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Lawyers of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome.

 

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Life Imitates Law: Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the words used to describe migrants – words that evoke a sense of fear, of disaster – stay with us as we learn about issues of migration and color our perception thereof. The post sparked some conversation and questions about the words typically used to describe women, including professional women, and how language choice affects each of our lives (including our careers). I’ve been doing some digging on this and I want to share these resources, which range from scholarly to smile-inducing:

 

Adult Female Humans = Women.

  • To paraphrase actress Mayim Bialik’s video, one can normally recognize a girl by the fact that she is under 18 and may live with her parents. Being CEO of a company or a mother is a decent indicator that the person in question is, in fact, a woman, not a girl. In line with my previous post, Bialik gets that “language sets expectations.” This is a fun watch. 
  • Gina M. Florio’s 2016 Bustle Article posits that calling women “girls” is infantilizing, creepy, and perpetuates an obsession with female youth. On top of that, we rarely call men “boys” and calling women “girls” prevent us from treating each other as equals. 

Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes. 

Gendered Language Bias in the Workplace.

  • In a study analyzing the language of hundreds of performance reviews from professional and technology services companies women were 2.5 times as likely to be called out for aggressive communication styles as men and twice as likely praised for their teamwork or collaboration than men.
  • This problem is not confined to the law: a 2016 Nature Geoscience article found that women are about half as likely as their male counterparts to be described as excellent in recommendation letters, whether the letters are written by women or men. 

Additional Resources:

Please comment and let your fellow Lawyers Club members and me know what you think: Are we perpetuating sexism by refusing to recognize it in its daily forms? Have you ever called anyone groomzilla? (I have, for the record.)   

 

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

Tags:  art  awareness  bias  discrimination  equality  girl  language  LCB 

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Life Imitates Law: Words Can Convey or Destroy Dignity

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Life Imitates Law: Words Can Convey or Destroy Dignity

 

Bombastic litigators, craftsman brief writers, and shrewd contract drafters all stake their clients’ best interests on choosing the right words in the search for just outcomes. So, as much or more than to anyone else, lawyers should care how we refer to other humans, especially those most vulnerable.

 

Flood, wave, swarm – these words evoke a sense of fear, of disaster. Reading headlines with such words, I struggle to remember if should get under the desk or into a door-jam.  But these aren’t headlines about tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes. Instead, a quick news search of articles in recent months comes up with titles like “Flood of Illegal Immigrants Continues at Texas Border,” “Illegals Pour Across Border Before Trump's Inauguration,” and “Illegals Swarm in.” After reading those, who wouldn’t be scared of migrants?

 

Helen Zaltzman, that’s who. Zaltzman fearlessly confronts language on a bi-weekly basis in her word-nerd podcast The Allusionist, Small Adventures in Language. (Catch me on my morning commute soaking in some etymology.) Allusionist Episode 53, The Away Team, is all about how terms used to describe migrants have become increasingly negative over time. The episode focuses on Britain, but is equally applicable to our side of the Atlantic. 

 

Zaltman and I are both offended by the misuse of words in the migration context. Many of us refer to fellow humans by category (refugee, asylee, unaccompanied minor). Propaganda and migration specialist Emma Briant opined that doing so gives “preference [for] how officials are sorting [people] over their very basic humanity.” To make matters worse, terms that were once neutral have become negative. Since when do “refugees” or “asylum seekers” (people who are, by definition, escaping persecution) invoke skepticism and not sympathy? Also—and this should really trouble us as lawyers—the term illegal gets tossed about lightly in this context. Most migrants have broken no laws, and even those who have are not “illegal” because, to quote Briant again, “people cannot be illegal.” 

 

Zaltzman, interviewing novelist and editor Nikesh Shukla, further highlights how often migration status is used as a proxy for race. All over the English-speaking world, wealthy or middle class whites who have chosen to live abroad are “expats” not “immigrants.” We never talk about a “swarm” of wealthy white people (well, maybe talking about Coachella, but that’s a conversation for another time.)

 

The Away Team ends with a reminder that most words in the English language are themselves immigrants (French, Latin, Germanic, Greek, and Scandinavian). Zaltzman warns that without such immigrant words, “you lose at least 60% of modern English plus most scientific and technological vocabulary.”   

Many Allusionist episodes are about fun stuff like sex (Episodes 50-51, Under the Covers) or manners on either side of the Atlantic (Episode 33, Please); however, there are other great listens with a focus on equality like Episode 12, Pride, or Episode 52, Sanctuary.

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

 

Tags:  art  awareness  bias  discrimination  equality  immigration  language  LCB  podcasts  word choice 

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Chasing the Last Wave: "What's Diversity Got to Do With It?"

Posted By Molly Tami, Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What’s Diversity Got to Do With It? 

  

      Throughout the history of feminism, women as a group have been the “other” gender fighting for equal rights and equal opportunities. While women make up almost half of total law school graduates, the data confirms that women are not equally represented in law firm partnership, in corporate counsel offices, on the bench or in other leadership positions in our profession. We are all familiar with the explanations and reasons given for this, and we continue to struggle to change this reality.

