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Bar News - May 18, 2012

Opinion: A Closer Look at the Gender Equality Survey


Susan B. Carbon
The following is the continuation of Judge Susan Carbonís keynote address at the Gender Equality Breakfast at the 2012 Midyear Meeting. Part 1, published in the April 13 issue, reviewed progress made over the past few decades in societyís perception and the legal communityís attitudes towards domestic violence. Carbon announced last month that she was leaving her position as Director of the federal Office of Violence Against Women and returning to NH. Carbon, NHBA President in 1993-94, had stepped down as Supervisory Judge of the Family Division and Concord District Court when she was appointed to direct the OVW in 2009.

In Part 1, Carbon reviewed the NH Barís efforts to assess the status of gender equality in the legal profession, both in the treatment of women appearing as lawyers in court, and in the hiring, promotion and compensation practices of law firms. Three surveys have been conducted Ė in 1987, 1997 and again in 2009. The results of the latest survey are analyzed in the Summer 2010 edition of the Bar Journal.

Carbonís recap noted that positive trends in the last NH survey showed that overt acts of disrespect rarely occur today, with decreasing percentages of respondents reporting such incidents over the last two surveys. However, she noted that progress toward equality seems to be slowing, and in the economic arena, perhaps even reversing. In Part 2, Judge Carbon continues her analysis.

The findings from the most recent study by the Bar Association are disturbing in some significant ways. The inferior respect and prestige accorded to female attorneys remains unchanged. Thatís bad enough. But salary differentials and opportunities for advancement are worse than they were 10 years ago. Bias outside the court has decreased, but surprisingly, bias observed within the court has increased. For example, when considering treatment by judges:
  • Treatment with respect: In 1987, 46 percent of women (and 6 percent of men) reported that judges treated female attorneys with less respect. Those numbers dropped to 35 percent and 9 percent respectively in 1997. But they increased in 2009 to 39 percent and 11 percent (of those who reported "frequently or occasionally"); and were much higher if the "once" figures are included.
  • Condescending treatment: In 1987, 44 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported that judges treated female attorneys in a condescending manner. Those numbers declined to 31 percent and 11 percent respectively in 1997), but increased to 34 percent and 10 percent respectively in this most recent survey (or 48 percent and 12 percent if the "once" category is included).
  • Sexist jokes: In 1987, 21 percent of women and 10 percent of men had observed sexist jokes by judges in court. These numbers have not changed in 20 years! For those reporting frequently and occasionally, still, to this day, 21 percent of women, and a higher number of men, 18 percent, report hearing sexist jokes by judges (and 28 percent and 21 percent if we include the "once" selection).
Treatment by court clerks is likewise surprising: Most so is the use of inappropriately familiar names, nearly doubling over 20 years. Condescending treatment (15 percent) is nearly unchanged. But most surprising is a reported increase in verbal advances and inappropriate touching reported by female lawyers. Although still very low, the fact that the numbers are higher begs further exploration.

So what are these "trends" telling us? Are these true trends, or are we more comfortable reporting infractions because we know action will be taken, or is our tolerance lower because our collective conscience has been raised?

Whatever the cause, the best news yet is the initiative proposed by the Gender Equality Committee. A problem is not addressed until it is identified. Raising awareness is the first step. Recognizing and rewarding those who have the courage to change will lead to exponential improvements.

As Michael Tigar said last evening, "Conduct advances results." Good conduct induces incentive to change. Leadership. Mentorship. Leading by example. "Professionalism is not demonstrated by our words, but by our action," Ė another gem from Mr. Tigar. I am very pleased to see the specific recommendations of the Gender Equality Committee build upon the original 1988 Task Force recommendations. We need to look at pay, recruitment, engagement within the profession, and inappropriate comments, and find ways to expand gender equality and diversity within the profession. It is indeed an honorable one, and all of us have a part in ensuring its continued and healthy vitality and relevance.

Congratulations to the Gender Equality Committee, congratulations to the NH Bar and, again, congratulations to Justice Hicks. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to be a part of your meetings.

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