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It is once again time for one of those combination posts that give you scintillating information you know you want to know. Think of these as fun factoids—that you can also use in casual conversation to amaze and educate your friends (or just make them look at you oddly).

The new ‘Educated single women over 40 are more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married’ belief 

If you are female and were reading Newsweek back in the 1980s, you may remember their early June 1986 cover illustrating this post. And you certainly remember the hubbub raised by the story itself.

Newsweek magazine waited 20 years to retract a 1986 story that educated 40-year-old women have “as much chance of marrying as being killed by a terrorist,” even though they knew it was bogus. The story became part of popular culture, mentioned in movies and television, and caused many women to panic.

Now however, in 2017, we have a new fear to replace this one—and this one is brought to us by Newsweek’s competitor, Time Magazine. Forget about settling so you can get married. In 2017, “Americans think a major terrorist attack on US soil is more realistic than Republicans and Democrats working together”. That is pretty scary so we’ll move on. Quickly.

Atheists just can’t win—even fellow atheists judge them harshly

A few years ago we did extensive research on attitudes toward atheists and ended up publishing a few blog posts and a full-length article on our findings. The level of negative attitudes and beliefs directed at atheists was very strong. Apparently, things have not improved much for atheists in the intervening years. According to a study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior and summarized at BigThink’s website, “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous”. The research was conducted across 13 countries on 5 continents and participants self-reported their religious status (religious, agnostic, or atheist). Standardized measures were used to determine whether participants had an anti-religious bias or an anti-atheist bias. Here is what the researchers say about their sample:

“We conducted identical experiments in all 13 sites. We targeted at least 100 participants per experimental condition (anti-atheist bias versus anti-religious bias). There were a total of 3,256 participants for final analysis (69% female, age 16–70 years: mean = 25.07, s.d. = 7.84), with a median of 162 participants per country (range: 129–993). “

Here is how BigThink’s summary describes the research task:

The study’s participants had to react to a fictional situation where they were told to judge a serial killer who mutilated homeless people. Tellingly, when they had to guess the likelihood of the evil character being an atheist or a religious believer, the participants were twice as likely to suppose the sadistic serial killer was an atheist.

One of the surprising findings in this research was that while (as expected) religious people were biased against atheists, fellow atheists were as well. That is, even atheists were more likely think atheists were the “sadistic serial killer”.

Racism and online harassment and the problem of racism in American society

Recently we blogged about the problem of online harassment and included the reality than 1 in 4 Black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity. Now Pacific Standard’s website tells us that “more Americans consider racism a ‘big problem’ than they have at any other point in the last two decades”. In specific numbers, 58% of Americans believe racism is a pervasive issue in 2017. They base the article on a new August 29, 2017 survey out of the Pew Research Center which we also encourage you to read.

You really can do something to sharpen your brain in later life

By now, you’ve probably read the critics of companies promoting their ‘brain games’ as a way of keeping yourself sharp and cognitively clear in later life. So, as it turns out, you don’t really need those new-fangled tools to sharpen your brain. Just do crosswords and other word puzzles!

According to ScienceDaily (summarizing research out of the University of Exeter in the UK) “the more regularly people report doing word puzzles such as crosswords, the better their brain function in later life”. Lest you think this is a small-scale study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over. The study shows there is a link although it can’t tell us just what that link is. We’d say, keep doing that crossword puzzle!

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The problem with female attorney retention has been discussed at some length in blogs, in reports sponsored by the American Bar Association, in professional association publications, in academic journals, and likely—everywhere female attorneys gather. Female attorneys leave BigLaw for many reasons but here’s a bit of research that may give insight into helping law firms retain female attorneys following childbirth or adoption.

It has long been noted that women bear the brunt of the financial/career impact related to childbirth and/or motherhood. And if you are a woman of color, the damage to income is even worse. While the research cited in this post was completed at the University of Kent, in the United Kingdom—it offers an interesting idea for law firms in the US to explore. The study results revolve around the use of flextime (which makes sense) but with an interesting twist worth investigating.

