Survey by The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division finds that nearly half report experiencing gender bias.
By Christen Luikart & Joni Poitier, JBA Diversity Committee co-chairs
Women, particularly women of color, are leaving the profession of law at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.
According to the American Bar Association, although an equal number of women are graduating from law school, they make up only 35 percent of lawyers.
Of the Fortune 500 general counsels, women make up 26.4 percent. In private practice, 22.7 percent of partners are women and 19 percent are equity partners.
The numbers are even lower for women of color. While 22.7 percent of partners in private practice are women, minority women represent only 2.9 percent of partners.
Those who study the issue say some of the reasons women leave law practice are bias, discrimination, lack of work-life balance, child care, success fatigue and lack of senior role models or because women are discouraged by sexual harassment.
The ABA has been undertaking an initiative focused on increasing the number of women lawyers who pursue successful long-term careers in the law. The initiative is supported nationally by major law firms and corporations that have pledged their commitment to the goal of promoting the advancement and retention of women lawyers.
In October 2015, The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division released findings from its Survey on Women in the Legal Profession. More than 3,000 members of the YLD were sampled in the survey.
The survey found that 43 percent of respondents reported experiencing gender bias during their legal career.
As a result of the survey, then-Florida Bar President William Schifino Jr. appointed a special committee to study gender and diversity issues with the goal of making recommendations to the board of governors.
One of the recommendations was for The Florida Bar’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee to create a subcommittee on women in the profession, to address issues regarding gender bias and to assist in implementing the report recommendations.
The Jacksonville Bar Association has followed suit and created a Women in the Profession Subcommittee to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
The subcommittee is working on implementing several of The Florida Bar special committee’s recommendations, including continuing legal education courses that address gender bias, implicit bias and the business case for gender inclusion. Some of these topics will be addressed at the JBA’s CLE on March 13 at TPC Sawgrass.
Christen Luikart is a partner at Murphy & Anderson. Joni Poitier is a partner at Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones