What Does Gender Bias Look Like in Real Life?

Author:Palacio, Kristen L.
Position:Special Section: Diversity & Inclusion

Gender bias is the prejudice displayed toward one gender over the other. (1) Often this bias is implicit in our nature--molded by our culture, upbringing, and personal experiences. (2) A simple example of this bias is when a person refers to an individual by their occupation, such as "doctor" or "engineer," and it is assumed that individual is male. Males, however, are not immune from gender bias. For example, teachers, especially those who teach younger-aged children, are often assumed to be women. (3) This makes it challenging for men to enter the field of early childhood learning. (4) These notions--however antiquated--are difficult to dispel and can carry over into the workplace.

In the practice of law, women lawyers may face certain hurdles that men may not encounter. Often, a woman lawyer must be mindful of how her demeanor will be perceived by judges, juries, opposing counsel, and even her own clients. The same behavior when exhibited by a male may be construed differently than when exhibited by a female. For example, if a male attorney appears outwardly frustrated or angry in the courtroom, he may be viewed as an assertive advocate for his client. When a female attorney displays the same emotions, she may be viewed as temperamental or irrational. At the same time, the woman lawyer must be careful not to be perceived as "too soft" in front of her client and opposing counsel. These perceptions can be the result of implicit bias.

Gender bias can affect women lawyers at every level of the legal profession. Women lawyers may have to field comments from male clients and colleagues who are concerned that a female lawyer cannot go "toe-to-toe" with a male opponent. Women lawyers often find themselves reminded of their male opponents' experience, regardless of their own experience. It is not uncommon to hear comments that men can more effectively resolve disputes with male opposing counsel and get their client a better deal than their female team members because men speak the same "language." And we've all heard the tales of women lawyers being mistaken for court reporters, assistants, and paralegals--or experienced it firsthand. The Florida Bar's 2016 Survey on Gender Equality in the Legal Profession confirms these anecdotal experiences. (5) The survey found:

* 29% of female respondents and less than 1% of male respondents report personally experiencing being addressed by names like "honey" or "sweetie" by male lawyers.

* 27% of female...

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