Here are the main findings:

More than half of the women in the study sample reduced their working hours after a child was born—but less than a quarter who were able to use flextime reduced their hours.

Women who were able to use flextime were only half as likely to reduce their hours after the birth of a child.

And here is the twist:

The issue was not whether new moms perceived they had access to flextime. The most important factor was the use of flextime by the woman before giving birth.

In other words, those women who had actually used flextime prior to giving birth were more likely to think they could juggle the work-life balance demands with which they were faced after giving birth. It raises the question of how ‘real’ the flextime is. If it isn’t used prior to birth, there might be cultural norms not to use it, even if it is nominally accepted. If it is seen (overtly or unconsciously) as a sign that someone is distracted, not dedicated, worn out, or otherwise not a ‘team player’–there will be a reluctance to use it, even if the alternative is to quit.

The researchers think this finding could have implications for the gender pay gap since women would not necessarily have to give up their work in order to have children. They also note it would help companies retain female employees who often tend to either leave or reduce working hours following childbirth.

From a law office management perspective, it makes sense to encourage both male and female attorneys to use flextime routinely so they can become more attuned to how flextime use can help them to balance work-life demands. For women who give birth or adopt, according to today’s highlighted research, having used flextime prior to having children may well help them juggle the challenges of having children while also retaining a rewarding and demanding career. That ‘work-life balance’ stuff is actually pretty important.

Chung, H. van der Horst, M. 2017. Women’s employment patterns after childbirth and the perceived access to and use of flextime and teleworking. Human Relations.

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An effective way for women to #humblebrag 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
posted by Rita Handrich

We have blogged a number of times on the problems with humblebragging. Observers see you as insincere and self-involved. But Forbes recently published an article that just may allow you to promote yourself as well as promoting others. The practice of effective self-promotion for women is strewn with pitfalls. A well-known example is that women will offer ideas that are ignored in group discussion and then when a male colleague says the same thing—the idea is often embraced. Last week we posted on the challenges faced by female and minority managers and this strategy may be a good way around that dilemma.

The idea is a simple one: repetition. And we know it works based on research. The problem is that if you repeat yourself too often (either in meetings or in court) your input will likely be discounted. This strategy gets around that issue as well. And the idea is simple and just requires simple strategies:

Team up with your co-workers to humblebrag about each other.

How? There are several basic steps:

Amplification: First, know each other and reinforce each other’s good ideas in meetings. The article uses an example from the Obama administration. Women in strategy meetings were often not heard, so they banded together to do what they called “amplification”. When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it and give credit to the original woman. When this was done, a man in the meeting could not then take credit for the idea.

Brag Club: This is not like a Fight Club. A brag club is where you share your successes and attendees agree to promote the accomplishments of colleagues across the organization. Every month, you meet to update each other and change the content of the messages about you and the other members of the group that are shared across the organization.

Social Media Promotion: We are used to self-promotion on social media. This philosophy encourages you to promote each other on social media. Tweet about each other’s accomplishments and share and ‘like’ professional accomplishments on various social media platforms.

Get a mentor. This one has been around for a while. Choose someone credible and we would say, based on this research, choose someone who is demographically different from you.

Keep a success journal. Sometimes it’s hard to recall your achievements and successes. At the end of each week, make time to enter your achievements on a list so that you are aware of things you have achieved. Schedule regular meeting with your supervisor and keep them updated on the results of projects on which you are working. Use the journal at your monthly brag club meetings.

Overall, the idea of humblebragging on others (while others humblebrag on you) is a terrific idea.  But in truth, what is being proposed here is more meaningful—it is creating a culture of mutual appreciation and respect. You don’t get penalized for tooting your own horn while pretending not to, but, word of your successes—and those of others who share your ethos of mutual respect—spreads. It is possibly a way to avoid the penalties non-White and female managers receive when they promote other minorities within the organization. Have others you trust promote you through a coordinated network within your organization.

