By Alice Shih • June 12, 2012•Law School
Over the course of the past few weeks, this series has examined the findings from Yale Law Women’s study, Yale Law School Faculty & Students Speak Up About Gender: Ten Years Later. This study was the product of nearly two years of diligence by a board of 12 members and about 50 student volunteers. This study was not undertaken for academic credit. Rather, its authors felt compelled to understand the continuing gender disparity in positions of leadership in the government, judiciary, private sector, and in the legal academy. This Yale Law study is just one study. We urge students to replicate this study in their own schools.
Why is it important to study gender at the law school level?
Women and men are now admitted and graduating from law schools at nearly equal rates. This has been the reality for ten years. Nevertheless, women only account for 30% of legal professions in the judiciary, private sector, and legal academy. Though there are three women justices on the Supreme Court, of the 112 justices that have ever served on the Court, only 4 have been women. Forty-nine of the 163 active judges sitting on the 13 federal courts of appeal are women (30.1%). Similarly, only 31% of active United States district court judges are women. Women represent less than 20% of partners at law firms. In 2008, 37% of all full-time law faculty in the United States were women, and only about 28% of all tenured law professors were women.
Some may argue that ten years is not enough time for women to close the gender gap in these professions. However, a glance at the gender of Supreme Court clerks, a group comprised of recent law school graduates, reveals that the gender disparity persists early in the legal achievement pipeline. In fact, more women served as Supreme Court clerks 10 years ago than did so this past year. In the 2011-2012 year, 11 of 36 clerks were women (30.6%) compared with 13 out of 33 clerks in 2001-2002 (39.4%).
The law school experience precedes professions in the judiciary, private sector, and academy and trains future judges, partners, and professors. Therefore, law school is an important place to study gender and understand what steps can be taken early in one’s legal career to counteract later disparities.
How to replicate the Gender Study at your school
The study’s instruments and tools are included in the appendix of Yale Law School Faculty & Students Speak Up About Gender: Ten Years Later. The Yale Law Women Board is also available for consultation on how to start a study at your school. Their contact information can be found here. Below are lessons from this particular study.
- Faculty Support is Important: The faculty outlasts the students at any school and therefore it is very important to find allies among the faculty before launching the research. It would be ideal to have a faculty advisor who will give you substantive feedback on how the faculty will receive the results. After all, if the faculty don’t “buy” the methodology and believe in the validity and usefulness of the study, they will not respond to the results and recommendations.
- Student Leadership: This study takes a village! Over 50 people volunteered to collect data and they need centralized leadership. Secure key student leaders who will take responsibility for the project as a whole so that the final product is coherent.
- Build pre-launch momentum: Before the launch of the report, drum up excitement on campus. Extend personal invitations to key faculty and administrators. Also, the Yale study posted dozens of posters that displayed compelling Fact-or-Fiction posters to intrigue readers.
- Follow Up: Launching the study itself is a huge undertaking, but the effort cannot end at the release of the report if the goal is to change your institution. Be prepared with a plan of extensive follow up that includes meeting with professors one-on-one regarding gender imbalance in their classrooms, working with administrators to implement institution-wide changes, and giving interviews to media outlets.
Best of luck!
Thank you to the board of the Speak Up Study for their contributions to this post.