Florida Bar Raises Awareness on Discrimination Against Women

Photo by Pat (Cletch) Williams (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The Florida Bar has released a survey of women lawyers about their experience in the profession and the results are sobering.

Among roughly 400 women attorneys who responded to the survey, 43 percent said they had experienced gender discrimination.

“It has often been assumed that I am a court reporter, and not an attorney, by opposing counsel,” one respondent wrote. “I’ve also been referred to by a judge in trial as my boss’s ‘assistant,’ when I was sitting with my client and my boss at counsel’s table.”

Others reported being ‘drunk-dialed’ by a senior partner during normal business hours, that opposing counsel suggested they ‘run away together’ with the proceeds of a settlement, that they were paid less than male counterparts and that they lacked work-life balance.

Released in late February, the Florida Bar Association’s inaugural 2015 Young Lawyer’s Division Survey on Women in the Legal Profession, lists a litany of problems women lawyers encounter, from sexual discrimination to an all-consuming pressure to log billable hours:

• 42 percent of respondents said they struggle with work-life balance.

• 27 percent said they resigned over a lack of advancement opportunities, a lack of work-life balance and/or employer/supervisor insensitivity.

• 21 percent said there was no parity in compensation with similarly-qualified male counterparts.

The survey was conducted by email among a random sample of around 3,000 female members of the Florida bar’s Young Lawyer Division in late 2015, all of whom were 36 years and younger or within their first five years of practice. More than 400 responded.

The Florida bar and its Young Lawyers Division will hold several events and discussions on gender diversity in response to the results, beginning in April. The aim is to empower female members of the bar and work towards a solution with the entire membership, including men. It won’t fix the systemic issues entirely, but it’s a first step, said Gordon Glover, president of the Young Lawyers Division.

“Since I’ve been practicing law, nobody has talked about it and so this is really shedding some light on it,” Glover said. “We’re trying to incorporate men into the discussion as well, especially managing partners and those in charge of the bigger law firms.”

Respondants also reported that the office of an attorney general, judges, clients, co-workers, managing partners, female supervisors and others were guilty of harrassment and other unprofessional behavior.

Besides lower salaries and bonuses, female respondants also denounced stifled opportunities to advance, hostile work environments and other treatment they said they wouldn’t have received if they were men.

“Interviewer referred to the non-partner track as the ‘mommy track’ and warned me against pursuing it because I’m clearly ‘driven,’ etc.,” one woman wrote in the survey.

Many respondents reported feeling powerless to change the culture and norms of the profession.

“I knew I couldn’t sue my firms because it would blackball me from working in Big Law, or any firm of consequence, again,” one respondent wrote. “For the same reason, I also never reported inappropriate touching and conversations that occurred at firm events. Until there are professional consequences for the men and firms that engage in this behavior, women will not be able to stand up for themselves without fearing doing so will end their careers.”