Hey Sweetie: The Practical Impact of Sexism in the Legal Workplace (plus Podcast)

Sexism in the lawToday, we’re excited to announce the first episode of Law School Transparency’s podcast mini-series about women in the law. This week’s theme is sexism in the workplace. For the next six weeks, we’ll be running posts related to the LST topic of the week, along with a podcast episode and roundtable discussion on the same topic. You can learn more at LSTradio.com/women. Hope you enjoy it!

This week, our guest writer is Gabriella Martin, 2L at Quinnipiac University School of Law. Welcome, Gabriella!

Coming from the South, I grew up hearing names like sweetie, darling and honey, mostly from older women who were teachers, mentors and friends. These terms held no negative connotation for me because they were used so frequently and without malice. However, my perspective changed as I grew older and I came to realize how these terms, which in my childhood had been no more than innocent pronouns, were used time and time again to demean, subjugate and belittle. As an adult, I learned that names are just the tip of the sexism and gender inequality iceberg.

As sad a reality as it is, we in the legal field face an even bigger uphill battle when it comes to gender inequality because our profession for centuries (yes, centuries!) has been male dominated. Women did not begin to be admitted to the bar until the latter half of the 19th century in countries like New Zealand, India, France and the US. Even then, female attorneys were few and far between. And time has not seemed to increase these numbers by much. According to the American Bar Association, today in 2016 women make up only 36% of the total legal profession.

As an aspiring female attorney, that number is like a punch to the gut.

Sexism in the Legal Profession

Since coming to law school, the number of stories I hear about encounters with sexism, both blatant and subvert, has seemed to increase. Whether it is a supervising attorney being called sweetie and honey by a (non-Southern) female opposing counsel or female classmates being disregarded by their male counterparts in a simulation course, gender bias appears to be all around us in the legal field.

As lawyers the double standard is highlighted for us with almost a glaring brightness. If we are too soft, passive, and “emotional”—fulfilling our stereotypical role as women—we are admonished for not being zealous advocates, for not taking a position and holding firm. But so help us when we do decide to be zealous advocates, either in the courtroom or with our colleagues. As so-called zealous advocates, we are now labeled as cold, aggressive, and often bitchy.

So what’s a girl to do?

How do you even begin to combat mistaken job titles, belittling, and overall mistreatment that comes with gender bias? As if going through law school and being a lawyer wasn’t hard enough.

Find Your Friends

Well, there is hope, I promise you. Your first step should be to band together with other women. You don’t have to look far to find them either—just look to your local bar association, a women’s organization at your law school or national organizations like Ms. JD, NAWL or the ABA. From these groups, begin to build your core network of female allys. As one of my friends would say, this is your lady tribe—a group of women dedicated to seeing each other rise and helping each other make steps toward shattering the glass ceiling. Make your tribe as diverse as possible. Bring different perspectives to the table. My tribe is made up of law school friends to vent to and make plans for changing the world, professors to encourage and cultivate ideas with, and attorneys (both supervisors and friends) who provide examples of paths to success and inspiration to keep marching forward.

Learn From Those Who Went Before

The next step is to learn from the experiences of others. As I said before, women have been facing this struggle in the legal world for almost 200 years now and while we are still in the minority, we have most certainly learned a lot. How do you learn from their experiences, you ask? It’s simple. Attend panels of female lawyers, network at events hosted by female-centered organizations, or even pick up a book by or on giants such as Justice Ginsberg or Justice Sotomayor. In other words, become a sponge, soaking up the knowledge of where other women have come from, the gender biases they’ve faced, and how they’ve worked to overcome it. Learning from the experiences (and possible regrets of others) is the only way to change the outcome in the future.

Don’t Lose Hope

Lastly, and most importantly, have hope. Even at times when it seems as though gender bias and sexism is as unchangeable and immoveable as the most solid and dense of stones, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The challenge we face, that uphill battle, has had centuries to root itself deep into our profession (not to mention the millennia that it has had to become rooted in our society). It may not be fully erased in our lifetime, but the strides we make today can make things better for the generation of female lawyers that follow us. One day in the legal profession, there will no longer be a glass ceiling, only glass floors.


Law School Transparency’s Women in Law Podcast and Roundtable

Here’s the first episode of Law School Transparency’s podcast mini-series about women in the law.

And the first roundtable discussion:

Learn more about the project at LSTradio.com/women.


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About Gabriella Martin

Gabriella Martin is a law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law in the Intellectual Property concentration. Gabriella graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in English Literature which furthered a passion for creative writing and analysis. Gabriella is involved in several ABA committees and numerous student organizations--including a 1L mentoring program. When she is not writing for Law School Toolbox or The Girl's Guide to Law School, Gabriella can be found catching up on TV shows, discovering new music, and going on adventures, both big and small.


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