August 28, 2012 Articles

The Courage to Pay Heed: Knowing and Responding to Implicit Bias

Women and diverse lawyers remain far from parity with our representation in the population.

By Sarah Redfield

In 1988, Punch magazine published a cartoon by Rianna Duncan, showing a meeting around a big boardroom table. All of the participants, save one, were men. The chairman of the board (and it is chairman) is shown as saying, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” Many of us laughed when we first read this, and we recognized our own experiences in the humor. On reflection, the cartoon is not really funny, and in many ways, it rings as true in 2012 as it no doubt did in 1988.

The ABA’s Commission on Women reports that women are just 31 percent of the legal profession. Women hold 26 percent of federal and state judgeships. In private practice, women represent 19.4 percent of partners, 15 percent of equity partners, and 6 percent of the 200 largest law firm’s managing partners. In Fortune 500 companies, women hold 18.8 percent of the general counsel positions; in the Fortune 501–1000, 16 percent. On average, women’s weekly salaries are 20 percent to 30 percent lower than their male counterparts’, and there is extensive research documenting the so-called motherhood or pregnancy penalty. As Dr. Stephen Benard recently testified before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women with children are perceived as the least competent of applicants, are least likely to be allowed to be late for work without penalty, and are least likely to be recommended for hire or promotion. Even in the ABA, women hold well fewer than half the leadership appointments and positions. Although significant progress has been made in the diversity count as these numbers and other related data show, women and diverse lawyers remain far from parity with our representation in the population. Progress is slow in the diversity count and even slower in terms of meaningful and equal inclusion.

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