, and others, while on the job? Sadly, the facts seem to indicate that to still be true. Let’s explore the evidence in more detail now.
Over 50% of lawyers currently graduating from law school are female, but at an average prestigious firm only one-in-ten senior positions are held by women. In many respects, the legal profession remains a good ole’ boys club, with gender diversity and discrimination still an issue. Based upon the 2017 Women in the Workplace study conducted by Leanin.org and McKinsey & Co., forms of workplace bias female attorneys reported include:
- Less responsibility. The role of a female lawyer in legal settings oftentimes is unclear, and on many occasions they are perceived as being too emotional, soft and irrational by male peers. Many are still asked to do administrative tasks when a staff member isn’t available and are usually the ones tasked with keeping meeting minutes, typing up reports, filing documents, or scheduling appointments in the office.
- Unequal pay. Data released in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that the median income for female lawyers was only about 77% of that earned by their male counterparts. Within all legal jobs, the wage disparity was found to be even greater, and furthermore female judges only earn roughly 72% of what men serving on the bench do.
- Interview questions. The 2017 Women in the Workplace study found that women are sometimes still asked quite different screening questions than males, like: Do you have children? or: Do you plan on having any in the future? That line of questioning is unacceptable during a job interview, most notably in a profession charged with upholding employees’ rights.
- Sexual harassment. This form of bias takes many shapes, from questioning the choice of clothing or shoes a woman is wearing, to blatantly asking her for sexual favors in exchange for a job, more pay, or an advancement opportunity. Calling a female co-worker by something other than her name is also a form of sexual harassment if it’s not welcomed.
Sexual harassment has been illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act since 1964, yet it still occurs, including within the legal workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical actions that are sexual in nature. Victims can be male or female, gender fluid, gay or straight, and the harasser doesn’t have to be the same sex as their victim. The 2 main types of sexual harassment are:
- Quid pro quo. This form of bias occurs during employment discussions about hiring, firing, or promotions when an employee, or potential one, is asked to provide sexual favors in exchange for said actions. A classic example would be when a boss threatens to fire a subordinate unless they provide him or her with sexual favors.
- Hostile work environment. When unwanted sexual contact, advances, or comments are made to an employee within the workplace, and those actions unreasonably interfere with their ability to carry out their job, this creates a hostile work environment. Examples would include sexually offensive jokes, showing them sexually explicit materials, or discussing sexual topics with them that are inappropriate.
In any workplace, it’s the employer’s duty to maintain an environment free from sexual harassment. But what does all this have to do with the legal profession? The American Bar Association (ABA) felt that gender bias and sexual harassment were enough of a problem in the legal workplace to adopt new rules (known as Rule 8.4(g)) against said practices as recently as 2016.
Better Legal Recruiters Respect the Workplace
Sexual harassment and gender bias are unacceptable in any workplace, and most notably those found within the legal profession. When you are looking to hire the right attorney to fill a vacancy within your organization, those rights should be respected. Talented lawyers searching for an advancement opportunity also need to respect employment laws when pursuing the best fit for their background and abilities. Better legal recruiters understand these workplace issues, and use their legal contacts, resources and experience to best place qualified attorney candidates with employers that respect the workplace rights of all their employees.