Women Law Firm Equity Partners Lag Behind

Women equity partners in law firms lag behind female representation at the top of other industries.  According to Harvard Business Review, as recently reported in Above The Law, women are underrepresented in most senior-level leadership positions, and, specifically, women make up “less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than 15% of executive officers at those companies, less than 20% of full professors in the natural sciences, and only 6% of partners in venture capital firms.”

The American Lawyer also has chimed in and reports the following figures, among others, for women in leadership positions in a variety of industries:

  • Nonprofit CEOS:  45%
  • Fortune 500 general counsel:  22.6%
  • Fortune 10 company executive officers:  19.8%
  • CPA partners:  17%
  • Law firm equity partners:  16.8%
  • Investment bank executives:  11%
  • Venture capital partners:  6%.

Note well:  The percentage of women equity partners in law firms got edged out by women CPA partners — yes, the green eyeshade people.  Edged out, not by much, but still, edged out.  Come on.  That hurts.

What has led to this result?  Here are a few of the reasons offered in the ATL article:

  • Affinity Bias:  That phenomenon where partners at the top of law firms give work to people like themselves (read that as male partners preferring to give work to male lawyers); and
  • The Halo Effect:  Expectations that attribute success by male lawyers to competence and success by female lawyera to luck — which negatively affects promotion of women to senior positions.

There may be other causes. For instance, I believe that women underestimate their competencies and do not compete for leadership positions effectively.  That is hinted at in the ATL article, but I think it plays a larger role.  I also think that women lawyers fail to take the long view and to keep themselves “in the game” until the time when they can compete with gusto — that time after family members are less dependent on them for caretaking.  Women leave or check out of the leadership pipeline too early to eventually become effective leaders and managers.

Tell me what you think.  We may not be able to agree on the specific causes, but we can agree on one thing:  The statistics cited above are not acceptable.  They are unfair, and they need to be remedied. 

Start to think of yourself as part of the solution and not part of the problem.  It will take all of you to solve the problem and positively affect the retention and advancement of women lawyers.

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