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Promoting gender equality and gender equity at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

March 30, 2021

With more women entering the legal field than ever, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is strengthening its efforts to encourage and support gender equity.

With more women entering the legal field than ever, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is strengthening its efforts to encourage and support gender equity.

As application pools continue to grow more diverse, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is firmly committed to supporting and promoting what Dean and Bernard T. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger describes as a unified and shared vision of racial and gender equity.

“All of us who work at and make decisions at the Law School first and foremost recognize that the legal profession has not been equitable for women for its entire history nor is it fully inclusive and equitable even today in many of its aspects,” said Dean Ruger. “The goal is to make it clear to everybody that promoting women’s advancement is an institutional priority and that we’re going to support projects and work on multiple fronts.”

Building gender equality and gender equity into legal scholarship, curriculum, and programming

Despite the growing number of women entering the legal field, America’s law school faculty is still largely male. In recent years, the Law School has worked to reduce faculty gender disparity. As of 2020, 35% of Penn Law’s faculty are women – up from 22% just a few years ago. If Penn Law succeeds in reaching its goal of at least 50% in the next few years, it could be the first top-tiered law school to do so.

Many women on the Law School’s faculty stand out as leaders in their respective fields. Since 2017, Associate Dean of International Affairs and Senior Adjunct Professor of Global Leadership Rangita de Silva de Alwis has been teaching “Women, Law, & Leadership Lab.” She has also launched the Global Women’s Leadership Project, wherein students engage in research and conversation pertaining to issues of gender in a global context. In recent years, de Silva de Alwis’s students have conducted and presented research on a wide range of topics, including but not limited to male allyship in the legal profession; the UN’s Women, Peace, and Security Agenda; sexual harassment laws; and paid family leave. De Silva de Alwis is also a nonresident leader in practice at Harvard’s Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) and Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellow on Gender Equity at Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS).

In 2019, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights Dorothy Roberts was the first Penn Law faculty member in 50 years to be invited to write the prestigious Harvard Law Review Foreword. That same year, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy Anita Allen’s work on privacy, philosophy, and the law earned her an honorary doctorate from Tilburg University and an election into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

On a broader scale, the Law School currently offers courses in a wide range of legal disciplines that focus on gender equality and equity in the law. Elective courses that pertain specifically to sex and gender discrimination in America include Roberts’ “Reproductive Rights and Justice” and Professor of Law and History Serena Mayeri’s “Gender and the Law.” Seaman Family University Professor Karen Tani L’07 and Presidential Assistant Professor of Law Shaun Ossei-Owusu co-teach “Law and Inequality.”

Within the Institute for Law and Economics, the Women in Business Law Initiative group hosts regular events to support women who endeavor to work in the corporate world. Particularly as business law has historically been a heavily male-dominated field, Dean Ruger underscored that the Law School is proud that the predominant leaders among the business law faculty are women. The Women in Business Law Initiative is led by Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law Jill Fisch and Professor of Law Elizabeth Pollman. The group regularly invites guest speakers to engage with students on topics such as the grit and growth needed to transition to practice, allyship, and how to succeed in summer internships.

Supporting women law students

Supporting women in the legal field begins with supporting women students through recruitment, admissions, and financial aid. One-half of the Law School’s class of 2023 identifies as female. A recent study through the Department of Education found that Penn Law is one of only four T14 law schools to provide, on average, more financial aid to women than to men. On average, non-male identifying law students at the Law School receive $4860 more in aid than male identifying students.

The Law School administration also provides financial support to several student organizations that advocate for women’s success and wellness, both in the legal profession and beyond. The Penn Law Women’s Association (PLWA) regularly runs programming geared toward mentorship, network building, and career advancement. At PLWA’s annual Carrie B. Kilgore dinner in March of 2021, keynote speaker Megha Parekh, Chief Legal Officer and Senior Vice President of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, focused her remarks on women breaking into traditionally male-dominated fields. PLWA has also collaborated with women’s groups at other law schools to work on issues surrounding reproductive justice and wellness in the workplace. Concurrently, the Penn Law Feminists have also worked to create a space for students of all gender identities to socialize and grow as personal and professional intersectional feminists.

Students in the Law School’s chapter of If/When/How engage in a blend of direct service, litigation, and policy pro bono work to advocate for reproductive justice both locally and on a broader scale. As part of their direct service, If/When/How students work with the Women’s Law Project to assist young people who have to navigate judicial bypass proceedings to access reproductive care. The group has also written and submitted comments in accordance with federal rulemaking procedures on rules that pertain to issues of health, wellness, and reproductive justice.

If/When/How also regularly collaborates with other student groups to highlight the ways in which social and legal issues often intersect with issues of reproductive justice. For example, in March of 2021, If/When/How, the Journal of Law and Social Change, the Penn Law Immigrants’ Rights Project, and the National Lawyers Guild hosted a panel on how the prison abolition movement relates to issues such as female incarceration and the criminal justice system’s treatment of gender-based violence.

Supporting women in their careers

The Law School’s job placement statistics continue to remain high across the board. Nonetheless, both data and anecdotes show that gender discrimination often creeps into the legal workforce about 5-10 years after graduation, around the time lawyers begin to ascend to partner positions. Penn’s Future of the Profession Initiative (FPI), led by Jen Leonard L’04, shines a light on such structural problems. Past FPI programming has discussed the impact of gender on the partnership track, racial equity in law firm environments, and COVID-19’s effect on the legal workforce.

Dean Ruger emphasized that the FPI is part of the Law School’s drive to be “much more intentional” about the institution’s role and responsibility in combatting structural elements that create barriers for women’s advancement in the legal profession.

The overall philosophy and efforts to support women during and beyond law school are “closely tied with the core mission of the Law School, which is to provide a world-class education,” Dean of Students Felicia Lin explained.

“What we have always known and what is certainly true now is that when you have the faculty, the student groups, the programming, and the public discussion more focused on equity on all fronts, including gender, you produce better lawyers and thinkers,” said Lin. “That is always our goal here. We are a teaching institution. The fact that our female faculty are winning teaching awards, and that our students are writing judicial bypass petitions and rule-making comments, and that our classes examine the intersectionality of gender equity are all part of our teaching mission to train the next leaders in the profession.”