Anika Gray’s Big Ambitions as Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s New Director of the Gender Equity Initiative


Diversity & Inclusion Gender Initiatives

Growing up the daughter of a single mother in a rural Jamaican community, Anika Gray, director of the Gender Equity Initiative (GEI) at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, knew she wanted something different from the life she saw around her. “In that environment it seemed like the only path for a woman was to have children at a young age due to early sexual initiation, be involved in an abusive relationship, and struggle to take care of her children without support from their father.”

When she discovered gender studies during her second year of undergraduate studies, Gray found not only the ability to name the gender and economic oppression facing women in her community, but also the tools to support those women and anyone facing systemic oppression. After becoming a lawyer, she vowed to use her skills to support human flourishing. “So, when this opportunity at the Law School came up, I jumped on it,” she says. Dean Hari Osofsky’s commitment to advancing gender equity in the law was an important factor in her decision to take the director role, Gray says. “I saw that as something that would make my job a lot easier because I wouldn’t have to make the case for why gender equity in the law is important.”

Despite women’s gains in the legal profession, Gray says the work culture was fashioned on men’s experiences and has mostly stayed the same over the years. She points out that women, and in particular women of color, continue to be underrepresented in equity partnership positions in Big Law. “Additionally, while a majority of law firms have very generous parental leave policies, women continue to face a motherhood penalty. In practice, what happens to women when they take that generous parenting leave is that they fall behind,” she notes. “We have to start thinking, ‘How do we change the way we design work to make it more inclusive and better reflect the experiences of women from diverse backgrounds?’”

Gray says, “Our goal is to make Northwestern Pritzker Law a leader in contributing to gender equity in the law and legal profession.” Her team, including Program Assistant, Isabella Wynne-Markham, will address this through three pillars. The first is providing professional development programs for students and alumni from diverse backgrounds to achieve satisfying careers and leadership positions in their chosen fields. The second objective is to create spaces to address gender equity issues in the law and to share solutions. The third is outreach into the community to tackle issues that disproportionately affect girls, women, gender minorities, and men from disadvantaged groups.

To meet these objectives, Gray joined forces with the Law and Technology Initiative to put on November’s Gender and Intersectional Bias in Artificial Intelligence Conference. As she points out, “Artificial intelligence is great for a number of reasons, but one big problem with AI is its propensity to reinforce gender and other intersectional biases resulting in discrimination, both in how it is developed and in its application.”

Other events included October’s Family or Career event, addressing parenting in the legal profession and policy recommendations that employers can adopt to make the work environment more responsive to parents’ needs. In November, the Gender Equity Initiative partnered with Ms. JD and the Bronzeville Community Action Council to host a one-day academy in law and leadership for 33 middle-school girls from Chicago’s South Side. The program provided opportunities for the girls to participate in interactive workshops, engage with female law students, lawyers, and judges, and see themselves as future members of the legal profession.

The GEI also held the first conversation in the Women Who Inspire speaker series, intended to highlight women lawyers leading and creating an impact in their respective fields. Dean Osofsky moderated the conversation with former president of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, NYU Law professor Tracy Robinson and principal director and founder of Shared Roots Mediation, Adjunct Professor Christine Evans, (JD ’03, LLM-IHR ’11). The conversation focused on the women’s work on the response to and prevention of violence against women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people.

Gray looks forward to partnering with different groups and departments at the Law School to support the GEI’s mission. In January 2024, the Gender Equity Initiative will co-host a panel on racial bias in maternity healthcare with the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. The Gender Equity Initiative is also partnering with Alumni Relations and Development to create a professional development workshop series for alumnae at the associate level as well as more senior lawyers thinking about the next steps in their careers and desire to hone their leadership skills. Gray is also keen to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to launch the GEI’s inaugural bi-annual summit on Gender Equity and the Legal Profession in 2024.

It snowed in Chicago on Halloween during Gray’s first year at the Law School, starkly contrasting with Jamaica’s Caribbean climate. Nevertheless, she’s been enjoying exploring her new home, taking architecture tours, braving the Willis Tower Sky Deck, and taking in concerts at Ravinia. “When people were telling me about Chicago, they never told me about the lake. They never told me about the river. Chicago is just so beautiful,” she says. “I didn’t expect to enjoy it this much.”