Studies show that although women have been entering the law in equal numbers to men for more than a decade, they make up just 23 percent of partners and 19 percent of equity partners. Why do so many women leave the legal profession at what should be the height of their careers? Last month, more than 160 lawyers gathered at Harvard Law School in November for the ABA National Summit on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law to identify answers and plot a course to change the trends.
Sharon Rowen, a lawyer from Atlanta, said her research showed three reasons women leave the practice of law: work/life balance, unconscious bias, and the pay gap. I wish I could have attended the discussion. I hope someone pointed out that seeking work/life balance is the major reason for the pay gap, and that it is not unreasonable to view that as a trade-off that is both fair and reasonable. Rowan’s list also leaves off conscious bias that pervades society and clients regarding female lawyers, as well as law firm partners.
Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, said some women suffer from “success fatigue,” and leave “because of a work culture that forces them to minimize important parts of their lives.” They ask themselves, “Can I bring my whole self to work?” and “Is this a place where I can thrive?” What she is saying is that a lot of women don’t find the law enjoyable, and that its stresses, patterns and requirements are more accommodating to men than women. In other words, law isn’t fun for a lot of women, while men, because of the nature of males, are more tolerant of it than women tend to be. I wonder if any panelist had the guts to come right out and say that? I doubt it. I bet most of them would deny it, because it’s politically incorrect to admit any gender differences, unless they involve female superiority.