Women in the Workplace: Having it All or "Half of it all."

Two articles in the New York Times this past week indicate that women have, generally speaking, been successful in achieving their desired carrier goals without feeling that they have completely abandoned traditional roles as wives and mothers. One big exception: large law firms.In this Op-Ed piece, Claudia Goldin writes that, contrary to conventional media wisdom, statistics show that educated women are not opting out of the workforce in large numbers. The article details a study conducted by the Mellon Foundation that surveyed more than 10,000 women and 10,000 men who graduated from one of a list of a 34 highly selective colleges between 1976 and 1981. Of these women, 58 percent were never out of the job market for more than 6-months total in the 15 or so years that followed their graduation.
"On average, the women in the survey spend a total of just 1.6 years out of the labor force, or 11 percent of their potential working years. Just 7 percent spent more than half of their available time away from employment."

On the family side, 87 percent of the women surveyed had been married, 79 percent were still married 15-years after graduation and 69 percent had at least one child.With these statistics in mind, I read with interest this article published 4 days later in the same newspaper titled "Why Do So Few Women Reach The Top Of Big Law Firms?"

"Although the nation's law schools for years have been graduation classes that are almost evenly split between men and women, and although firms are absorbing new associates in numbers that largely reflect that balance, something unusual happens to most women before they begin to climb into the upper tiers of law firms. They disappear."

According to the national Association for Law Placement, 17 percent of the partners at large national law firms were women in 2005. That number has risen only slightly in the last 10-years.The interesting point of this article is that, again contrary to conventional wisdom, women surveyed indicate that child-rearing and family concerns are not the primary reason why most of them leave large-firm practice.

Several blogs have been discussing the reasons for this exodus. Look here, here, and here.

Warning: Purely anecdotal evidence ahead:As someone who worked as an employment lawyer in a large national firm for several years, my personal opinion is that female attorneys appear to be more likely than their male counterparts to be bothered by the fact that large law firms, generally speaking, are horribly mismanaged. They run on an institutional model that is 200 years old, which serves neither its employees nor its clients as effectively as it could. Despite firms' best efforts, true mentoring in large firms is all but non-existent. (It really isn't that surprising that most large firm partners are not good mentors, being as they didn't have good mentors themselves.) Most large law firms do not really encourage associates to develop strong social ties with existing clients. In fact, many partners see any such attempts as threats to their existing client relationships. And large law firms are one of the last true bastions of rigid top to bottom authoritarian management style.

Again, based solely on my personal esperience: These are all issues that tend to bother female attorneys a great deal. Frankly, they bother a lot of male associates a great deal as well. But for whatever reason, a higher percentage of the males stay. Perhaps, the media and the researchers should be looking into why that is.Technorati Tags:Categories: