Joan Williams

Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UC Law SF Foundation Chair and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law


Described as having “something approaching rock star status” in her field by The New York Times Magazine, Joan C. Williams has played a central role in reshaping the conversation about work, gender, and class over the past quarter century. Williams is a Sullivan Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law. Williams’ path-breaking work helped create the field of work-family studies and modern workplace flexibility policies.

Williams’ 2014 book What Works for Women at Work (co-written with daughter Rachel Dempsey) was praised by The New York Times Book Review: “Deftly combining sociological research with a more casual narrative style, What Works for Women at Work offers unabashedly straightforward advice in a how-to primer for ambitious women.” Following its success, Sheryl Sandberg and asked Joan to create short videos sharing the strategies discussed in the book. The videos have been downloaded over 975,000 times and are featured by Virgin Airlines as in-flight entertainment, seen literally around the world. Williams co-authored a workbook companion to What Works for Women at Work, available now from NYU Press.

Williams founded Gender Bias Bingo, a web-based project aimed at providing information and tools on gender bias to professors. Williams has explored the parallels and differences between gender and racial bias in two reports. The first, “Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women in Science” has been shared over 40,000 times in the media, and the second, “Climate Control? Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering” was co-authored by the Society for Women Engineers and surveyed over 3,000 engineers.

Williams is one of most influential legal scholars in US (by h-index) and the 11th most cited scholar in both critical theory and employment law. She has authored 11 books, over 100 academic articles, and her work has been covered in publications from Oprah Magazine to The Atlantic and Slate to Fox News. Her awards include the Best Paper Award for “Responsible Research in Operations Management,” Academy of Management Journal (2022), the Families and Work Institute’s Work Life Legacy Award (2014), the American Bar Foundation’s Outstanding Scholar Award (2012), the ABA’s Margaret Brent Women Award for Lawyers of Achievement (2006), and the Distinguished Publication Award of the Association for Women in Psychology (2004) (with Monica Biernat and Faye Crosby). In 2008, she gave the Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard. Her Harvard Business Review article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” has been read over 3.7 million times and is now the most read article in HBR’s 90-plus year history. Her TED talk, “Why Corporate Diversity Programs Fail – and How Small Tweaks Can Have a Big Impact” was viewed over 1.2 million times. Her most recent book, Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion For Real and For Good (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021), offers a fresh approach to inclusion that is concrete, evidenced-based and actionable. She is the author of White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.


  • Harvard Law School
    J.D., Law

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    M.A., City Planning

  • Yale University
    B.A., History


  • Work Life Legacy Award
    Awarded by the Families and Work Institute.

  • Visionary Award
    Awarded by The University of California College of the Law SF

  • Outstanding Scholar Award
    Awarded by the American Bar Foundation.