Female lawyers face discrimination in Kenya and abroad – Survey

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A suspect who was being charged for lawyer Willy Kimani’s murder on rejected a state female lawyer, citing incompetence.

The accused felt that he was not being represented properly.

The state counsel, however, opposed his request, citing discrimination.

This is not the first time female lawyers have been disregarded in the country and abroad.

Globally, female lawyers have confessed to facing gender bias in their profession — much higher than their male counterparts.

Courtroom manned by women [Source: The Atlantis Voice]

A recent study done by  American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association established that female lawyers are more likely to be mistaken for non-lawyers, to do more office housework, and to have less access to prime job assignments. 

Mistaken role

In the research that studied 2,927 female lawyers — most being women of colour — 57% confessed to being mistaken for non-lawyers.

They have often been mistaken for administrative staff, custodial staff and court personnel.

One woman says, “I have frequently been assumed to be a court reporter. In my own firm, I’ve been asked if I am a legal administrative assistant on multiple occasions, even after making partner.”

The study showed that women lawyers were relegated to do office work such as scheduling meetings, planning parties, and doing actual housework like cleaning up the food after a meeting.

Female lawyer presenting a case. [Source: VideoBlocks]

Assertive behaviour

When it comes to behaviour, assertiveness is key in the legal industry. Women who were assertive were criticised for not behaving in a ladylike manner. And when they are not assertive enough, they were seen to be lacking the confidence required to succeed.

One Asian American lawyer said, “In the past year, I’ve been called ‘overconfident’ and ‘not deferential enough’ by co-counsel, another Asian American female.”

“It was extremely frustrating as I was finally starting to feel confident and assertive and direct-acting like any normal white male attorney in a law firm would. I was subsequently removed from that case,” she said.

Another participant said during her performance reviews, she gets, “my only feedback is ‘you need to find your more feminine or softer side. You need to act more like a woman.”

Interrupted in meetings

Half of the female lawyers were interrupted during meetings compared to a third of their male counterparts.

“White men don’t realise how much ‘space’ belongs to them or that they unconsciously feel that they own space. They frequently interrupt others, but if a woman on a conference call states her thoughts, she is immediately criticised as interrupting,” described one female lawyer in the study.


In terms of payment, women lawyers were being underpaid compared to their male counterparts. In another study, male partners earned more than 44 per cent of what their female partners took home.

“One man was recently given a promotion because HR discovered he was being paid a lot more than me, with the same job title. So instead of increasing my pay, they promoted him to a higher title! Women can’t win in this environment.”

Penalised for motherhood

Female lawyers in the study said that they were treated differently once they had children. They were taken to be less serious and got passed over during promotions.

One participant says, “I was passed over for partner because I had a child. The two male attorneys who were hired at the exact same time as me, who had comparable prior experience, and same job responsibilities were made partner but I was not. When I asked why, I was told it was because I had given birth to a child.”

“The reality is that after you have children, you are treated differently and given less access to good cases, and therefore have less access to promotion.”

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