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The Utah Report: Identifying Harassment, Discrimination, and Bias in the Profession

In Utah only 23% of the lawyers are women, significantly fewer than the 31% in the rest of the nation. Only 11% of law firm partners are women, and in the words of the report female partners of color are essentially "non-existent" (only 0.4%).  Four years ago Women Lawyers of Utah (WLU) set out to answer these two basic questions:

  1. Do Utah law firms face greater challenges retaining and promoting female attorneys than male attorneys?
  2. If so, what concrete, unbiased actions can Utah law firms and Utah attorneys take to meet these challenges?

To answer these questions WLU conducted a survey and then held a series of symposia to discuss the survey results and recommend best practices. Here are some highlights of their findings:

  • 10% of female attorneys surveyed had been sexually harassed, compared to 1% of male respondents.
  • Among law firm attorneys working 40 hours a week or more the majority of female attorneys earn incomes below $125,000 and the majority of male attorneys earn incomes above $125,000 a year.
  • The most populated income bracket for female attorneys was "below $40,000," compared to "above $175,000" among men.
  • 10% of female respondents surveyed had experienced sex discrimination, compared to 1% of male respondents.
  • 27% of respondents worked on alternative schedules - roughly equal numbers of men and women - but more than half also said their firms do not favor these arrangements.
  • Respondents reported many typical gender biases, including that male partners would not travel for work with, go to lunch with, or mentor female attorneys.
  • Only 13% of all attorneys surveyed said they had mentoring opportunities.

So all pretty bad news here. We've got openly hostile work environments, blatant wage discrimination, and no mentoring structures. The one bright spot might be that alternative work arrangements are relatively more common in Utah than other markets and utilized by men and women equally. On the other hand, when women are consistently harassed, underpaid, and shut out of development opportunities, it's safe to say that a lack of mentoring is not the key reason women aren't succeeding in Utah's legal profession.

For the most part the best practices are fairly standard. There is a tone throughout laying responsibility for action on these problems at the feet of individuals. For example, in response to the high incidence of sexual harassment the report recommends the usual institutional measures (a policy, training, reporting mechanisms) and then suggests that "attorneys need to take responsibility themselves in identifying inappropriate behavior and intervening when they see that behavior starting." This type of suggestion is gender-neutral, which is the key. 

As an outsider, this offers a fascinating look into a little-discussed market. A huge kudos to the Women Lawyers of Utah for taking this on and doing so with a coalition of industry leaders (check out all the men on their advisory committee).  The survey had a 50% response rate - remarkably high - which also bodes well for future change. I recommend the full report (.pdf).

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