Hurdles to Career Advancement for Women Lawyers

Career advancement is often a challenge for women lawyers. Although laws prohibit gender inequality in the workplace and policies for gender equity have been adopted by law employers, much of the advancement challenge for women is up to them to solve.

The truth underlying the challenge is that career advancement is much harder for most women than for most men, and that certainly is true in the law profession. If it were not true, the percentage of female equity partners would far surpass the 20% that it is today and has been for awhile. While it also is true that some of that low percentage is the result of the choices that women lawyers make in pursuit of work-life balance, there are other factors at work in limiting advancement opportunities for women lawyers.

Some of the struggles for women are laid out in the book How Women Rise by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen. Topics explored there include:

  • Reluctance to claim achievements;
  • Expecting others to notice and reward contributions;
  • Building rather than leveraging relationships;
  • Failing to enlist allies;
  • Putting a job before a career plan;
  • Demanding perfection; and
  • Placing too much value on the desire to please.

All of these topics are worth considering in formulating a career plan. All of them can stand in the way of career advancement, and all of them can be painful to address. But you have to do it because no one is going to do it for you. Although a really effective mentor can help you think through some of these issues, you have to do the heavy lifting.

But there is another challenge that is so critical that it makes some of the others pale by comparison because it is so hard to overcome. My friend Andie Kramer and her husband and co-author Al Harris, two lawyers in Chicago, have addressed this problem in their book Breaking Through Bias. In that book and in their blogs at, they discuss how women seeking to advance in traditionally male fields, especially, face two particular types of biases, negative bias and agentic bias.

Negative bias for women derives from traditional feminine stereotypes that a woman is or should be “communal,” meaning warm, caring and gentle. Such women are seen as pleasant but unsuited for jobs requiring competence, competitiveness and authority.

Even more important, if a woman violates those traditional female stereotypes and behaves with authority, competence and independence, she is likely to be seen as aggressive, abrasive and bossy. And we all know what other “B word” will be ascribed to her then. This is called agentic bias and it comes with some harsh realities.

Andie and Al call dealing with these biases and their realities the Goldilocks Dilemma. Not too soft, but not too hard. Not too hot, but not too cold. And the double bind created by the intersection of negative and agentic biases is one you need to understand. Without understanding it, you will be unnecessarily handicapped in your efforts toward advancement and leadership.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Follow the Women and Be Thankful

There has not been a lot of good news nationally during 2020. The pandemic, forced isolation, shutdowns and other related economic issues have given us little to smile about and be hopeful.

But now that has changed. Finally, after voting in the presidential election was concluded more than three weeks ago, the transition between administrations is underway, and President-elect Biden has announced a White House staff and cabinet picks reflecting the talent and the power of women.

For the White House, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, will be the Deputy Chief of Staff. Dana Remus will be White House Counsel, and Julie Chavez Rodriguez has been chosen as the Director of the White House Office of Governmental Affairs. And Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon will be the Chief of Staff for Dr. Jill Biden, who rumor has it will continue her teaching responsibilities at Northern Virginia Community College. An awesome First Lady in waiting, who values her work outside the home. Bravo to that!

Picks for the cabinet include: Janet Yellen, former Fed Chair, for Secretary of Treasury; Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as Ambassador to the United Nations.

These women, some of whom require Senate confirmation, all represent experience and proven competence. No new-comers to government or dilettantes here. Just good solid hit-the-ground- running women. What we so desperately need after such a long and dry spell.

So, be thankful on this Thanksgiving Day that our national leadership will represent us well — as citizens and as women.

And also be thankful for the vaccine — or three — ready to launch against COVID-19 in a matter of weeks or months. That is huge, and we must give thanks to the medical and research communities for work around the clock administering care to victims of the pandemic and pushing hard for effective treatments and vaccines. We will never forget.

