I'm puzzled by Yale Law Women's exhaustive report (almost 100 pages!) on gender dynamics at the elite law school. The upshot is this: Women at Yale aren't speaking up in class, nor are they interacting with faculty members, as often as male students. In other words, boys rule—and that phenomenon could presage the gender disparity that will follow later in their careers.
Surprised? Well, yes and no. I don't doubt that men in almost all situations tend to have more bravado. I've certainly seen it in virtually every job I've ever had. But what's shocking is the extent of this gender gap—especially at a place at Yale, which has had a fairly progressive reputation.
Here's what the Yale report says:
- Overall, men participate in class at almost a 60 percent rate.
- Worse, women seem to be getting more quiet compared to ten years ago. In 2002, men spoke 52.2 percent of the time, based on 23 monitored classes. In 2012, men accounted for 71.4 percent of student participation, based on 21 monitored classes.
- Outside the classroom, men seek out faculty members more, and collaborate earlier and more often with faculty members on research.
These findings are "significant," says Yale law student Fran Faircloth, one of the project's cochairs, because "when men and women leave law school, men continue to dominate. You see that with law firm partners and federal judges." Even in the short term, the effects are noticeable. "If you look at clerkships, the percentage of men who are Supreme Court clerks from Yale is higher than it was 10 years ago," adds Ruth Anne French-Hodson. the project's other cochair.
Though the report didn't say so explicitly, you can't help but feel there's a correlation between being vocal—maybe even cocky—and success.
Curiously, though, the report suggests that most Yale law students—and even some faculty members—disparage those who regularly participate in class. One 3L in the report says: "Students tend to mock other students who participate. Men, who are more used to being physically rather than verbally bullied, don't respond as sensitively to mocking as do women." Faircloth adds, "Often, it may not be the smartest students who speak out."
I don't know how the psychological makeup of Yale law students compares with that of students at other top law schools, but I wonder if the über-cerebral reputation of the school is making everyone overly self-conscious. When you combine that with women's tendency to be guarded, it's no wonder Yale law women are so quiet.
So where did Yale women find their voices? Ironically, they thrived better under the pressure of the Socratic method. "The cold system provided the least gender-disparate result," says the report.
Which brings me to the report's suggestions. Most of them are perfectly reasonable—like urging female students to be more vocal earlier in the semester and advising faculty to be more mindful of who's speaking. But this suggestion puzzled me: Impose more forms of "nonvoluntary classroom participation" to ensure gender equality.
More Socratic method? Seriously? As anyone who's been though law school can tell you, being cold-called by a law professor is not the most pleasant of memories. If the only way we can get women to speak is to subject them to cold calls, then we've got a longer way to go than I had thought.
Come on now, can't we be a little more proactive?
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