Knowledge is power, but data can hone that power to a keen edge.
Since 1972, Minnesota Women Lawyers has worked to advance women’s success in the state’s legal profession. But a lack of data blunted its calls for more gender equity. “It’s stunning that we didn’t previously know the number of women attorneys practicing law in Minnesota,” says Debra Pexa, Minnesota Women Lawyers’ executive director.
MWL decided to find out, and launched the Gender Data Project in 2010. Among many efforts, MWL contracted with the University of Minnesota in 2014 for a name classification project based on U.S. census data. In 2015, MWL released the first-ever baseline count of women in Minnesota’s legal profession.
In 2011, the Minnesota Supreme Court authorized a change to the attorney registration form, allowing attorneys to choose to indicate their gender classification. In 2015, race was added, and responses became mandatory.
Since then, the Annual Report of the Minnesota Judicial Branch has provided reports on attorneys’ gender, race, and other statistics.
“These efforts help us to better understand where we are and the progress still to be made in efforts to increase diversity and equity in our profession,” says MWL president Breia Schleuss.
The 2018 Annual Report contained another milestone MWL had advocated for: a cross-comparison of race and gender data, showing how many women of color are practicing in Minnesota. Adine Momoh, co-chair of MWL’s Equity Committee and leader of the Gender Data Project, says that knowing more will allow MWL to do more about other factors, such as disability, gender, and sexual identity. “Our work will shift in that MWL will need to work with other affinity bars to see how our work can add value to their efforts,” she explains.
“It’s another big step forward, but our work is really just beginning,” Pexa says.
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