Women in Law

As we mourn the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s time that we take a look at the gender bias in the legal field. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Smiling Photo by Wake Forest University School of Law distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

Let’s start with the phrase, “You don’t look like a lawyer.” Women, especially women of color, hear this phrase too many times in the office. Many women are mistaken for court personnel, custodial staff and administrative staff in the very same office that they work in. According to a recent study, over 50% of women reported mistaken identity. This is even more prevalent for women of color whom 57% reported that same bias. Male lawyers, however, only experienced that bias 7% of the time. 

Justice Statue/Lady Justice Photo by William Cho from Pixabay

Next, women are more likely to be interrupted in court, with over half of female lawyers reporting that they were interrupted in meetings. This even carries up to the Supreme Court. When there was just one woman on the bench, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 35.7% of interruptions were directed at her. When two women were on the bench, O’Connor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 45.3% of interruptions were directed at them. As it jumped to three women on the bench, Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan, 65.9% of all interruptions were directed at them. 

When speaking in court, what women wear and how they speak are under intense scrutiny from men. The standard clothing for men in court is typically a dark suit, a button up and a tie. Women however have no standard dress in court but are expected to look attractive but not provocative. This means wearing heels that are exactly the right height, the right skirt length, no bare legs and definitely no sleeveless blouses. Even facial expressions are under scrutiny with women being told to smile more so they look less severe in court. When speaking, women are expected to have a calm demeanor. If a woman shows any other emotion such as anger or impatience, many judges write them off as shrill and irrational. However, men are praised for those same emotions. 

Lastly, the wage gap has to be addressed. Studies show that women make 80 cents for every dollar that men make. This wage gap exists for many reasons such as women having a harder time finding a first job that pays well right out of college than men do. This ripples throughout the rest of a woman's career because employers tend to base salary on prior salaries. It’s also harder to prove discrimination with wage gaps. There had been lawsuits on firms about the wage gap but firms were quick to deny any allegations. 

Putting money in a piggy bank Photo by Damir Spanic from Unsplash

As a young woman who wants to go into law, I’m going to have to face this bias for the rest of my career.  I hope that the legal profession will change as time goes on to remove this bias. Change is slow however, but as Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time”