Op-Ed

Sexism in the legal profession must be eliminated

Miami Herald Editorial Board

TNS

A recent survey by the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar has revealed a sobering reality for our great state’s legal profession, but it also illuminates an important issue affecting all industries, not just in Florida but the entire United States.

The survey, conducted last year, randomly sampled more than 3,000 female members of the Young Lawyers Division. The results included feedback from more than 400 young women with 43 percent of respondents stating they had experienced gender bias during their legal career.

Many female lawyers acknowledged being harassed by opposing counsel, an employer or the court. And more than one-quarter reported resigning from a position because of a lack of advancement opportunities, a lack of work-life balance and/or employer/supervisor insensitivity.

The fact this survey uncovered that gender bias still exists within our legal community should not come as a surprise. What’s most troubling is the depth of the problem that the blunt, often eloquent and, at times, shocking personal accounts made clear.

The Florida Bar and the Young Lawyers Division wanted to hear these honest experiences in an effort to gauge the degree to which this problem remains. Without that, the chance for meaningful change is nil. And change is the goal — systemic change that bears lasting results.

Without change, I fear our industry as a whole will suffer. Currently, law schools across the country are seeing a near-even 50-50 split between female and male students. We need that percentage to extend beyond the classroom to the employment rosters of law firms across Florida, and the U.S.

The first step is recognition and acknowledgment that gender bias continues to infect our workplace. But the true impact will come once we can influence and reshape our business culture to ensure no one, female or male, ever feels less than equal.

That’s why I want to talk about what The Florida Bar is doing now that the survey results have been made public. We must hang a lantern on this issue to address and illuminate positive solutions. One important step is continuing the dialogue.

On April 6, I will speak to members of the Miami-Dade FAWL (Florida Association for Women Lawyers) at the Epic Hotel in downtown Miami. I sincerely urge my male colleagues in the legal profession to attend, listen and, hopefully, go back to their firms to initiate similar internal discussions.

In order to truly combat and minimize gender bias within our industry, the discussion cannot be relegated solely to women. Gender bias, no matter how it manifests, is a professional issue and not something that affects just the women we call colleagues. Thus, it can only be addressed and solved with everyone’s participation.

My life has been shaped and defined by strong female leaders, including my grandmothers, my mother and numerous educators and colleagues. I don’t ever want gender bias to affect the two women I care most about — my wife, an accomplished professional and trial lawyer, and my daughter, who is just now charting her own career path.

The way we accomplish this is simple — through open dialogue among all industries, including the legal profession, and a dedication to ensuring there is room for women at all levels of leadership. The benefit we stand to gain from allowing all voices to be heard and anyone with ideas to lead will make us better in the courtroom, the boardroom and life.

Ramon Abadin is the president of the Florida Bar and a partner at Sedgwick LLP in Miami.

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