Using Stereotypes to Your Advantage


GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — When Laura Rosenbury left her small Indiana town to study women’s studies at Harvard Radcliff College it was the start of a journey that would lead her to become the first female dean of a major law school. But with success came disappointment from her family and a constant struggle against gender bias from her peers.

Rosenbury grew up the oldest of four children in an Anabaptist family … a religion that doesn’t believe in resolving disputes in court. So going into Harvard Law School was somewhat of a family scandal.

“My parents were confused; my grandmother was quite concerned that I was straying even further from the faith,” she told Ivanhoe.

It was just one of many struggles with self-doubt as she worked her way toward becoming dean of the University Of Florida Levin College of law – the first female dean in the school’s 100 year history.

“A lot of people see me and they’re like, ‘oh my god, you look too young to be a dean.’ they would not be saying the same thing about a 46-year-old male dean,” Rosenbury explained.

She learned early on there’s no harm in using negative stereotypes to her advantage.

“People underestimate me all the time, and that can put you in a powerful position,” she said.

But studies show women who engage in self-promotion are often punished.

Kelsey Harcklerode, a recent graduate from the University Of Florida Levin College of law, said, “We try to do the work behind the scenes and be as good lawyers, researchers and writers as we can be, but we don’t advocate for ourselves.”

Rosenbury explained, “So, how do you deal with that? Well, you get this horizontal cohort of people who support you and you support them, and you promote each other’s accomplishments and strengths.”

And above all, have a sponsor in your corner.

“Sponsors are people who are willing to put their reputation on the line in order to help you succeed,” Rosenbury told Ivanhoe.

She has learned even though you can’t control gender stereotypes and bias, you can control how you react to them.

A national survey of women in law firms found that gender equality has not made a lot of progress in the past 10 years when it comes to women in law. They represent only 18 percent of equity partners in law firms, and even then … they only make 80 percent of what a typical male partner earns, which is actually down from 84 percent in 2006.

Contributors to this news report include: Jessica Sanchez, Field Producer; Brogan Morris, Assistant Producer; Tony Dastoli, Videographer; and Jamie Koczan, Editor.