As 2017 draws to a close, change seems to be in the wind. Time magazine named “The Silence Breakers” as its person of the year. This group, mostly women, is made up of those who came forward as victims of pervasive sexual harassment. We have seen numerous elected officials and celebrities resigning (or being removed) from positions of power over such allegations. But articles and social media posts are already wondering about a backlash, or the fear that women will not be hired by organizations for fear of future bias complaints.
As you gather with your family this holiday season, please ask a woman in your life—be it a spouse, partner, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, or friend – whether she has experienced sexual harassment in her career or personal life. The answers might surprise you. Our committee has recently discussed situations where members have suffered from the apparent implicit biases of others in their careers. Unfortunately, these incidents are common and present a real barrier to women seeking to advance in the profession.
In 2016, the American Bar Association reported that the majority of law school students was comprised of women for the first time. However, women are not yet advancing into the upper echelons of private law firms and elected government positions in such large numbers. As of 2017, the American Bar Association reported that 36% of the legal profession was comprised of women. At the same time, women made up 45% of associates in law firms, but only 18% of equity partners, 24.8% of Fortune 500 General Counsels, 33% of federal district court judges, 35.9% of judges on federal Circuit Courts of Appeal, and 27.1% of state court judges. According to a 2017 report by the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, in 2017 women held 19.3% of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 21% of the seats in the U.S. Senate, and 23.7% of executive elective offices in the states. These numbers have certainly improved since 1977, when women held only 4% of the seats in Congress and 10% of state elected executive offices.
Although women have come far in the past 40 years in terms of law school admissions, advances into the legal profession, and holding elected or appointed offices, we still have a long way to go. Our Committee continues to work on seeking recognition for the contributions of women in the profession.
This Spring, we will be holding an outreach event in Madison County to meet with our colleagues downstate. We hope that you will consider joining us. Happy holidays to you and your family from the members of the ISBA Standing Committee on Women and the Law!