What do you do when you observe or experience gender discrimination? Speak up and do something about it! That was the overarching lesson from the Gender Bias Roundtable on October 3, 2017, co-hosted by the MCBA Diversity Section and the Marin County Women Lawyers. Six Marin County Superior Court Judges—Judges Stephen Freccero, Paul Haakenson, Geoffrey Howard, Sheila Lichtblau, Kelly Simmons, and Mark Talamantes—as well as numerous MCBA and MCWL members participated, including a good percentage who were men.

Assembled in small groups of about five people per table, all attendees actively participated in discussions of gender bias and its manifestations in the legal profession. Topics included personal examples of gender discrimination, overcoming male/female stereotypes in our practice, and tips for working parents. Everyone clearly had a lot to say about these topics as we had difficulty keeping the discussions within the two-hour timeframe allotted for the event.

To no one’s surprise, the roundtable discussions quickly revealed that gender discrimination is still prevalent in the law, although perhaps some of the men were taken aback by how many personal examples participants were able to provide. It was clear that work is needed to properly address these issues across all sectors of the profession. We also learned that members of our community genuinely want to remedy discrimination, even when they are causing it, and the first step—for men and women alike—is to recognize the biases in ourselves. Attendees concluded that it was advisable to speak up when a discrimination incident occurs, as many times our peers are unaware of their behavior or did not intend to offend.

To encourage work/life balance, many recognized the value of technology to allow work outside a physical office along with the need for flexible schedules to accommodate working parents. Some proposed collecting data in Marin County to survey issues like the gender wage gap, female attrition in the law practice, and the percentage of women at higher levels in the profession.

Did we close the gender wage gap or eliminate gender bias in Marin that night? Of course not. But having the conversations was an important first step toward addressing the problem. Many of us feel that we do not have the time to stop and think about gender bias in the law, much less how we can handle the issues in our everyday practice. As officers of the court, we should be conscious of biases and proactively work to overcome them. Attendees left empowered and inspired to tackle these issues one day at a time through their own practices, setting positive examples for others, and sharing what they learned with their peers.

Whether or not you attended the roundtable, the MCBA Diversity Section would like to hear your suggestions on programs we can launch, particularly in our local community, to better address gender bias in the profession. If you have ideas or want to get involved, please contact me.