Paul L. Caron

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fighting the Subtler Side of Sexism

Interesting article in today's Legal Times:  Fighting the Subtler Side of Sexism, by Debra Bruno:

Lorelie Masters has her own theory about women's lack of progress in the legal profession. It isn't so much about telecommuting on Fridays or meeting draconian billable goals. The president of the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia has a different beef -- with the subtle slights, hidden assumptions and veiled sexism that undercut many women in the corporate legal world. It's what some have called "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Masters' point ties in with a report released just last month by the National Association of Women Lawyers. The group's second annual survey on the status of women in law firms found (big surprise) that "women advance into the upper levels of law firms with only a fraction of the success enjoyed by their male classmates." Those fractions are well-known: The NAWL found, for instance, that an average of 16 percent of the firms' equity partners are women. Compare that with national numbers offered up by NALP (formerly the National Association for Legal Professionals) from 2005, when 48 percent of summer associates and 44 percent of first-year associates were women.

Even more interestingly, the NAWL survey (which questioned 200 of the country's largest firms and received responses from 112) found a significant salary gap as women advance through the ranks. Male and female associates, for the most part, make about the same amount. But male of counsel earn about $20,000 more than female of counsel, male nonequity partners make about $27,000 more than their female counterparts and male equity partners bring in almost $90,000 more than female equity partners.

What gives? It goes back to the theory of assumptions and slights. The NAWL survey wonders "whether women lawyers are given as many choice assignments, introductions to key firm clients and other opportunities to grow their own practices" as the men. Maybe that's because women aren't expected to succeed like the men do. And so the firm sees the women as the ones heading for flex-time and the "mommy track," not as future leaders to be encouraged.

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