In the last decade there has been much talk about whether gender bias still exists in the courtroom. The articles that address the issue are largely based on observation, and the few older studies that have been conducted have either simply collected those observations or targeted only conscious bias. Not surprisingly, the studies conclude jurors deny having any conscious gender bias. However, earlier studies and recent anecdotal pieces suggest that despite the absence of conscious gender bias, unconscious and subtle acts of gender bias continue to pervade the justice system.
In 2012, DecisionQuest, a jury consulting organization, conducted a study wherein they directly asked jurors whether they had any gender bias. The findings were:
While the foregoing findings indicate jurors do not see themselves as having gender bias, the comments by the respondents suggest gender bias still exists. For example, one respondent commented that female attorneys are “equally competent, but possibly less respected by the average person in society.” Another commented, “I don’t think [female attorneys] are any less qualified than males, but I would prefer a male attorney because, sadly, there are sexists in juries and they’re most likely going to favor male lawyers.”
Surprisingly, studies on this subject are few and far between. Other than the work by DecisionQuest, the studies are much older, and focus on anecdotal evidence and subjective interpretations.
Even if unconscious bias pervades the justice system, there are clearly some women who have figured out how to overcome it and succeed in the courtroom. Their advice to young female lawyers includes:
More than 50% of law school graduates are women. Social awareness of gender issues is increasing. Many attorneys, judges, doctors, government leaders, and business executives depicted on television are now women. Perhaps these changes will help shift perceptions and replace unconscious gender bias with new-found respect and acceptance.
Bibianne is a Partner at Fleming & Fell PC. She was a member of NITA’s faculty from 2008 through 2012, and recently became the Program Director for the Depositions Skill: Pacific program. We would like to thank Bibianne for her perspective on this topic, and we’d like to ask you to comment below with yours.