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Gender Bias Shows Few Signs of Abating in Legal Workplace

Recent graduates reveal the unpleasant surprises they encounter on the job


“I work in a dungeon in Hingham District Court. Where am I supposed to breastfeed?” asked Plymouth County Assistant District Attorney Corey Sullivan Martin ’12, speaking on the theme, “Things My Mother Never Told Me: Challenges Facing Young Female Attorneys,” at a panel discussion organized by the Women’s Law Center at BC Law on March 19.

Sullivan Martin was one of five recent BC Law graduates to speak frankly about continuing gender bias in the legal profession, to an audience of more than seventy students and faculty.

Event co-organizers Jennifer Lichtman ’16 and Meredith Fierro ’16  steered the discussion with a slate of questions: “Do judges, partners, or supervisors treat you differently from male colleagues?” “How are women with young children looked on in your office?” “Did you ever take yourself out of the running for a job because you worried how it would impact your ability to marry or have children in the future?”

The panel included Kathryn Smith ’12, a litigator at the Boston office of Ropes & Gray; Lauren Parisi ’12 of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Lavinia Weizel ’13, law clerk at the US Court of Appeals in Providence, RI; and Mathilda McGee-Tubb ’13, law clerk at the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

They recounted experiences of inappropriate behavior ranging from court officers giving shoulder massages and attempts by clients to set up dates with family members to pressure from a senior male colleague to adopt a more aggressive style in deposing a witness. Asked by an audience member if they would raise the question of work/life balance in an interview, the answer was a regretful “no.”  

“This is as much about workplace culture as gender bias,” said Weizel. “Work has taken up more and more of people’s lives. It’s expected that you’re available 24/7.”

If change is to come, said Smith, “it’s important to make this a conversation for everyone.”

Supporting younger colleagues will also be crucial. “We all need to make a commitment to be mentors to the next generation of women lawyers,” said McGee-Tubb.

Pictured above: Students and speakers share stories at the Women’s Law Center panel on gender bias in the workplace. Photograph by Caitlin Cunningham.