dresden doll wrote:I think the lack of women in the biglaw partnership ranks pretty clearly relates to the fact that women tend to drop out of the rat race in order to have kids.
Note: The following comments are based on a combination of data and written work I have read on this subject, as well as a healthy dose of my own opinion, intuition, anecdotal evidence, and common sense. Take with a healthy grain of salt.
I don't want to get bogged down into this thread, because there are so many variables at play for explaining the disparity between women and men as biglaw partners and the upper-levels of corporate America in general. There are societal pressures and structures in play, personal preferences of the employee, subconscious gender biases that go both ways, and so many others.
I believe dresden has it partly right. The number of women leaving the workforce to raise kids does far outstrip the rate of men doing so. We can argue why this is, whether this is right or how it "should be" ad naseum. But the basic fact remains that this does have an effect on the chances of someone making partner at a large law firm. Sure the institution should be fully supportive of someone's choice to do this, and I am sure that many are. However the role of a partner is to bring in business, network, maintain existing client relationships, etc., all of which is very difficult to put on pause and come back to after a year or several, regardless of whether you're a man or woman. I am sure that if someone could take leave to raise a family, and them come back, bring in tons of business, maintain their old clients, etc., they would have a fair chance at partnership. But this is a) hard to do, and b) likely sounds much less desirable once you do have kids. Who wants to work biglaw hours in lieu of seeing their baby take her first steps, or watching your kid place 1st in the local spelling bee?
Yes, there are women and men who have balanced family with biglaw partnership, but I would venture to say there are a fair amount of people for whom this isn't desirable, and this accounts for some of the discrepancy. Again, I'm not taking a position on whether this societal "expectation" of women is right, just, should be changed, etc. I'm just stating that this is the way things currently stand, and accounts for a piece of this.
There is another piece of this that is certainly related to institutional (read: law school) gender biases from a few decades ago. The majority of biglaw partners today are older men who went to school at a time when the number of women graduating law school was much lower than it is now. Of course, then, it should be no surprise that currently there are more men in biglaw as partners. This should slowly start to correct itself over time, as the number of women graduating law school has increased compared to prior years.
I am sure, too, that there is a small piece of the disparity that relates to sub-conscious (or even conscious) gender discrimination from biglaw partners today. But I am sure this too should start to change. More and more men and women are going to school together in more equal numbers, men and women are working together in more equal numbers, so as the male piece of the partnership gets younger, I would expect we will see a larger acceptance of women by said partnership. As more women partners get admitted, an even greater acceptance of women should occur, and eventually parity should be reached (if you control for the other, non-discriminatory self-selection related factors discussed earlier).
I don't want to get into the whole "men are more competitive" crap that was bandied about earlier. I have a hunch that there may be a greater number of men who want to be biglaw partners in the first place, but I have absolutely no data to support this. It would be an interesting survey/study if it was ever done. At this point I don't know if this is true or not, so I don't think we should consider it.
Most likely I missed some other factors at play here, but I hit on a few. The main point, though, is that I don't believe current law school admissions are to blame, or can do much at this point to correct for this. It is much more a societal and firm issue. Law schools have, for the most part, reached parity among admissions for men and women. This will have positive long-term effects on women practicing in large law firms, which is truly a positive change. But because schools have reached near parity, women aren't really under-represented nor a minority in the sense of the URM definition, which explains why women are not getting a URM boost.
I hope this post hasn't offended anyone, because I would never mean it in that way. If anyone has criticisms of my thoughts, I would be happy to discuss them!