Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

Eight
Discrimination against
Women in the Professions

More than thirty-five years after the enactment of Title VII, one would not expect discrimination against women in the professions to continue as a serious workplace problem. Yet discrimination against them remains as prevalent as discrimination against women in other segments of the workforce.

Early in the nineteenth century, law schools generally excluded two groups of applicants—felons and females. Among the many reasons advanced for the rejection of women “were the dangers of unchaperoned intellectual intercourse in the libraries, and the diversion of male attention in the classroom 1.” Even late in the century, women were still barred from practicing law in many states. As one judge pontificated while endeavoring to justify his decision to deny the admission of female candidates to the Wisconsin bar, “The peculiar qualities of womanhood, its gentle graces, its quick sensibility, its tender susceptibility,” were surely not qualifications for “forensic strife.” 2

As late as the middle of the twentieth century, female attorneys were openly discriminated against. As noted earlier, when Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor graduated near the top of her Stanford Law School class, the only offer of employment she received was for the position of legal secretary. As recently as 1965, major Wall Street law firms could point to only three female partners in their midst. 3

The legal profession has also long denied equal status to minorities. Of the forty thousand law firm partners listed in the 1997–98 National Directory of Legal Employers, only 1 percent were African American, and all minorities comprised less than 3 percent. 4 A survey conducted in 1999 by the American Bar

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