I want every woman lawyer to know that they do not have to work harder, faster or better to achieve parity in the workplace with their male colleagues.
All we have to do is support one another, which this month includes digging into that ABA Journal Magazine that you usually just toss into the trash.
I'm linking to three reports on law firm women's initiatives and they're all a little depressing.
Still, if you read past the pessimism, you'll realize we're at a tipping point - that the disappointing percentage of women in leadership roles in the law, business and finance (less than 20% in all sectors) is also reason to be optimistic about the future.
As Gloria Feldt of Take the Lead counsels, if each woman in a leadership role would sponsor one other woman who is poised to take on such a role, we could double those disappointing percentages in five years or less.
The Grim Statistics
A recent study on gender and compensation in the country's largest law firms reports that
The development of two-tier partnerships, the lengthening of the time periods to make partner and equity partner, the reduction in the number of equity partners, the creation of new categories of permanent associates and permanent non- equity partners, the expanded number of permanent of counsel, and the demand for increased billable hours, have combined to increase income for a shrinking group of equity partners and to disadvantage women in large law firms.
A Major, Lindsey & Africa 2012 Law Firm Partner Compensation Survey reports that cronyism at the top which permits in-group gender bias to influence compensation and promotion decisions presents a significant hindrance to women's advancement and has kept the law firm gender pay gap firmly in place for the past decade.
Finally,the National Association of Women Lawyers' 2012 study of law firm women's initiatives tells a story of underfunding, the lack of meaningful goals and the absence of any metrics to measure the success of those initiatives, all of which would lead a cynical person to conclude that most of those initiatives are more window dressing than they are genuine attempts to address the problems not only of women but of high attrition rates that firms in our new austere economy can no longer afford.
As that study reports:
fewer than half of all women’s initiatives are evaluated annually by management. Similarly, fewer than half of all women’ initiatives submit written evaluations. Moreover, it is not clear that the reporting and evaluation functions focus on specific goals. Some 40% of firms report no specific criteria at all for their evaluation. Of those who report goal-related evaluation criteria, there is often no connection to concrete advancement criteria. Thus, descriptions of evaluation criteria were often along the lines of “accomplishment of goals and activities identified at the start of each year” or “number of events, quality of events, participation level.”
All of that said, I remain optimistic because I've been here before, when I first started practice and some of the firm's clients said "I don't want a woman on the litigation team." My boss, male, said what we women should be saying today, Then you don't want this firm because Vickie Pynchon is the best associate I've got.
Thank you, Geoff.
We can do it. We can do it without tying ourselves in knots to conform to outmoded gender roles. We can do it without offending anyone - clients or colleagues. We can do it authentically within our own unique personalities.
We can do it because women's diverse views destroy "group think" and add women's unique collaborative abilities to an entrenched zero-sum system. Most importantly, we can raise the bar of excellence for every firm where management understands that more women in leadership = a more profitable business.