The Problem With Women Blawgers

When you pour your cup of morning coffee and settle down to some virtual reading enjoyment, do you tee up your favorite legal blawgs? Do you know or even notice whether those blawgs are written by women? Do you read publications by the American Bar Association (ABA), peruse their Blawg Directory, or pay attention to their annual Blawg ratings / rankings / listing or whatever it is, the Blawg 100? Do you count how many women blawgers are listed in their Directory or represented in the Blawg 100?

Lawyers are familiar with the ABA, it is our primary national professional association. The ABA Journal was one of the very first legal magazines I subscribed to. Whether by actual or implied valuation, most lawyers at least recognize its name, if not accord it some level of deference.

The ABA also publishes books (link here) and promotes those books to other lawyers and, if interested, pretty much anyone that can navigate the Web. One of those books, Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier (link here), is published by two lawyers, Carolyn Elefant and Nicole Black, whom I highly respect. By the way, they also author some of the finest legal blawgs out there. I have a copy of their book and do recommend it as a great primer for lawyers looking to enter the online networking fray or aspiring to take their online networking to the next level.

One of the first points to be made in any discussion about social media is the value of legal blawging. Why? Because it highlights legal expertise and ability and affords lawyers a chance to expand their reach to new audiences and potential clients. So, it stands to reason, if an “independent” and respected organization features your legal “blawg” and gives you a little “badge” to proudly wear in your side bar, your powers of persuasion in this venue should increase correspondingly. Better readership, better rainmaking, in a word. Better rainmaking means more money and prestige.

What is the Blawg 100, you ask? Well, according to itself, it is a list of 100 legal blawgs (blawgs are the cute legal name for blogs, in case you were wondering) on the Web. The entire Web. It does not appear to have any jurisdictional limitations. After “narrowing” down the field through an undisclosed process, readers can then vote for their favorites. From their own promotional introduction:

Welcome to the fourth annual ABA Journal Blawg 100—the best legal blogs as selected by the Journal’s editors.

Each year, we scour the Web to bring you the best and brightest law bloggers in a variety of categories, and this year is no different.

Register with if you need to, then take a look through this year’s honorees and vote for up to 12 of your favorites. Click on each of the 12 categories listed below to browse blawgs, and to vote for a blawg, click on the box to the left of it. Winners of the popular vote will be announced in January.

Good luck to all of this year’s honorees, and happy voting!

My emphasis there, in bold. It bears noting that “scouring” the web includes looking at public nominations for the best potential entrants. Nominations, though, are not the sole means for the first cut – it appears there is editorial discretion, which should be the case when you bill the ranking as a list of the top 100 legal blawgs (in a field that likely approaches 10,000) as selected by the ABA Journal editors, the masters of the flagship publication  of our preeminent national professional association.

The Blawg 100 has been going since 2007. I have been blogging since 2008. As I do a lot of online reading (with more than 100 of my own legal blawg subscriptions filling my feed reader across three different categories), I could not avoid discussions of the Blawger-Oscars even if I had wanted to. Every year I read the entries and every year I find some of my favorites, a very few I haven’t met before, and some that make me scratch my head and wonder “what in the world were they thinking? This year is no exception.

One calculation I had never engaged in was how many women were represented in the Blawg 100. Until this year.

A couple of days ago, Nicole Black aptly and accurately pointed out in her post on her excellent Sui Generis blawg that, of the 100 blawgs represented, less than 10% were authored by women. Actually, she posed the question far more eloquently: ABA Journal Blawg 100: Where The Hell Are The Women’s Blawgs? And she really has a point.

If a blog listing that bills itself as the “best” and the “brightest” of all blogs out there does not include a cross-section of subject matter and author diversity, or it regularly lists the same few blogs it has come to know and love, then it has a bit of a marketing problem. For whatever reason, the Blawg 100 is claiming to be something it is not – a true ranking via objective criteria of the best and brightest of the entire universe of blawgers. This wouldn’t be a real issue for me, except for the fact that it perpetuates a myth that might be taken as truth by less experienced (or should I say less cynical) readers.  More importantly, it perpetuates a status quo with respect to industry recognition that directly affects pre-eminence and earning in our brave new virtual world. A status quo that keeps women from the upper echelon.

Maybe if they called it “The ABA Journal Editors’ Personal Favorite Morning Reading Material“, I might have less of a problem with it and simply allay my irritation by sending them an email inviting them to broaden their scope by checking out some of the other excellent blawgs out there. But the true problem here is an industry blawg ranking that implies (note I did not say actively engages in) the promotion of bias and literary homogeneity in world of professionals that is anything but.

This is not the first time the issue of the missing women blawgers has reared its ugly head. I wrote about it ages ago (link here) when C.C. Holland over at pointed out that there were not enough women bloggers out there. I suggested that one need only open their eyes to see some excellent examples of female legal blogging, perhaps moving the field of vision beyond such indicators as LexMonitor’s AmLaw 200 listing. Back in 2008, the point was well taken that, if you don’t look for them, you won’t see them.

Flash forward to 2010 and the same point applies. Progress? Not so much. How can we expect readers to do the extra work finding examples of “fringe” writers and excellent minority professionals if industry publications won’t put in the time and effort.

This issue is not limited to female legal bloggers. About a year after my initial post, Mashable wrote about a shocking disparity in the number of women writing Wikipedia articles – about 13% of the authors polled (over 50,000 responded to the survey). I had to post about it (link here) and, as a result, got the most hits and comments I have EVER gotten on a blog post.

And recently, a good friend and most excellent literary fiction author, Christiane Alsop, wrote about her own informal survey of the numbers of women represented in “top” literary lists, featured in literary publications, writing as literary critics or promoted as writers in the advertising included in such publications. Her numbers were slightly better than those evident in the 2009 Wikipedia survey or the current Blawg 100 representation – hovering between 20 and 26%. However, she aptly points out that the number of female book consumers – ostensibly the target audience of these up-and-coming writers, literary critics and advertisements – are heavily female.

Interestingly, a similar statistic obtains for lawyers. But not at the top levels of law. Take these recent figures from Chicago Breaking Business:

– More than 60 percent of staff attorneys are women, the highest percentage of women lawyers in any category of practice and by definition the category with little possibility of career advancement.

– During the 2010 survey period, 93 percent of large law firms terminated lawyers, with men and women let go in proportionate numbers. But, terminations are highest among part-time attorneys, a position largely occupied by women: 56 percent of firms terminated one or more part-time employees, and in 83 percent of those firms, more women than men were terminated.

– The percentage of women equity partners is unchanged over the last five years, with women accounting for only about 15 percent of equity partners.

– The average firm’s highest governing committee includes only one or two women among its members. And about 10 percent of the nation’s largest firms have no women  on their governing committees.

– Female associate compensation is on par with that of male associate, but the gap widens at higher levels. Women equity partners earned 85 percent of the compensation earned by their male counterparts.

– Forty-six percent of firms credited no women at all among their Top 10 rainmakers

And, when hard economic times hit and people become more dependent upon their own marketing efforts to find new work or, perhaps, embark on a solo career, diversity figures drop steeply (link here). Interestingly, the ABA Journal notes the point in its article about the drop in female applicants to law school, as well as a quote from Hannah Brenner at the Michigan State University College of Law that:

For one thing, women lawyers continue to be vastly underrepresented in top-level positions. “That sends a message, …”

And, like the literary industry, women USE these resources. Carolyn Elefant points to some statistics on female readership, in a post on Blogging for Lawyers from over a year ago, that:

Women are nearly twice as likely to use blogs than social networking sites as a source of information (64%), advice and recommendations (43%) and opinion-sharing (55%)…

Blawgs are where people go to find legal subject matter experts. Women are using blogs and blawgs to find information, advice and recommendation. But women are not represented at the highest levels of a profession charged with, among other things, championing diversity and civil rights.

