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Response to April 2013’s Article on Gender Bias

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To the editor:

Thank you for the article in your April 2013 issue on the important topic of gender bias in the legal profession.  You identify important elements of that bias, such as “the fact that self-advocacy by women is viewed negatively” and the fact that women often are seen as “not tough enough” – although you might have also noted the virtual impossibility of rebutting both of those stereotypes at once.

But the article unfortunately falls short — putting the onus on women who are the victims of the problem to solve it.  Even if discrimination these days is largely unconscious, as you note, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.  Why not call on law firms and individual lawyers to educate themselves about unconscious bias and take steps to address it?

The article lists several things women attorneys can do to break the glass ceiling (e.g., if you’re pregnant, “tell your supervising partner you intend to return” after your child is born).  But it says absolutely nothing about steps employers should take to eliminate discrimination (e.g., make it clear that supervisors are not to assume pregnant employees will fail to return to work).  Nor does it ever mention legal remedies for workplace discrimination, such as lodging formal complaints, or suing for violations of legal rights.  By making unconscious bias a problem that women should accept and “work around,” this article does as much to legitimate the glass ceiling as to shatter it.
Sincerely,

Nancy Ehrenreich
Prof. of Law & William M. Beaney Memorial Research Chair
Sturm College of Law, University of Denver

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