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report on racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women. After you read this, you will want to be very careful out there! As it happens, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women in the US who are age 44 or younger. Whether you are more likely to be murdered varies with your race and/or ethnicity. However, one thing does not vary—over half of female victims (where circumstances were known) were killed by “a current or former male intimate partner”. The CDC calls this “intimate partner violence” or IPV.

Here are some of the scary and yet evidence-based facts related to women being murdered through IPV, in data collected between 2003 and 2014.

Common events prior to IPV related homicides were “arguments [29.7%] and jealousy [12%]”. Arguments and jealousy preceding murder were most common among Hispanic victims than among non-Hispanic Black and White victims.

1 in 10 victims of IPV related homicide had experienced violence in the month prior to their death. Most in IPV related homicides were killed by either a current partner (79.2%) or a former intimate partner (14.3%).

Adult female homicide victims (between 2003 and 2014) ranged in age from 18 to 100 (yes, you read that correctly. 100). One third of female homicide victims were between 18 and 29 years old and the largest segment of victims had never married or were single at the time of death. About 15% of women victims who were of reproductive age (18-44 years as defined by the CDC) were either pregnant or less than 6 weeks postpartum.

Non-Hispanic Black women had the highest rate of death due to homicide, while non-Hispanic White women and Asian/Pacific Islander women had the lowest.

One-third of the victims had attended some college or more.

Firearms were used in almost 54% of female homicides. Other methods of killing included sharp instrument (19.8%), hanging, suffocation or strangulation (10.5%), and blunt instrument (7.9%).

To illustrate the heightened emotion and fear before women are killed, the CDC report tells us that over half (54.5%) of these homicides occurred during what is call “another crime in progress”. In these cases, the women were murdered following assault (45.6%), rape and sexual assault (11.1%), and burglary (9.9%).

The statement the CDC uses to begin their Discussion section is obvious and yet jarring.

“Homicide is the most severe health outcome of violence against women.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this data can be used to demonstrate that violence against women often has lethal consequences, and it is often the culmination of domestic violence. These data illustrate the cold reality behind the tendency for homicide investigators to suspect the spouse or intimate partner when women are killed.

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Women often think that “one day” they will garner the professional respect and standing that will stop men from interrupting them when the woman is speaking. Today we are presenting two studies of women who’ve reached heights in their professions which most women (and most men for that matter) will never achieve. Both studies tell us the fantasy of speaking without interruption is likely untrue.

Harassment of female “Space Scientists

Despite all the professed desire to increase the number of women in STEM fields, the working environment experienced by women scientists continues to be hostile. A recent survey of astronomers and planetary scientists asked whether they had been harassed either in school or at work. The survey (for those who like to know such things) was distributed online in early 2015. The researchers received responses from 474 planetary scientists and astronomers.

What is important to know here is that this was not a random sample. The authors report the sample was different from the entire field of space scientists in the following ways: the participants were earlier in their careers than would be a randomly selected sample, were more likely to be women or racial minorities, and were probably savvier about social media than the average space scientist. The researchers say the results are not generalizable to all space scientists but the results do answer (with a resounding yes) the question of whether there really is a problem.

The results were even worse than expected by the supervising professor. Here are a sample of the findings:

Female scientists were more likely than male scientists to report having heard racist or homophobic remarks and to have experienced both verbal and physical harassment (at work and at school) during the five most recent years.

Scientists who were ethnic or racial minority group members were more likely than white scientists to have heard racist and homophobic remarks and to have been harassed.

40% of scientists who were women of color said they had felt unsafe at work because of their gender.

Among female non-white scientists, 28% reported feeling unsafe because of their race.

White women (12%), women of color (18%) and one man of color (6% of his male of color cohort) reported having skipped at least one class, meeting or other professional event because they felt unsafe.

The authors of this paper (which is available on-line) make some recommendations for reducing this harassment. They suggest both schools and labs have diversity training as well as a code of conduct that is enforced. They suggest leaders in the field model “appropriate behavior” (unlike, for example, the example set by leading “planet finder”/space scientist and tenured professor Geoff Marcy who harassed women in his field for decades), and that the profession actually follow their written codes and sanction offenders quickly and fairly.

