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John Bair
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Women’s Gains from 2015 Hold Steady as Complex Case Leadership Continues

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Seeing the legal profession as a “boys’ club” is going out of style fast. Firms are increasingly waking up to the idea that leadership and equal pay should be based on merit rather than gender. As such, many women and men in law are working harder than ever to elevate the people who deserve it most. It feels like a lot has been happening recently to close the gender gap and increase female leadership — but how do the numbers add up?

In her forthcoming second study on gender disparity in the legal profession, Dana Alvare found that the statistics have actually been holding fairly steady. About 24 percent of plaintiff-side leadership roles in federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) went to women in 2016 and 2017. That number is down slightly from 2015, during which Alvare noted that women landed nearly 28 percent of leadership roles.

women leadership in law

While the past two years have indeed seen fewer women as leaders in MDLs, it’s important to note that the beginning of the decade saw far lower percentages. The newest statistics are “… still a deficit, but better than 2011-2014,” when women had less than 17 percent of all plaintiffs’ MDL leadership appointments, Alvare said.

Factors contributing to the gender gap include unconscious bias that prevents mentoring and structural barriers that keep women from getting needed leadership experience.

Alvare is a researcher with the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. She is also a member of Women En Mass, an annual meeting of the who’s-who among female mass tort attorneys. The event offers an outstanding networking opportunity and focuses on issues that affect professional women.

As the Women En Mass website notes, “The world may have changed a great deal for women in America over the last 100 years, but there’s still work to be done.” Research like Alvare’s two studies are an important way to map the growth and momentum of female leadership in law. They will surely continue to shed light on the progress and promote more action in the field.

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