After spending nearly two decades working in law firms, I witnessed and experienced enough discrimination and recrimination to know from the front row the many challenges women lawyers face in law firms today.
Still a Way to Go
According to a 2012 NALP survey on the demographics of equity, we should not be surprised to learn that 64% of male partners were equity partners while 47% of both women partners and minority partners were equity partners, a differential of 17-18 percentage points. More dramatically perhaps, among equity partners, about 85% were men, 15% were women, and fewer than 5% were racial/ethnic minorities. (The minority figures include both men and women, so the three figures add to more than 100%.)
Among non-equity partners, the respective figures were 73% men, 27% women, and 8% racial/ethnic minorities. Finally, among all partners, the equity/non-equity split is about 61%/39%. Just over half of partners were male equity partners; just over 9% were women equity partners; and almost 3% were minority equity partners.
What these stats may convey to us is 1. Caucasian males remain in the power seats; 2. women lawyers must step it up if we are committed to making a measurable advancement in their careers and quality of work environments.
Despite these figures, the ranks of women lawyers also must claim their role as well with not “leaning in” (Sheryl Sandberg reference intended) to clear the path for power and advancement in their legal careers.
To make a direct reference to Sheryl’s controversial book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”,
“In addition to the external barriers erected by society (read: law firms), women are hindered by barriers erected by ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling
back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives - - the messages that say it is wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and childcare, We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet. Compared to make our colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions. This is not a list of things other women have done. I have made every mistake on this list. At times, I still do.”