Canaries were historically used by miners to judge toxicity levels within coal mines. When they sang, all was well. When they faded and died, the mine had become toxic.
Professor Lani Guinier analogizes the canary in the coal mine scenario to the state of women at Harvard Law School. Despite the fact women have been part of the HLS community for more than half a century, the gender gap in performance remains. In Ames 2013, only 7 out of 24 semi-rounds finalists in Ames 2013 were women. Though the number of women represented in the incoming Harvard Law Review class has admirably increased as of last year, women still represent roughly 17 out of 46 new editors. Women at Harvard Law lag in rates of receiving magna cum laude honors, making up only 30 percent of recipients in 2012 – a percentage that has remained stable for some time.
This imbalance continues into the professional world with women comprising only 29 percent of the Supreme Court clerkships awarded to Harvard alumnae over the past six years. As of last semester, even the faculty reflected these disparities with only 18 female professors and assistant professors out of a total of 92.
The question remains, what about the legal environment does this gap indicate? Shatter the Ceiling was founded last year to address these issues. Its mission is three-fold: research, coalition building, and awareness. With regards to the research component, the aim is to work with administration to investigate the causes of the disparity and measures that could be implemented to address it.
The goal of coalition building is to create a community of students to target the underlying issues that the “canaries” of HLS indicate, recognizing that an intersectional approach is the only means by which equality will be reached in the legal field for anyone. As for awareness, Shatter the Ceiling hopes to inform the law school community and beyond about these issues and intermittent measures that can be adopted to address them.
Now more than ever, Shatter the Ceiling needs a space in the law school conversation. Students are increasingly invited and empowered to make change. As recently as 1953, women were not allowed admission to the law school. Sixty years later, women have made great strides and have come so far. Now is not the time to stop moving forward. In order to finally achieve the full equality women at Harvard Law have earned through persistence, competence, and skill, we as a community must pay attention to the signs and create a better, safer future for everyone to be active, involved, and successful members of the Harvard Law Community.
To continue the conversation and work for a better future, please get involved by contacting Shatter the Ceiling at shattertheceilingHLS@gmail.com.