 

     Our hope for change is fueled in part by the notion that legal employers want to boast of a “diverse” workforce to attract diverse candidates as well as to meet their clients’ expectations and demands for a diverse group of people to work on their legal matters. The arguments for diversity are indeed compelling. But isn’t it perplexing that women, particularly those with family responsibilities, feel at times that they have to stake their claim to executive positions or positions of leadership in the name of diversity rather than equality?

 

     I’ve been thinking about that question since spending a weekend with five corporate lawyers, all working in the auto finance field in the mid-west (a male dominated arena). These women are all very accomplished and successful. One of the women in her mid-forties was struggling with a decision about whether to pursue an even bigger job at her company. In reality, she felt that she was already doing most of the duties of the elevated position but not getting the recognition or pay for it. At the same time, she values her current work arrangement which allows her to leave in the afternoons to pick up her child at school, and then return to work either at the office or at home. And on Fridays, she works remotely from home. She wanted to pursue the new position, but did not want to lose this flexibility and ability to manage and enjoy both her work and family life.

 

    She was discussing with our group how she might approach her boss about taking the new position/title while keeping her current work arrangement. Her proposed argument to the boss went like this: the company wants and values “diversity” in executive roles and as a working mother she provides that diversity. My immediate reaction to that argument was this: why do women who have both proven their worth in the workplace and value their family role have to pitch their worthiness for a promotion in the name of diversity? What’s diversity got to do with it? Women are at least half the population in this country, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the labor force. So why do we still view the ideal worker norm as an individual (male or female) whose work life exists in a vacuum void of consideration of family responsibilities?  

 

    This is a difficult issue that I will attempt to explore in subsequent posts. For now I raise it to bring awareness to it as a major obstacle that we must address. When it comes to women being equally represented in leadership positions within the legal profession, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.”

 

This blog post was authored by Molly Tami. Molly Tami serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law.  She previously designed and taught a course on Law, Gender and the Work/Family Conflict and is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.              

Tags:  bias  Chasing the Last Wave  diversity  family responsibilities  feminism  feminist  gender  LCB  leadership  legal profession 

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Chasing the Last Wave: "Find Our Voices"

Posted By Molly Tami, Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Finding Our Voices

  

Women’s struggle to find their “voice” pervades the three waves of feminism. During the first wave, women fought just to have their voices heard at all in political and social spheres. Second wave feminism found women advocating for their rights and voicing their ambitions to engage in market work, not just family work. In this current wave, women strive, with mixed results, to be the voices of leadership in our professions and workplaces. When it comes to women’s voices being equally heard in the legal profession, I think most would agree that we are not there yet. So why is that and what can we do to change it?   

 

I bet we’ve all listened to women apologize for something they said or did, whether they really meant it or not or whether the situation really warranted an apology. (I know I’ve been guilty of doing that.) In a New York Times opinion piece entitled Why Women Apologize and Should Stop, the author discusses the theories on our “sorrys,” and suggests that women often apologize for things that are clearly not our fault as a prompt for the person who actually should be apologizing. She contends that women give “assertive apologies” that are too indirect and come off as a passive- aggressive. She urges us to stop. 

 

In a Huffington Post blog, Women’s Voices: Are They Fully Heard?, the author suggests four challenges that keep women’s voices from being fully heard in the U.S. corporate world: women’s style of speech sounds less confident; women don’t assert themselves until they feel they really know what they are speaking about; women get “talked over;” and women who speak up are penalized. The author’s goal is to create awareness of these so-called “challenges” (which smack of gender bias) so that women’s voice can be heard loud and clear.

 

And why do successful and ambitious women sometimes fail to assert themselves in high-level meetings? The authors of a Harvard Business Review article entitled Women, Find Your Voice addressed that question in a research study involving 1,100 female executives at or above the vice president level. Their article discusses their findings and provides advice on what women can do to become more effective and more comfortable in meetings such as mastering the “pre-meeting,” preparing to speak spontaneously, maintaining an even keel, and moving past confrontation without taking it personally. 

 

Women lawyers all want their voices to be heard. So here are four practical steps towards that end that I challenge us all to try over the next 21 days (the time it takes to create a new habit): 1) stop apologizing; 2) don’t allow others to interrupt you- keep talking; 3) prepare to speak at meetings and then speak confidently; and 4) don’t become defensive or uncomfortable when others disagree with you. Despite how far we have come, when it comes to women having their voices equally valued in our profession, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.” Let’s resolve to raise our voices above the waves until we are at last fully heard.     

This blog post was authored by Molly Tami. 
Molly Tami serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law. She previously designed and taught a course on Law, Gender and the Work/Family Conflict and is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.

Tags:  apologize  bias  career  Chasing the Last Wave  feminism  feminist  gender  legal profession  voice 

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4/27/2019
Judicial Incubator Workshop

5/9/2019
2019 LC Annual Dinner

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