Where are women who mediate, part 2: how can you hold a panel discussion on diversity and forget to include women?

Women still invisible - even at diversity workshopsLast week fellow mediator, blogger and rabble-rouser Victoria Pynchon published a post with a confrontational title: “Dispute Resolution by Old White Men: Gender Prejudice Sinks Arbitration Award“.

Lobbed like a Molotov cocktail, Vickie’s post blew gender bias apart, as she recited a litany of examples of discrimination spanning decades against women inside and outside the legal profession.

It’s not just the persistence of gender bias that makes women like Vickie and me so damn mad. It is also its effect: it makes us invisible — so much so that it drove me to ask out loud several weeks ago, “Where are all the women who mediate?“, as I looked at an ad for a panel of 15 neutrals that included only one woman.

Now I’m asking a different question. A colleague just sent me a flyer for a workshop on diversity and conflict resolution to be held here in New England.

First the good news: the workshop leaders, all nationally prominent figures in the ADR and legal fields, are of different races and faiths.

Now the bad news: they’re all men.

So I gotta ask: how can you conduct a workshop on diversity without including at least one woman on your panel of speakers?


5 responses to “Where are women who mediate, part 2: how can you hold a panel discussion on diversity and forget to include women?

  1. RABBLE rouser? MOI?

    The diversity panel issue reminds me that I was once sent a mass email meant for everyone on the panel to mentor a “minority,” which included women.

    “Does this mean,” I asked, “that you think women need mentoring because they’re not AS GOOD as men? In what way do you think they’re lacking? And do you want ME to mentor other WOMEN or would you prefer that I mentor a person “of color” who could benefit from the experience of a white girl like me.

    OK. This is the kind of personality the law attracts. Cheeky sorts who expect not simply JUSTICE, but REASON to prevail.

    While I’m being provocative, I’ll admit I was just commenting to a colleague today that family and employment mediation had become (or was becoming) a pink ghetto.


    Because those disputes typically involve A LOT OF EMOTION and people think women HANDLE emotion better than men.

    I’m waiting for everyone to recognize that commercial litigation — which is where my own expertise lies — involves a LOT of emotion. It’s just that most men don’t think anger is “emotional.”

    In mediation practice, I’ve learned that “emotional” is code for feelings that only women are allowed to openly express — particularly sadness which is sometimes accompanied with — brace yourselves guys — TEARS!

    But I have seen grown businessmen begin to tear up when they realize that the litigation will not, after all, restore to them what they have lost. Sometimes male attorneys ask me to break that news to their male clients without them because, frankly, they don’t know how to do it and don’t want to see it.

    When more attorneys begin to realize that mediation skills do not consist solely, or even primarily, of the ability to pressure the other side to do something they don’t want to do, they’ll start hiring women and “minorities” in greater numbers. Because it’s the result, not the color or the gender, that counts.

  2. Diane Levin

    So weird that you would say that about family and employment mediation — I was saying exactly the same thing to someone else just this week. (I also have a theory that the chief reason community mediators are un- or under-compensated is that so many of them are women. But that’s a story for another day.)

    Thanks for piping up here, sister.

  3. read lauren stiller rikleen’s book ending the gauntlet. We’re actually afraid (I am) of fussing about gender discrimination because it will alienate our mostly male client base – most of whom don’t believe gender discrimination exists. No one wants to believe they might be unconsciously biased and the’d generally prefer to shoot the messenger

  4. This is something that I talk about now in the mediation trainings I teach when I cover the topic of mediator bias. I always tell my students to go test themselves at Project Implicit, the online instrument that measures implicit biases across a range of categories such as gender and race.

    We need to worry less and push back more, Vickie. How else are we going to produce change?

    Thanks by the way for the book recommendation. I’m going to ask my local bookseller to see if they can find me a copy.

  5. When you joined the boy’s club at a time when you were “not like other women,” it’s still tough to rock the boat. Good, bad or indifferent, you never quite stop feeling that you’re there at their sufferance, not by right. I think the women coming after me need to pick up the slack and I invite their comment on gender discrimination in the law either here or back at my place —