NLR BLOG FORUM: WHAT IS HAPPENING TO WOMEN IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION – PART 2: LAW PROFESSORS

In this entry, Professors Katherine Barnes and Elizabeth Mertz share some findings on women law professors, drawn from their work on the ABF “After Tenure” study.   In the first segment of our Forum, Professor Carroll Seron talked about the continuing gap in earnings, status, and power that exists within law practice between men and women…

This partly due to the fact that women (as well as men of color) are differentially located in lower-paid parts of the legal profession, but it also pertains even just within particular practice settings like law firms.  Even when policies have been enacted to try to combat lingering gender and race inequalities, those policies run into resistance at a number of levels.  Seron focused on (1) time norms; (2) effects of social reputation and stereotyping on mentoring; and (3) structural consequences of tokenism.

Barnes and Mertz here report on findings from the “After Tenure” study, which is being conducted at the American Bar Foundation, with additional funding from the Law School Admission Council.  It began with a national survey of post-tenure law professors, then moved to follow-up interviews with 100 of the survey respondents, and is now in a third phase involving still more intensive data collection.   The study authors share some of the quantitative and qualitative results regarding gender:

From the AT national survey, we know that law professors are on average a satisfied group, and this includes women law professors.  However, there are significant differences between men and women in levels of satisfaction; women are markedly less happy with their job situations in law schools (white male professors have an average satisfaction level about 10 percentage points higher than professors or color or female professors).  Women of color are the least satisfied, with at-times dramatically disparate reported job experiences as law professors. Only 38% of women of color versus 58% of white men reported feeling “very satisfied” (men of color and white women fall in-between, with 47% of each falling in the “very satisfied” category).

Our most recent quantitative results point to the issue of “voice” as an important factor in the difference between male and female law professors’ job experiences.  Women who feel that they have “voice” – that they are listened to by their law schools and colleagues — are more likely to feel satisfied with their job situations.  (The quantitative analysis at this point does not clearly indicate what causes what here, but voice clearly emerges as a vital part of the picture.)  At a broad level, the survey results point to the overall atmosphere at law schools, including the quality of collegial relationships, as important and integral parts of female law professors’ job experience. Differences in the perception of law school atmospheres as “collegial” explain 33% of the differences in satisfaction rates overall; if men and women experienced the same rates of collegiality, the gap in job satisfaction would basically disappear. The same can be said of faculty having voice in their institutions; if men and women reported the same levels of voice within their institutions, the satisfaction gap would disappear. Overall, the differences in voice within their institutions accounts for 26% of the total variance in job satisfaction. Salary differences and age account for most of the remaining variation in job satisfaction.

The qualitative interview results shed further light on the role of “voice,” atmosphere, and collegial relationships for women in the legal academy.   Compare these accounts from women who report vastly different levels of satisfaction:

“Um, and like I say, I – I do think that – I think that law schools also reflect the broader society.  And so that, you know, comes back to what I was describing in sort of the context in which the law school and everything is situated. And I – and I think, so, I think society has stereotypes about women -for instance.  And I think that they’re carried into the – into the – into the legal arena and including in law schools. Uh, so I think that happens -as well.  So, for instance, at meetings, at faculty meetings, I would say that – something I have observed is that a woman will make a suggestion and, you know, they’ll, you know, the other people will talk.  And then a man will make the same suggestion and then the man’s suggestion will get more recognition [than the other] suggestion, even though it was made by the woman first. That kind of stuff… seems to occur.”  [5040: woman law professor, low satisfaction]

“You know, we real-… and I feel that… that, uh… this is a place where you can actually make changes.  Um, it’s not easy, but you can do it.  And you have to work really hard to get it done and you have to work really hard sometimes to persuade your colleagues that this is a good idea.  But we’ve just made enormous strides in… in terms of supporting, helping, reinforcing, training, uh, the students who are struggling. …  And that’s… I feel I had a lot to do with that, and it… it’s very gratifying.”  [4775: woman law professor, high satisfaction]

When asked what made her work climate or institution a good fit, this female law professor summed it up as follows:

“Just in general?  Um, you know, as I said, overall, it’s a good,  comfortable place to work that, um, on a daily basis you really do feel, that I can… you know, I can… I can do my work.  I feel, um, that, you know, I’m… I can speak when I want to speak and not speak when I don’t want to speak and it’s, and… because I know some faculties don’t like (LAUGHS) when people speak up.  But you don’t feel that. Um, I think that, as I said, on a daily basis, it’s, um, very comfortable.  They do provide for you and you do feel like, hmm, let me just go ask and see what about this?

And, you know, um, and also that things are not personal.  I think that’s very important.  You know, that… that if you go and ask for something and the answer is no, um, it has noth-… you know, it’s not a personal matter… between you and someone else, that it’s usually for some, you know, greater policy or lack of money or (LAUGHS)… or something like that.  So, you know, a no is no, but you always feel like, wow, this is… this is not about me, this… you know, maybe it’s a policy we need to think about changing …. But, that it’s… it’s not… it’s not a personal matter.  So that… that makes it a comfortable place to work.” [5761, woman law professor, moderate satisfaction]

As you might expect, the stories that emerge from the qualitative part of the study speak of a more complicated mix of experiences and perceptions.  But they contain many examples of this phenomenon:  female law professors speaking of the importance of the surrounding law school culture to their job experiences — and repeated accounts of both direct and indirect ways in which law schools are sometime succeeding, but sometimes failing, to create equally welcoming environments for women and men.

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