By sintecho • December 08, 2010•Women and Law in the Media
I attended an all-day CLE training class last weekend and was dismayed to see that women were hardly among the presenters. The two long substantive sessions were both presented by men, the event leader was a man, and the afternoon panels were mostly men (3 men and 1 woman on 1 panel and 2 women and 2 men on the other). The topics were fairly generic, and it seemed that if the organizers had aimed for gender parity, it wouldn't have been impossible to find a woman who could have been at least one of the main three presenters.
My guess is that the organizers didn't think about it one way or the other (or perhaps at the end had an "oh no!" moment when they realized there were no women and then rushed to track a paltry 3 down to be on the panels). If it wasn't intentional, then I started thinking (the CLE was as boring as you might imagine, so I had plenty of time for my thoughts to wander) about the subconscious bias that might exist when we think of experts.
Do men more naturally come to mind? If so, it could be for three reasons. First, men have more legal experience because women faced barriers to entry to the profession and progression within the profession. Second, men are better at self-promoting, so they get their names out there more successfully than women with equal experience and therefore come to the minds of those seeking experts before the names of similarly qualified women. Third, society still accepts knowledge coming from a man with more trust than the same information coming from a woman.
Even though I think about these issues a lot, I didn't notice how few women were part of the program until the very end of the day. The fact that it took so long to register with me bothered me because it suggested that I'm so used to hearing from mostly men in an expert capacity that the absence of women didn't strike me as abnormal (or even notable). If the presentation had been almost entirely women, on the other hand, I definitely would have noticed.
I think we will have true equal standing in the profession when people notice our exclusion ("How odd! I wonder why only men are the main speakers?") That will be the day.