The table at our house will look different this Thanksgiving Day, and that may be true of yours also. Keep the faith and Zoom, Zoom, Zoom! 2021 is shaping up to get us back to our friends and families with strong and lasting memories of what we learned from 2020 about the priorities and values we hold dear.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Week

“Being thankful is strength training for the heart.” Larissa Gomez

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Webinar for Millennial Lawyers and Those Who Lead Them

Earlier today I presented a Webinar for Busy Lawyers. The format of this webinar series is 20 to 30 minutes of remarks plus Q and A. I was pleased to get so many questions at the end and to feel the enthusiasm from the moderator and the attendees. We could have taken more questions, but there just was not time. Those busy lawyers needed to get back to work!

The topic was “What Millennial Lawyers Want,” and the webinar was directed at millennial lawyers and the senior lawyers who lead them. It is always an interesting topic, and one that I love to present. My remarks began with research about millennials in general. How millennials were raised, what social issues affected them during those formative years, and what values they acquired early on is the only logical starting point for a discussion about millennial lawyers. After that, we moved on to the millennial lawyers in particular, and the generational divide that exists between them and more seasoned lawyers. I shared recent developments at law firms, where the issues are being effectively addressed, and other information about mentoring, effective communication, the special challenges for women lawyers, and the elements of a shared solution for the dilemma posed by the generational divide … and much, much more.

Here is a link so that you can enjoy listening to the webinar and seeing the Power Point on your own time:

Thank you to the webinar hosts and to all of you who submitted questions. It was a pleasure speaking to you!

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Week

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. Cynthia Marshall, CEO, Dallas Mavericks

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Thank a Veteran Today

I am very proud of my father (US Army WWII) and my husband (US Marine Corps, Vietnam Era) for their service. I also am proud of all of you who remember the service of others and thank them for it. Everyone cannot serve, but everyone can appreciate the sacrifice.

Career Counselors | Comment

Witnessing a First for Women Across the Nation

I will never forget where I was for a variety of significant events in America. Some, like the assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy are burned in my brain as if by a branding iron. They brought such fear and dread that was indescribable for a child of 16 and then 21. I was in a high school algebra class when JFK was assassinated, and my teacher was not able to conjure up enough perspective to comfort me and my fellow classmates. I was in college for the following two assassinations, and it was phone calls to my father that helped me through. As a student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1960’s witnessing civil rights protests and Vietnam War riots up close and personal on our campus, those were very scary times.

And some of those significant moments in history were completely joyous. I witnessed man take first steps on the moon, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Berlin Wall coming down, and, yes, the Beatles coming to America!

Scary times still exist today, as do joyous times. On Saturday, November 7, at 11:24 AM, I was not frightened. I was joyous, relieved, elated and hopeful. I had been watching cable news for four days straight, refusing to leave the house or the TV for fear that I would miss experiencing the moment when the first woman in our country’s history became the second most powerful person in America.

My tears flowed like so many others because decency had been restored to the office of the presidency and Kamala Harris had become the first woman vice president elect of the United States of America. Yes, she also will be the first black woman, as well as the first Asian woman, to ascend to that high office, but for me it is all about her being the first woman.

Women across American knew at that moment in history that their opportunities for being seen and being heard had just taken giant leaps forward. They likely recalled hearing Senator Harris say to a man, who had interrupted her at the vice presidential debate earlier in the Fall, “Excuse me, I am speaking. I am speaking.” And they knew that she intended to be heard. And perhaps they also knew that they would be heard by her and by so many others because of her.

100 years after women finally were given the right to vote in our great nation, Kamala Harris stepped onto the stage Sunday night in suffragette white to be recognized as “The First.” And I only can imagine that playing like a video loop in her mind were the words of her mother that she so often recites, “Kamala, you may be a first in many things. But make sure you are not the last.”

Something tells me that she will keep those words close and make sure her mother is honored in all that lies ahead for her and for us.

Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Week

Leaders who win the respect of others are the ones who deliver more than they promise, not the ones who promise more than they can deliver. Mark A. Clement

Career Counselors, Thought For The Day | Comment