Surely women who are Supreme Court Justices are free of interruptions!

Nope. Not even. “There is no point at which a woman is high-status enough to avoid being interrupted”. The Harvard Business Review recently summarized the results of a new empirical study [available at SSRN] by Northwestern University researchers. The results mirror the results from the survey of space scientists. If you are a female or a minority (or both) and happen to be a Supreme Court Justice—prepare to be interrupted (and keep reading to see the strategies used by real Supreme Court Justices who are women to decrease the number of interruptions from men).

The HBR summary first tells us that Neil Gorsuch will fit in well at the current Supreme Court since he “repeatedly interrupted” liberal female senators during his Senate hearings. Then, they move on to summarize the new study (the result of reviewing transcripts from 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments) which shows the following disheartening information:

As more women join the Supreme Court, male justices are increasing their interruptions of the women justices rather than decreasing them (as one might hope). As an example, in the last 12 years, women were 24% (on average) of the Supreme Court composition. During that time frame, 32% of the interruptions were of the female justices (by either their male colleagues or by the male advocates arguing cases). In comparison, only 4% of the interruptions came from the female justices. The researchers looked at transcripts all the way back to 1990 to see if the pattern of interrupting women was the same when there fewer female justices.

In 1990, Sandra Day O’Connor was the only female justice and 35.7% of all interruptions were directed at her.

In 2002, there were two female justices (O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and 45.3% of all interruptions were directed at them.

In 2015, there were three female justices (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) and, maintaining the increasing frequency of interrupting female justices, 65.9% of all interruptions were of those three women.

In fact, in 2015, Sonia Sotomayor (the only woman of color on the bench) was the most common justice target for interruption by male advocates. (This despite the Supreme Court rule mandating advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking). The total number of interruptions by male advocates was 10% of the interruptions with 8% (of the 10%) directed at Justice Sotomayor.

Conservative justices are more likely to interrupt liberal justices (70% of the interruptions made by conservative justices) than to interrupt their conservative colleagues (30%).

“Junior” status on the bench also results in more interruptions (at a statistically significant level) from senior justices. However, the researchers say gender is about 30x more powerful a predictor of interruption than length of time on the bench. The researchers expect the introduction of Gorsuch as the most junior colleague will result in an intensification of the gender over seniority interruption relationship.

So if both male Supreme Court advocates and male Supreme Court Justices are increasing their interruptions of women justices, what does a woman do to make a difference? The women who are Supreme Court justices adapt, according to the researchers. They change their speech patterns to mirror those of the male justices. They are, again according to the researchers, less polite. Here’s how the researchers summarize it:

Early in their tenure, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. This provides an opportunity for another justice to jump in before the speaker gets to the substance of her question.

We found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four of the female justices have reduced their tendency to use this polite phrasing. Justice Sotomayor adjusted within just a few months. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg gradually became less and less polite over decades on the court, eventually using the polite phrases approximately one-third as much as they did initially. Justice Kagan is still learning: She uses polite language more than twice as often as the average man, although half as often as she did in 2010. We do not see a similar trend with the men, because male justices rarely use these polite speech patterns, even when they first enter the court. It is the women who adapt their speech patterns to match those of the men.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the results of this study are instructive. Female litigators would perhaps do well to modify their speech patterns to mirror those of men. This raises the question that has dogged women in authority forever—conduct and speech which is acceptable and expected from men often results in women being viewed as emasculating or ‘bitchy’. There is a double standard, and ignoring it risks alienating jurors on the one hand, or getting run over by men on the other. Women litigators and female witnesses would do well to review our blog posts on traditionally feminine speech patterns and work to minimize their frequency.

The researchers also call upon the Chief Justice to intervene in the interruptions of women justices and we would say the same for senior partners at law firms. If women are interrupted, speak up and demonstrate an environment that is receptive to both female and male opinions. (It matters.)

Clancy, K. B. H., K. M. N. Lee,E. M. Rodgers, and C. Richey (2017). Double jeopardy in astronomy and planetary science: Women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. 122. Open access pdf at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017JE005256/epdf

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