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The state of women in the legal profession
As of 2016, for the first time in history, women accounted for the majority of law students in the U.S. According to The New York Times, the female-to-male ratio had been equal for many years.
More women law students means more women attorneys, of course, but does that mean the legal profession is better for females now than it has been in the past? Are there more opportunities for women in leadership positions? Do women still face the same pressure to meet work and family demands?
Here is a look at some of the issues facing women in the legal profession:
Issue #1: Lack of leadership representation
Although discrimination may not be like it used to be, women in the legal profession still face certain obstacles, notably a lack of representation in leadership positions in firms, corporations, and law schools.
Here are some statistics according to a 2015 Washington Post article:
- Women constitute more than a third of the profession, but only about a fifth of law partners, general counsels of Fortune 500 corporations, and law school deans.
- Women account for only 17 percent of equity partners.
- Only 7 of the nation’s 100 largest firms have a woman as chairman or managing partner.
- Women are less likely to make partner even controlling for other factors, including law school grades and time spent out of the workforce or on part-time schedules.
- Studies find that men are two to five times more likely to make partner than women.
There is also a possible double standard when it comes to behavior, personality, and aggressiveness on the job. According to The Washington Post, “…Research suggests that what is assertive in a man seems abrasive in a woman, and female leaders risk seeming too feminine or not feminine enough. They may appear too soft or too strident – either unable to make tough decisions or too pushy and arrogant to command respect.”
Issue #2: Balancing work and family demands
Many women struggle to find a balance between responsibilities at work and with family. The legal profession can be extremely demanding, especially for newer associates who must prove their worth, and that means long hours. Working mothers face an even tougher situation as there is a constant pull to meet obligations at work, while also being there for their children.
Many law firms have policies in place for part-time schedules, however, only about 6% of lawyers take advantage of them. “Many women believe, with good reason, that any reduction in hours or availability will jeopardize their careers. Those who take reduced schedules often find that their hours creep up, the quality of their assignments goes down, and they are stigmatized as slackers,” according to the Washington Post.
Issue #3: Harassment in the workplace
Women facing harassment in the workplace has been a hot topic for some time now, with dramatic headlines splashed all over newspapers and the social media-driven #MeToo movement. Some of these issues affect women in the legal profession as well, from derogatory comments about their appearance and dismissal of their abilities to inappropriate advances from colleagues and others. “More than one-in-three women in the legal industry still experience this sexual harassment,” according to Ms-JD.org.
Issue #4: Gender-wage gap
Female attorneys continue to lag behind male counterparts when it comes to pay. Some findings by 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest the gender-wage gap was as high as 40%, with women earning 60 cents for every dollar earned by a man. “Women at top positions are also subject to gender-based pay inequality just like associates, non-equity partners, and trainees. According to the latest survey, female equity partners’ total compensation lagged almost $95,000 behind male equity partners in 2015. The pay gap has, in fact, increased by $5,000 in last five years,” according to Ms.-JD.org.
Women in the legal profession do face still face many challenges, however the opportunities can only grow as more women graduate from law school and enter the field.
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