Whether it was an off-hand comment by a peer or a distasteful remark by a superior, even some of the highest ranking local criminal justice leaders have faced scrutiny because of their gender.
Three of the areas most powerful women of justice joined together for a panel discussion Thursday night at Santa Barbara City College. Moderated by SBCC Professor Anne Redding, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Von Deroian, District Attorney Joyce Dudley and Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow shared stories on their law enforcement journey, how gender bias affected their paths and what continues to inspire them to serve the public.
In 1993, Chief Luhnow set a goal to become the first female motor officer with the San Diego Police Department. She recalled gearing up for her test when a police officer approached her and told her she was going to fail the motor academy.
“For the first time, it instilled a fear in me that I never had,” Chief Luhnow said. “I didn’t have anybody to look at to say ‘she did it, I could do it.’ There was nobody around me in the county, gender-wise, that was on a police motorcycle unit and I didn’t interpret that as gender bias at the time, I interpreted it as a jerk who was trying to keep me down.”
Chief Luhnow advanced to the final obstacle course and as she came to the finish line a group of male officers were jumping up and down cheering her on as she completed the test.
“I wasn’t there to change them, but they knew the standards were the same,” Chief Luhnow said. “They saw me pass the course at the very end.”
Judge Deroian recalled going to a job interview after finishing a secretary program. As she entered the attorney’s office, she saw a collection of headshot photos of the women who were seeking the job.
“That should have been my first clue that I should leave,” Judge Deroian recalled. “But I wanted that job.”
As the interview continued, the attorney asked her how she would balance being a mother of two and her job. The attorney then asked about her future goals, to which Judge Deroian responded by saying, “One day, I’d like to be a paralegal and then maybe an attorney.”
“His response was ‘well, that’s cute. That’s nice, but isn’t that a pretty unrealistic goal?’” Judge Deroian said. “I left that interview pretty bummed, glad I didn’t get the job, but it stuck with me because it was my first sort of realization that that kind of gender bias occurs.
“I wish I could remember his name so I could send him the governor’s press release when I was appointed,” she said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
Ms. Dudley had a similar encounter shortly after she was hired as Deputy District Attorney in 1990. There was a court bailiff who applied for the same position who saw her in court and told her that the only reason she got the job was because she was a woman.
“After all the work I went through, I questioned myself, and that’s the worst feeling,” Ms. Dudley said. “Not when some idiot questions you, but when you question yourself.”
She recalled another instance when she asked her boss for a raise, only to be told that since she was married she didn’t need an increase in pay. During another encounter, Ms. Dudley recalled earning a guilty verdict in a difficult case, and as she went to celebrate with her superior he told her “every time you win a case like this, I want you to go home early and make your family dinner,” Ms. Dudley said.
“We just have to keep working on it, whether it’s sexism or racism or anti-transgender or transsexual people. We just have to keep remembering that we want to value people for the work that they do, for how much they care, for their compassion, for their tenacity, for their empathy. It doesn’t matter anything else about them, except their character and their work ethic,” she said. “We’re getting there, but too slow.”
The panel was then asked about how gender discrimination may prohibit innovation in criminal justice organizations.
Judge Deroian explained that change can be difficult for any number of organizations and that it requires active listening and patience.
Ms. Dudley chimed in, first by stating she endears Judge Deroian but she is not a patient person.
“I’m not sure patience is necessarily a good thing all the time,” Ms. Dudley said. “I think that the important thing is to weigh it and say ‘is this an opportunity that requires a little patience and a deep breath and reflection and staying brave? Or is this an opportunity where it requires bravery?’ And when it requires bravery then you have to step up, take that risk and be brave. Sometimes being patient holds organizations back.”
Ms. Dudley said she is an advocate for situational patience, but that all depends on what comes next.
“It’s a chess game – you can’t make a bold move unless you know what the next three (moves0 are going to be after that,” she said.
The women then discussed where their inspiration comes from. Chief Luhnow explained that her fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement are a constant motivation, while she also takes pride in the diversity of the local police force.
“When I came on the police department in San Diego in 1998, we had about 11% women within the organization,” Chief Luhnow said. “We, today in Santa Barbara, have more than 20%. That’s far and above the state average of about 15%, so I think there’s another layer of pride in knowing that it’s a much more attractive profession to women. They see themselves there. No matter how you look at it, we’re still more under-represented in gender than any other place in this profession. Roughly 50% of the population is female, so I believe there is a need for an equal level of that within our policing ranks.”
Judge Deroian said the increased diversity in the local criminal justice system inspires her, whether it’s diversity in gender, life experience or race. She is the first female judge ever in Santa Barbara County and before that was the first Asian Deputy District Attorney in the area.
“I think it’s important that you don’t have to look a certain way, you don’t have to have a certain level of education or experience to rise to the level of being a prosecutor, being a judge, being a chief.
“Our career paths – all of us up here – it means that anybody can do it, and that’s great.”
As Ms. Dudley answered the question, she reflected on how far she has come in her career.
“I don’t think the three of us ever thought we’d be sitting on the stage or have the positions we have, but any of you can do this. It’s so doable, it’s so reachable,” she said.
“I think my mistakes inspire me more than anything else. I do this thing at night where I reflect upon my day and I think about all the things that didn’t go as well as I expected them to, and I fix them by thinking about them, thinking about how I might handle a similar situation tomorrow, and forgiving myself.
“I think that goal of being better and better at what I do, and who I am, and how I affect the planet, inspires me.”