What can bars do? Surprise—it’s not training
If implicit bias is part of the problem, then bar associations can make a dent by offering training that helps people become more aware of those biases … right?
Not according to Higer, who said that the “Tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars”—and correspondingly numerous hours of time—spent on awareness training in the corporate sector have recently been shown to be “a waste of time.”
The kind of systemic improvement that’s needed will not occur based on awareness among individuals, Higer believes, but requires pressing for real change at the macro level. “That’s where bars can make a real difference,” he said.
Rather than through training, bar associations can help shine a light on gender inequality and other inequities via high-quality, well-presented studies, the panelists said.
One such study that received a lot of attention was conducted in 2015 by The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, which surveyed women lawyers who were either 36 years old or younger or had been in practice for five years or fewer. Higer highlighted a few noteworthy statistics from that study, including:
- 43 percent of the respondents said they’d experienced gender bias in the profession;
- 40 percent had encountered gender-related insensitivity from their employers;
- 37 percent said they had no work-life balance;
- 32 percent said they had no advancement opportunities; and
- 24 percent said their employer offered no alternative work schedule.
Between those figures and the anecdotal comments that respondents wrote, Higer recalls that the Florida bar community as a whole was “stunned,” because “We thought we were doing well.”
What has emerged since then, he noted, is a blue-ribbon special committee, lots of discussion all over the state, and a new, bar-wide survey—the results of which will be released soon.
Maras shared some tips for how to prompt a higher response rate to such a survey, and how to increase the chances that people will pay attention to its findings. Offer incentives to respond, she suggested, and publish the logo of all firms that participate. Present the data in a way that’s user friendly, she continued: Create graphs with bright colors so your report doesn’t look like a boring Excel spreadsheet.
If you conduct a study that finds gender bias in your legal community, Mayes said, the next step is to think about concrete ways to “interrupt” that bias, and to urge your local firms to do the same. For example, she said, when she was in corporate counsel at Allstate, the committee on advancement had a rule that all discussions had to be based on facts, not opinion—and the facts had to be recent.