Lack of Fit Bias refers to the tendency to view women as lacking the fit for a successful legal career. When women and people of color enter into professions where they are underrepresented, they are confronted by stereotypes about what the “ideal” professional looks like and how the “ideal” professional behaves. When they fail to fit that ideal, they are often mistaken for lower status members of the occupation. In the case of lawyers, women and people of color are often mistaken for staff, paralegals, secretaries, law clerks or junior associates.
It is incredibly difficult to be a female, especially women of color in this practice in criminal defense. I can't tell you how many times people have asked if I was the court reporter or the interpreter… When we have clients, especially like the really big high-end clients, they're not necessarily expecting a female minority to be on their legal team. And so we've had just a couple of educational situations where I just had to remind my clients that I'm not the receptionist, I'm not their waitress, that I'm a part of their legal team. And that the services that I provide isn't getting them coffee.
Nationally, women of color attorneys report significant experience being mistaken for lower-level and lower-status workers, including administrative staff, court personnel or janitorial staff. The Utah survey also reveals a significant lack of fit bias within Utah’s legal profession. Among women attorneys in Utah, 43% have been mistaken for incumbents of lower status roles compared to only 4% of White men attorneys.
Associated with lack of fit bias is the tendency to expect women to do more menial or administrative tasks than men—referred to as “office housework.” This tendency emerges from gender stereotypes that assume women are more nurturing, communal, helpful and supportive than men. Nationally, women report bearing a greater share of the menial or administrative tasks (e.g., taking notes in a meeting) as compared to their men counterparts. In Utah, nearly a third (32%) of White women and 28% of women of color reported being asked to play an administrative role compared to only 15% of men.