Alice Shih

Yale Law Study on Gender: Student Perspective

 This is the fourth post in a series about Yale Law Women’s study, Yale Law School Faculty & Students Speak Up About Gender: Ten Years Later. This post focuses on the results of a 43 question web-based survey regarding gender dynamics at the law school. All current law students at Yale were invited to participate. The survey contained two types of questions. The first type asked students to quantify aspects of their law school experience on a numerical scale. The second type was open-ended, inviting students to use narrative responses to describe their experiences and impressions of gender patterns in the law school. Of J.D. candidates, 62% responded, 55% of whom were women and 45% of whom were men. The responses were nearly evenly split among each J.D. class. Since participation in the survey was voluntary, selection bias is a possibility. However, the high participation rate suggests that the responses do at least reflect the perceptions of a majority of students at YLS.

At first glance, it seems that the student body was not sure if women and men interacted differently with faculty. Of the respondents, 56% stated that they were not sure if a difference existed, 34% perceived a difference, and only 10% replied that there was no difference. But separating responses by gender shed light on the difference in perceptions among women and men. While 73% of men reported that they were not sure if a difference exists, only 33.5% or women reported the same. Only 14% of men believed there was a difference while nearly 40% of women respondents perceived a difference. This gap in perceptions mirrored the gap in experiences the study found between women and men.

The survey found that nearly half of students (45%) were unsatisfied with mentorship opportunities. Though such a high percentage of students were unsatisfied, women and men had different comfort levels in engaging with faculty. Men students were more active in engaging faculty outside of class, and were more comfortable doing so. The following findings reveal just how wide the disparity is among women and men:

  • 70% men vs. 47% women reported they were comfortable attending scheduled office hours; and 
  • 63% men vs. 37% women reported they were comfortable meeting with faculty outside of office hours.

Furthermore, while the majority of both men (88.2%) and women (60.0%) students reported that they were equally comfortable attending the office hours of both men and women professors, a significant percentage of women (29.8%) reported that they feel more comfortable attending the office hours of female professors.

Since men reported higher comfort levels in engaging with faculty, it’s no surprise that men also reported that they are more comfortable asking faculty to advocate for them. However, this may not mean that they know professors any better than women; instead, it may merely show that men are more willing to ask for letters of recommendation at a lower level of familiarity with a professor than women are. For example, one professor noted, “On a scale of 1-100, men will ask me for a recommendation when they know me 30—women won’t ask unless they know me at least 60.” Even if men may not know professors better than women, the comfort level for asking for professors to advocate for them has practical consequences: 50% of men and 33% of women have three or more professors they feel they could ask for letters of recommendations.

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