Counteracting Implicit Gender Bias: Women Supporting Other Women

After thinking about the “So you want to be a (good) attorney” discussion panel last week, I realized that one way in which attorneys can strive to be “good” is to address their implicit biases.  This week, I attended a lecture given by Professor Latonia Keith, the Director of Clinical Education at the Concordia School of Law, regarding her research about the effect implicit gender bias may have both in the legal profession and in the courtroom. Although there has been gender parity in law school classes for the past twenty years, using research gathered by the National Association for Law Placement, Keith claimed that firm partners are overwhelmingly white men. Indeed, less than 20% of equity partners at multi-tier firms are women.  She attributed this inequality between the genders to multiple factors, such as sexual harassment in the workplace and lack of parental support policies, all stemming from implicit gender bias.  At the conclusion of her presentation, Keith recommended that all law schools mandate a “cultural competency course”.

During her lecture, Keith mentioned that some women carry an even greater implicit gender bias than men.  I wondered if women can combat their own implicit biases by resisting a culture in which they are much too often pitted against one another and instead cultivate one characterized by support and mentorship.  Recounting a comment made about her female colleague’s disheveled appearance, Keith admitted to holding an implicit gender bias.  Since Keith claimed that men are not held to the same standards of appearance, she stated that in retrospect she would have never made this comment to a male colleague.  In an interview with Bibi Gnagno I conducted this week, she stressed the importance of mentorship to “break glass ceilings.”  She explained that paths other women entrepreneurs had cleared and barriers they had broken were integral to the success of her own company.

I think that the importance of female support was a predominant theme in this week’s meeting at Brogden, featuring Durham County prosecutors, Ameshia Cooper and Patricia Flood, as the guest speakers.  Throughout the discussion, both attorneys continuously expressed their reliance upon one another for either legal advice or emotional support both in and out of the courtroom. Furthermore, since Cooper has been practicing longer than her, Flood explained that Cooper’s expertise has greatly helped her career.  After the meeting, the girls eagerly asked Cooper and Flood if they could observe a trial and even inquired about possible volunteer opportunities at the courthouse.

I think that this week’s meeting not only made some of the eighth-grade young women realize that law school is very well within their reach, but may have also made them more aware of the crucial role supportive relationships with other women play in enabling success.  Through connecting younger women with older women in their community, I wondered if my project helps to develop these supportive relationships among women and simultaneously counteracts some of the detrimental effects implicit gender bias has for female achievement.