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  • Kathy Cochran

GENDER CONSCIOUSNESS IN MEDIATION: An International Women's Day Post



Fortunately, we in the United States live in a world where gender rarely defines an individual or limits success, career choices or relationships that define us as human beings. However, lawyers and mediators do need to keep gender issues in mind.

As a young lawyer admitted to the Washington Bar in 1975, I immediately realized my gender was an issue. Even prior to entering law school, an insensitive person asked if I intended to be an “attorney-ette.” The completely inappropriate comment signaled that gender would influence my credibility unless I could succeed in pushing it out of the discussion. And so I learned early in my career to never wear gender as a badge, to knock any chips off my shoulder and to simply perform. Ignoring gender discrimination—while not easy at times—was often the best arrow in my quiver.

The first time I argued a motion in superior court, the opposing lawyer objected to a female lawyer presenting a motion to dismiss his client’s case. The judge said nothing other than “proceed” and did not reprimand the totally inappropriate remark. I also said nothing, shocked into silence. But I won the motion.

Later, a judge complimented me for not crying when presenting six different motions in his courtroom over the course of a month. I continued arguing my motion, making no comment. Years later, a judge reprimanded two women for wearing pantsuits in her courtroom. By that time, the presence of women in the courtroom was no longer considered inappropriate, unusual or worthy of comment, and the incident made the news.

Although gender discrimination is rarely evident for new female lawyers today, gender consciousness will never disappear. Indeed, gender can be an important factor in mediation settings. For example, a female mediator might be best in cases where the client/decision-maker is female, or where issues arise from male/female controversies. Cases involving female reproductive issues are particularly sensitive and may require a mediator who is knowledgeable about those sensitivities.


On the other hand, sometimes a female may not be appropriate when one of the decision-makers is uncomfortable with or challenged by dealing with a strong female presence. While we do not want gender to define anyone, we must recognize that sometimes gender defines an interaction and even drives the course of decision-making. The mediator’s job is to assist the parties towards a satisfactory resolution of a dispute, which requires dealing with males and females. Therefore, a successful mediator will be a skilled communicator who recognizes and is sensitive to gender issues when dealing with both parties and their counsel/insurers.

Today, I often participate in cases where all the lawyers are female, as well as the claims manager and the judge. As a mediator/ arbitrator, I now work work with a wonderful female- led team, in a female owned and operated ADR firm. What’s even more remarkable is that it’s no longer remarkable. NOW THAT IS PROGRESS.

Pacific ADR stands ready to assist in the resolution of your dispute. To learn more, please visit our website or call us at 206.825.4414.

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