Survey Offers Clues on the Persisting Gender Gap in Top Positions at the Nation’s Leading Law Firms

In 2016, women surpassed men in law school enrollments for the first time. But women still have a long way to go to reach equality at the top levels of the American legal profession. Women make up 45 percent of law firm associates but only 20 percent of equity partners. A new study offers some possible reasons why women tend to leave the profession before they make it to the top ranks.

A study commissioned by the American Bar Association surveyed more than 1,300 partners at the nation’s law firms. Nearly half of the women partners reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual conduct or contact. Only 6 percent of male partners reported such contact.

The survey also found that almost three of every four women partners said they had been subjected to demeaning comments based on their gender. Only 8 percent of male partners reported that they were subjected to demeaning comments. More than four of every five women partners said that they had been mistaken for a lower-level employee. No male partner reported that this had happened to them.

Some 54 percent of women partners reported that they had been denied a pay raise or a bonus, compared to only 4 percent of male partners. And more than half of all women partners said they were “treated as a token.”

Nearly 80 percent of male managing partners said that gender diversity was a priority at their law firm. But only 47 percent of women managing partners agreed.

After receiving the results of the survey, Hilarie Bass, president of the American Bar Association, remarked at the association’s annual meeting that “the longer I do this, the more frustrated I have become that we continue to have to ask the same questions: Why are there so few women who make it to the level of equity partner? Why are there so few women managing partners? It really begs the question of what we need to do to have more women in these upper levels. if in fact half of women have left by the time they’re 50.”

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study

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