And I guess that is my point – it sends a message. When women, or members of any other group, aren’t represented, aren’t recognized, aren’t spotlighted at the top earning spots or aren’t afforded top accolades in their profession, it sends a message. Whether due to active bias, institutional inertia or a faulty system, it sends a message. Is that the message you, dear reader, want to be reading? Is that the message you, ABA, want to be sending?

I tried, in vain, to collect some VERY interesting tweets that my retweet of Nicole’s recent post generated on Twitter over the past couple of days. Unfortunately, tweet aggregator Storify didn’t deliver for me. Instead, check out some of the updated information on the social media discussion included by Nicole in her post linked at the top of my post here. Suffice it to say, like my Wikipedia post, the issue of the missing women blawgers generated a great deal of discussion from some surprising quarters, although my hopes for the discussion actually generating active change are somewhat more reserved, if past experience proves anything.


I Finally Figured Out What Is Wrong With Wikipedia

And it might reflect a moderate generalism on the internet as well: there are not enough women.

Jennifer Van Grove, a prolific contributor of value to the internet over at Mashable reports on the results of a study conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia’s parent) regarding the demographics of Wikipedia contributors and the shocking imbalance. 175,000 responses were collected. Of 53,888 respondents who copped to contributing to Wikipedia, only 6,814 or 13%, were women. More on the study can be found at the Wall Street Journal.

There are some other statistics mentioned. Women are less likely to read Wikipedia articles for one. I also noted a sizeable reason driving non-contribution across respondents – “[o]ne quarter, however, said they’re afraid of making a mistake “and getting ‘in trouble’ for it.” Given the other figures, this response must have been a popular one among the female non-contributing respondents.

These particular hues and cries are not new. I recently responded to a solicitation from a gadget blog looking for female tech bloggers because “there are just not enough of us out there.” About a year ago, or thereabouts, there was some flap in the legal blawgosphere about the lack of female law bloggers. I posted my reply here. And now, we have this “startling” announcement that women Wikipedia contributors are few and far between.

So, assuming this all to be true (and there is some degree of assumption there), the obvious question is why?

Van Grove opens her post with the paragraph: “[w]omen are consummate content creators online. From technology mavens like Google’s Marissa Mayer to influential mommy bloggers, and even YouTube() stars like iJustine, females have played a significant role in shaping web trends.”

But, other than Mayer, these trends are in decidedly non-academic, non-technical subject areas. Why the lack of women in the brainier on-line realms? If you look at enrollment in institutions of higher education, you will not see this degree of disparity between the sexes. In fact, in some areas of intellectual pursuit, women outnumber men. Law school enrollment figures place women on equal footing with men. So why do these figures not translate to greater participation on the Web in places like legal and tech blogging and Wikipedia contribution?

I don’t intent to engage in a lengthy dissertation on the socialogies and psychologies of women and men in academics, the workplace or our society in general, as I do believe that traditional roles have been changing for some time (although not enough to satisfy my sense of equality). I will point out a couple of thoughts. First, I suggest taking the reason provided above at its face value: I believe women have a greater fear than men of the fallout from speaking out on a topic and suffering reprisal. Whether it is a reason fostered by nature or nuture is unimportant – the fact of my own personal experience is that women (o.k., well, myself anyway) are more concerned with being right than being visible. Whether women are correct more or less than men in reality is not essential to an understanding of the point. Women may be more interested than men in making sure they are right or sitting back rather than speaking when they see the grey area in a particular subject. And maybe women get enough reprisal in other venues, so they may not volunteer to put themselves in such a public limelight solely for altruism or entertainment value.

Second, I will simply point you to the comments, starting with comment number one by an individual owning only to the name “man”, to Van Grove’s post. Oh, maybe I will just reprint that first comment right here for your reading pleasure:

Wikipedia has to be fact-checked and referenced, whereas women prefer to make baseless claims and get into arguments. Attempting to end the argument by referencing an actual document is only going to piss them off, the only positive result is to acquiese.

This does not mean they are always wrong, they are correct roughly 50% of the time. But no fact-checking.

So there you have it.