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Inequality Takes a More Insidious Path

Professor Hannah Brenner

“What message does it send if the profession responsible for enforcing laws that challenge sexism and discrimination cannot itself figure out how to deal with the issue of equality among its own actors?”

That is the conundrum that California Western’s Professor Hannah Brenner challenged her audience with at a recent Lawyer’s Club Bench and Bar luncheon in San Diego.

Invited to speak on this year’s Lawyer’s Club guiding principle, Creating New Pathways to Equality in the Profession, Brenner delivered her remarks to an audience of more than 125 legal professionals.

Brenner has devoted her career to studying, teaching, and living the reality of inequality in the legal profession. She has empirically researched the gendered representations of Supreme Court nominees in the mainstream media, conceptualized innovations in addressing inequality, and most recently written a book about the lives of female lawyers who have been shortlisted but not selected to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s reality,” says Brenner, “is that formal inequality has been replaced by more subtle, sometimes barely visible, but incredibly damaging and harmful forms of bias and discrimination.”

During her remarks, Brenner referenced her forthcoming book, Shortlisted: Women, Diversity, and the Supreme Court, in which she and her co-author, Professor Renee Knake (University of Houston Law Center), expose the practice of shortlisting, on the Supreme Court, and beyond. 

“Shortlisting is the phenomenon of placing qualified women or minorities on the list of final candidates for a position, but ultimately not selecting them; this practice creates the appearance of valuing diversity but in the end just preserves the status quo.”

Brenner states that the list of impediments to advancement women face is long and goes on and on beyond shortlisting including, but not limited to, sexual harassment and visibility bias.

“Women are interrupted,” says Brenner, “and our voices are not heard; we don’t get credit, we face disproportionate burdens of service and administrative work, and sometimes professional men are afraid of mentoring us especially in this post #MeToo world. These are all factors that are unrelated to qualification for the work we are trying to do.”

Concluding her remarks, Brenner invited the audience to come up with strategies and ideas for change in their community, some of which are included in the April 2019 issue of Lawyers Club News.

“It’s not just a we vs. them problem,” says Brenner. “We are all in it together as lawyers, and the integrity of our profession hinges on us taking these issues seriously.”