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Sexual Harassment Trends In The Legal Industry: Policy Enforcement & Targeted Sexual Harassment Training Are Key

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Sexual Harassment Trends In The Legal Industry: Policy Enforcement & Targeted Sexual Harassment Training Are Key

We talk about sexual harassment a lot on our team. It’s not all that surprising – most of the members of our marketing staff are women, and sexual harassment is at the root of huge corporate settlements every year. Yet up until this point, we never really thought about how sexual harassment impacted professionals in the legal industry. Considering that legal professionals should be well aware of the repercussions of harassment and discrimination, or the illegality of retaliation in reporting such claims, we weren’t sure what we’d find on our research journey. Today, we’d share like to share some surprising results from our dive into sexual harassment trends in the legal industry.

Sexual Harassment Trends In The Legal Industry

In 1990, the American Bar Association’s National Survey of Career Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction was first given to female lawyers. The survey was used as a tool to estimate the impact of sexual harassment on career satisfaction in the legal profession. Below are the results of the survey.


Note: The responses by male lawyers do not refer to the sexual harassment of men, but to those having observed sexual harassment of female lawyers

The reported incidents of experienced or observed sexual harassment of female lawyers, across all types of harassment asked about in this survey, was much higher for the female respondents than for the male respondents. This isn’t altogether surprising – it’s unlikely that these men would witness every single act of sexual harassment a female lawyer experienced. However, the large gap between the two makes you wonder how aware men are of sexual harassment in the workplace, or if they perceived certain incidents differently. Sixty-six percent (66%) of both female and male respondents said they had experienced or observed at least one of the five types of sexual harassment from one or more of the identified sources. The report also notes that the reported incidents of sexual harassment are greater across the board for female lawyers working in private practice law firms than for female lawyers working in a government or corporate setting.

Three years later, in 1993, another article reported new sexual harassment statistics. The National Law Journal, a New York-based legal publication, based its findings on a survey of 800 male and female lawyers. Of those who responded to the survey, 51% of the women said they had been harassed at some point in their career, experiencing unwanted looks and gestures (39%), being touched, pinched, cornered or leaned over (29%); or being pressured for sex or dates (19%).

Fast forward 17 years to 2010. According to Patricia Gillette, employment law partner at Orrick in San Francisco, sexual harassment is a problem everywhere, but it’s better hidden in law firms. Does this mean that incidents were happening, but not being reported for fear of retaliation? According to a report conducted by the Women Lawyers of Utah in 2010, 37% of women in legal firms said they experienced verbal or physical behavior that created an unpleasant or offensive work environment, with 27% of those women feeling the situation was serious enough that they felt they were being harassed; 86% of the women who said that, felt they were harassed because of their gender.

As you can see, throughout the years, the percentage of women experiencing sexual harassment in the legal industry has been on a steady decline. While this is great news, the number still is not zero. While 66% to 37% is a great decline, that still means that more than 1 in 3 women in the legal industry experience sexual harassment. And that seems a great irony, given we’re discussing people in the legal profession; you’d think they would not engage in behavior that is illegal.

Gillette said: “Women who are victims of sexual harassment may think, I better be careful. I don’t want to screw myself for the rest of my career.” Her quote seems to indicate that women fear retaliation or becoming “blacklisted” for speaking up against sexual harassment, which could explain why many sexual harassment incidents go unreported. It’s likely that many practitioners in the legal industry, whether in corporate, government or private practice, have received sexual harassment training, but given that sexual harassment and the fear of retaliation for reporting it still exists, law firms should work to create “speak up” cultures, implement updated, engaging training and enforce a policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and retaliation.

Training And Enforcement Are Key

Sexual harassment is unacceptable in all industries. Working in male-dominated workplaces, like many of those in the legal industry, can be difficult for women. According to one source, women working in the legal profession make up only 34% of the work environment. While the laws regulating workplace sexual harassment are solid, it is a matter of enforcement in these industries. Organizations need to provide their employees with a safe way to report misconduct, and include mandatory training on sexual harassment and retaliation policies for managers and supervisors.

For More Information About Sexual Harassment Training, Check Out These Resources:

1 Comment

  1. December 5, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I agree that sexual harassment training is a necessity. It is also vital that strict consequences be put in place for those who do not follow the sexual harassment guidelines and regulations.

    Reply »

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