The Underrepresentation of Women Here and Here

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Scanning my daily web feed this morning, I noted two items about the underrepresentation of women in different settings, both of which should be of interest to readers of this blog.

The first is an American Lawyer story about the negligible presence of women among the elite corps of international arbitrators:

Just two women arbitrators appeared in our first survey of large arbitrations in 2003, as we pointed out in a cover story the following year [See “Madame La Présidente,” Summer 2004]. Six years after that first scorecard, those two women, Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler and Brigitte Stern, have risen to become the second- and third-busiest arbitrators in our survey, with 20 or more cases apiece. But while the highest echelon of the club has clearly been integrated, women have a precarious foothold in our high-stakes survey. Only 10 women arbitrators appeared, representing 4 percent of about 250 arbitrators. “Of course progress is being made,” says Stern, a professor at the Université Paris I–Panthéon-Sorbonne, “but the progress is quite slow.”

The story cites a proposal for opening up the process of selecting arbitrators to enhance the inclusion of those who don’t fit the “older white male” profile that has dominated the field:

Catherine Rogers, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law, has an idea that would promote diversity. Rogers envisions an online directory — she calls it the Arbitrator Information Resource — that would assemble the writings, experience and awards of every arbitrator, as well as client feedback. Such a tool would make arbitral selection both more transparent and more democratic. “It’s difficult now to build a reputation as a superb arbitrator,” argues Rogers. “It’s not only women who have trouble breaking in.”

The second item (not specifically legal in its focus, but involving a respected organization that will certainly be familiar to anyone interested in Environmental or Administrative Law) concerns a an overview of the “Clean Energy Economy” on the Natural Resources Defense Council website. Noting the economic benefits accruing from investment in alternative energy sources, the NRDC site includes profiles of twelve individuals working in “clean energy” jobs around the U.S. It is a worthy subject, and something that interests me greatly as both an environmentalist and labor advocate.

However, as Mik Moore at jspot.org notes (and any visitor to the NRDC site can readily observe), of the 12 featured “clean energy” workers, all but one are men. The lone woman also appears to be the sole person of color. This narrow selection (which I don’t doubt resulted from oversight, not malice) has the unfortunate effect of reinforcing perceptions of the green movement as a predominantly white affair, and of manufacturing and construction jobs as a male preserve.

In contrast, Moore points to the first graduating class from Oakland’s Green Jobs Corps. Unlike the lone woman on the NRDC site, news reports on the Green Job Corps highlighted several women among the 42 graduates (who, reflecting the demographics in Oakland, are predominantly people of color).

-Eric Fink

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