A Woman’s Place is on the Expert Witness Stand

“Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”[1]   Although difficult to conceptualize, not too long ago, women did not have the opportunity to do what they love.  Even today, many women struggle to do what they love freely.  In addition to attorneys, female civil litigation experts bring a unique experience and perspective regarding equal opportunity in the legal field.

Historically, women were wholly excluded from the courtroom and treated with prejudice when they were rarely to participate in Court proceedings.  (Price, Recupero, Strong, & Gutheil, 2004; Walters, 1994).  With the passage of time, however, courts now officially recognizing gender discrimination as negatively affecting the fact-finding mission of the Courts.  (Walters, 1994).  Nonetheless, gender bias and professional obstacles for women in the legal field persist.  As of 2016, the American Bar Association’s Commission of Women in the Profession reported women compromised only 36 percent of legal professionals in the country.  (American Bar Association, 2016).  Similarly, in the expert witness field, according to a study by the Expert Institute, female expert witnesses are retained in a mere 17% of cases, whereas male expert witnesses are retained in 83% of cases.  Further, the Expert Institute found nursing accounts for 77% of the top female specialty areas.

To further investigate these issues, we interviewed three female experts from technical industries to delve into their experiences, examine adversities with which they have dealt, and celebrate their perseverance and successes.  We hope to shed light on persisting gender bias and promote equal opportunity for female experts in technical fields.

Lori Cox P.E.– RIMKUS

Lori Cox is a Civil Structural Engineer for RIMKUS with over 20 years of experience.  Ms. Cox has worked in forensics since 2001.  Throughout her career, Ms. Cox recalled several situations where it was clear to her gender bias was in play.  She, like other professional women, found it most difficult to walk the fine line between being a “pushover” and being overly assertive.  Through her practice, she has close to perfected her own approach to ensure her voice is always heard.

For example, she recalled several instances where an idea she offered was ignored until the same idea was brought up by a male figure.  Ms. Cox is not one to allow someone else to take the credit for her ideas, and would typically respond with a statement acknowledging the individual’s agreement with her earlier idea.  Ms. Cox believes most gender bias occurs subconsciously, based on how women are perceived.

Ms. Cox also recalled a situation where she was retained specifically because she was a woman.  Apparently, the client felt a jury would be more compassionate and relate more with her than they would with a male expert.

Ms. Cox has noticed a steady growth of female experts over the years.  She attributes this growth with the stressing of science, technology engineering and math courses for girls from a young age and is happy to see this progress.  Her advice to other women who are interested in becoming experts is to always be true to themselves; integrity is everything.

Shasta Good P.E.- Nelson Forensics

Shasta Good is a structural engineering expert with four years of experience in forensic work.  Ms. Good has an encouraging story.  To date, she could not think of a single situation where she found her gender affected the way she was treated.  Ms. Good admitted she has faced prejudicial situations but was certain the prejudice was based solely on her young age, not her gender.

Ms. Good attributes her positive experience in part to her company Nelson Forensics.  She believes the company takes the time to develop young engineers’ skills and prepare them for expert positions.  She also attributes her positive experience to her clientele, who treat her with respect.  Ms. Good explained her family is also an amazing support and has always encouraged her to do anything she wanted.  She describes her love for engineering as a personal passion.

Her advice to other women interested in becoming a civil litigation expert is to work hard and to maintain high standards.  She is a firm believer that self-drive and personal accomplishment inevitably affect a person’s professional achievements.  She believes integrity, good work ethic, and a positive attitude go a long way.

While there has been significant progress towards the equal treatment of women, we continue to see instances when bias results in qualified women being overlooked or not taken seriously purely due to gender.  This story runs parallel to that of the practice of law.  Strong and persistent women, however, continue to work hard to establish that individuals should be viewed based upon their qualifications and ability to perform the required work.  The stories of Ms. Cox, and Ms. Good are encouraging stories of overcoming adversity and perseverance in pursuit of personal passions.  “Every successful person in life began by pursuing a passion, usually against all odds.” [2]

Consultant – RIMKUS

A consultant with over 13 years of experience in forensic work has similarly faced situations throughout her career where it was evident gender bias was at play.  For instance, at the start of her career, she recalled her superior relied much more on male consultants with nearly identical qualifications than on her.  She later discovered her male colleagues also received more pay, notwithstanding the similarity in their qualifications.  In response, the consultant worked harder to demonstrate to her superiors she was equally capable as her male colleagues.  The consultant emphasized that if she faced the situation today, her reaction would have been very different.  She would have faced the situation head on, and fought harder for equal pay.

The consultant acknowledges the individuals with whom she currently and regularly works respect her knowledge, capabilities, and acknowledge the value she brings to the table.  Any bias she may now experience comes from people who are not in close contact with her and do not know her abilities.  In her experience, there are still few female engineers in technical companies.  It continues to be a male dominated field and lacks a support system for women in the industry.

The consultant regularly recalls encouragement from one of her professors, who believed based on his experience that some of his best students have been women.  While women may have a tendency to self-doubt and lack self-confidence – they should not.  Her advice to other women who are interested in becoming experts is to stand up for themselves and for what they believe, because if we do not believe in ourselves, no one else will.

Sources:

https://www.theexpertinstitute.com/expert-witnesses-battle-sexes/

American Bar Association Commission of Women in the Profession (2016). A current Glance of Women in the Law.

Price, M., Recupero, P. R., Strong, D. R., & Gutheil, T. G. (2004). Gender differences in the practice patterns of forensic psychiatry experts. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 32, 250–258.

Walters, A. P. (1994). Gender and the role of expert witnesses in the federal courts. Georgetown Law Journal, 83, 635–664.

 

[1] Herman Cain.

[2] Kim Kiyosaki.

Copyright © 2017 Tyson & Mendes LLP. All Rights Reserved. Website by Thriveline.