Alexander: Utah Fails Women in Legal Careers


Adam Fondren

S.J. Quinney Law School on the University of Utah’s campus. (Chronicle archives)

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Editor


The amount of work that goes into becoming a lawyer is immense, vigorous and incredibly difficult. Not just anyone can succeed in the legal field, as it is a highly competitive and cutthroat world. But for women, pursuing a legal career — especially here in Utah — can be more than just challenging. Getting passed over for promotions, degraded and cutoff is a regular part of life. In fact, the number of women who face harassment, discrimination and unfair treatment in the legal field has risen, drastically affecting representation and opportunities. As a female student who aspires to practice law in Utah, the issues that women face in the legal field today are devastating to me and demonstrate the urgent need for change.

The Women Lawyers of Utah‘s 2020 Study of Gender & Racial Bias in Utah’s Legal Profession helped bring light to the ever-pressing issues of inequality and harassment women face in their pursuit of legal careers today. Completed by more than 2,000 men and women, the study compiled interviews, individual survey answers and law firm data, helping us come to conclusions about the double-standard in Utah’s legal field. According to their study, about 27% of Utah women experience some form of harassment in their legal careers, compared to 10% of women back in 2010. Women in Utah experience significantly more penalties, biases, discrimination and hostility in the workplace than their male counterparts. These findings are an indictment of Utah’s complete lack of progress towards equal opportunity in the legal field. We’re moving backward and away from gender equality. And as a Utah woman who dreams of practicing law, I’m disheartened by the reality that I may have to ask time and time again to be treated fairly in the workplace.

The minimal effort put in to fix these issues is disheartening, not only to me but to millions of women. For the past 10 years, we should have been making great strides towards gender equality in the legal field. Ruth Bader Ginsburg stands as an icon for women in law — we should have been celebrating what could be and dreaming of what was possible because of her legacy. It’s beyond disappointing to see that Utah women are less optimistic about proceeding in their legal careers today than they were in 2010. Because of the sex discrimination and harassment in Utah’s legal field, the lack of progress against these issues could be hindering the futures of potential lawyers and suppressing their talents. If these potential lawyers were male, I’m pretty sure we would have fixed these problems by now. But because they are women, very little has changed to promote a safer and more gender-equal work environment for Utah lawyers.

As much as I am devastated by the apparent hardships faced by Utah women in 2020, I still have hope. Not only have the Women Lawyers of Utah brought light to these issues, but they have ultimately come up with solutions for implementing change and strides toward equality in Utah’s own legal field.

First, we should administer policies at law firms to eliminate sex discrimination and harassment. We should hold law firms with major discrepancies accountable and train employees to recognize unfair treatment and report it, helping eliminate gender barriers and further enforce these policies. But policy alone isn’t enough. In Utah, where only 12% of women are partners at law firms, recognizing underrepresentation and gender privilege is important to stride towards equality. By instituting equal-reaching programs, and making sure partners of law firms — and other positions — reach gender parity, we can fix our underrepresentation issue. And to eliminate gender privileges in the legal field, we should start with our own internal prejudices and judgments, and we should enact change and call out those who fail to treat people equally.

Despite all the hardships that women face in the legal field, I still dream of becoming a lawyer. I understand that I have to deal with a lot of challenges and face adversity as a person of color and as a woman. I expect the rest of the country to spend years catching up to speed, and I expect more from Utah. We need to step up and not only address these issues, but make affirmative changes to promote gender equality. As the world around us recognizes and attempts to fix the unequal treatment women face in society and the workplace, Utah needs to eliminate its blindside to harassment and start pushing towards a more equal and safe state.


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