Dear President Faust,
Thank you for the invitation to provide input regarding the search for the next Dean of Harvard Law School. I am writing on behalf of the Harvard Law School Women’s Alliance (“HLSWA”). Founded in 2010, the HLSWA represents over 13,000 women who have graduated from Harvard Law School — 32% of the HLS alumni. One of the primary goals of the HLSWA is to increase the presence of HLS alumnae in positions of power and leadership.
As the largest and most active HLS alumni and special interest group, we write to encourage the Search Committee to include in the evaluation of candidates for the position of Dean of HLS evidence of his or her commitment to promoting advancement of women and gender equality.
The newest graduates of HLS will have experienced a legal education in which half of the HLS student body is female. However, the ongoing gendered nature of the legal profession and resulting challenges cannot be denied. As Professor David Wilkins documents in the Career Path Study of the Men and Women of Harvard Law School, these gender gaps in the profession start early and widen over time. Notably, this study was funded with the support of the HLS Dean and alumnae, underscoring the importance of selecting a Dean who will prioritize gender initiatives. The new Dean must continue to focus on these issues as challenges remain not only for graduates, but also for students. As the letter submitted to the Search Committee by the Women’s Law Association (WLA) makes clear, much work still remains to be done to foster gender equality even at the Law School.
While the conditions that result in these gaps in academia and the profession emanate from various sources, the HLS Dean would ideally lead the charge to 2 ensure that HLS is playing a leading role in solving these issues. This includes equipping all students to tackle these issues as individuals; leading the faculty in academic initiatives designed to level the playing field and create opportunities for women law students and lawyers; and educating law firm and other leaders on how to lead effectively across gender.
This effort will require a comprehensive assessment of all aspects of life at HLS, from the curriculum to classroom dynamics, from student life to career services, from faculty representation to the gender make-up of guest speakers. We fully support the WLA’s call for an active leader “whose lived experiences and life’s work emphasizes a commitment to diversity and gender equality, to social justice, to inclusiveness and community, to transparency, and to continuing innovation in the legal profession.” We are confident that such a leader can have a meaningful impact and promote long-term change on the important and challenging issue of achieving gender equality in the legal profession.
We request to meet with the Search Committee to learn how these considerations will be factored into the search and to provide input about how the Dean’s selection can impact the women who represent almost one-third of HLS alumni.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our input into the search for the new leader of one of the greatest and most influential educational institutions in our country. We look forward to continuing the discussion.
Maria Stearns, ’02
President, Harvard Law School Women’s Alliance