On June 10th, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was enacted to require men and women to receive the same pay for the same work. Over 50 years later, gender equality still dominates workplace conversation. Since the 1960s, this “pay gap” has closed significantly, so it is best to recognize progress. For some industries, however, the pay isn’t even the issue. It’s the gender, or lack thereof. In a multi-million-dollar industry with many participants, it is difficult to ignore the underrepresentation of women in the expert witness industry.
The Financial Times stated, “Last year in the Who’s Who Legal expert witness directory, just 16 percent of the experts listed were female.” The same article also mentioned a 2020 study by PwC and Queen Mary University. Out of 180 arbitral proceedings awards managed by the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and New York between 2014-2018, only 11% were given to female expert witnesses. This blog aims to explain why the gap exists, provides tips for those in the legal industry to encourage women to participate in expert witness work, and includes accounts from Liability Insurance Expert and Experts.com Member, Jane M. Downey, ARM, M.Ed.
Three central reasons contribute to the scarcity of female expert witnesses. The first reason is simply that it is a male-dominated industry. For instance, according to Bloomberg ABA/BNA Lawyer’s Manual on Professional Conduct, “an astonishing 80 percent of expert witnesses chosen by attorneys are male.” Considering the field has been male-centric for an extended period, attorneys are more inclined to work and cooperate with male expert witnesses. The second reason stems from the first, which is a lack of availability. The same article states “there are far more male experts to choose from in almost all specialties – with the prominent exception of nursing.”
The third reason involves gender stereotypes and roles which have always existed in our society. The Jury Expert released an article about the ways gender bias affects both male and female expert witnesses. An excerpt from the article states, “Some studies have shown that men may be more influential and persuasive than women, particularly when they occupy traditionally masculine roles.” Prejudice is more likely to surface when women pursue roles that do not correspond to their gender’s expectations (structural engineer, police policy, construction defect), which may occur on a case-by-case basis. That is not to say people should only pursue occupations limited to their gender norms. The prejudice correlates to how an expert may be perceived by juries and judges. “The degree to which the expert’s gender and the type of case agree (what researchers call ‘gender congruence’) may be important in determining whether a male or female expert will be more credible and persuasive,” The Jury Expert.
The above reasons generally explain the lack of female expert witness testimony. Individually, women have different experiences in their expert witness work. The following is an insightful Q&A with Jane M. Downey, ARM, M.Ed, regarding her experience as a female Liability Insurance expert witness:
Q: How did you discover expert witness work?
A: My first case was a referral from the President of the Insurance Society of Philadelphia. I did not like that case because it had a 48-hour Federal turnaround timeline and was very stressful; therefore, I did not pursue the work until a few years later. It was then I was approached on a massive case, and I really enjoyed the work and the team of attorneys that I supported.
Q: What was the deciding factor for you to participate in providing expert witness testimony?
A: I have always loved to write and teach.
Q: Have you faced any difficulty as a female expert witness?
A: I think being female has given me an advantage. I stand out in all the listings.
Q: Why do you think there is a gender gap in the insurance industry? Do you think it might be attributed to a lack of knowledge of expert witness work as an option for financial income or other factors like gender roles?
A: I think there is a gender gap in the insurance industry, but it is much narrower now than in other industries. To be an expert witness, you have to be willing to be confrontational. I know a lot of women who avoid conflict.
Q: How should the legal industry encourage women to consider participating in expert witness work?
A: Training, training, training. I did not realize until recently that my master’s degree in Group Dynamics prepared me for this work and my work as an insurance arbitrator.
There are initiatives in place to inspire women to consider expert witness work as a part-time or full-time job. The previous Financial Times article highlighted a campaign called The Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses. Initiated in 2015, its goal is to help women market themselves to the legal industry. According to the article, “the pledge has 4,129 individuals and 983 organizations in 143 countries as signatories.” With movements such as this, hopefully, we will see more women entering the arena of participants for expert testimony.
Ultimately, attorneys, male or female, must do their due diligence in selecting the most highly qualified expert for their case, regardless of gender. But if women are absent from the pool of experts there can be no expectation for change. With proper training and industry knowledge, women can find expert witness work to be intellectually challenging, lucrative, and satisfying. A special thank you to Liability Insurance Expert and Expert.com Member Jane M. Downey, ARM, M.Ed for taking the time to contribute to our latest blog post.