7.11.2006

Where are the women?

Karen Asner, an adminstrative partner at a law firm, apparently has the answer to that question and to a lot of others in this article from law.com. In it she re-hashes a lot of what's already been said regarding the low retention rate of women lawyers in law firms--women hit the "mommy track" and that women are more dissatisfied with life in a law firm than men.

What's interesting about this article and Asner's take on this issue is that she makes a lot of assumptions in favor of the almighty law firm. This is apparent at the very beginning of the article when she states that law firms really, really, really and truly want to make women partners, but we just don't stick around long enough for them to do so:
Most law firms these days recognize the importance of recruiting and retaining top talent -- regardless of gender -- particularly in an increasingly competitive job market. Thus, the problem isn't that law firms aren't willing or eager to make their women lawyers partners -- it's that so many of the women leave before such promotions can even take place.
And then she states that aside from the Mommy factor, another reason that women leave law firms is that they're "dissatisfied":
A 2001 study of top law school graduates by think tank Catalyst revealed that while women clearly struggle with work-family obligations, the biggest reason women lawyers leave a firm is because they are dissatisfied with work itself or feel stalled in their careers.
She seems to assume that the dissatisfaction with the job is an entirely separate phenomenon from the "stalled" careers, and proceeds to discuss the reasons for the dissatisfaction. She seems to gloss over the possibility that women are not simply feeling as if they're "stalled" in their careers--they are stalled--and as a result, maybe, just maybe, they're dissatisfied with their career track and their careers in general.

Perhaps watching the male associates around them get promoted to partnership on the "good ol' boys" fast track is disheartening and draining. Perhaps working on the third rate cases while male associates are working on the "important" cases can lead to dissatisfaction.

Or, according to Asner, perhaps the blame for the crappy assignments lies with the women themselves, not the partners that assign the cases:
If they (women) are less likely to view themselves as top performers or take full credit for their work, they are less likely to be singled out for exciting, cutting-edge assignments. And it's the cutting-edge, high-profile work that gets the attention of firm management and leads to partnership promotions.
Well, isn't that an interesting perspective and, quite conveniently, a somewhat circular argument? We don't get the cutting-edge cases because we don't think we're any good, so we lose what (according to Asner) little confidence we had in ourselves, so we get even worse assignments, and so it goes--a self-fulfilling prophecy. What a tidy little explanation.

Although Asner gives a quick nod to the "complexity" of the issues behind the low retention rate of women associates in law firms, she oversimplifies the issues. And the "solution" that she offers in the article was a bunch of hot air.

But don't take my word for it. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

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