As a West Point graduate, I have witnessed firsthand the gender divide that exists in a male-dominated space. I’m personally for women in combat; when it comes to leadership, ingenuity and true talent, earning the respect from peers and followers is gender neutral in the face of true professionalism. On the other hand, I also realize how difficult ingrained systems of belief are to change.
I have now spent more time in my professional life working with trial lawyers and their clients than I did in the military, and the gender gulf is no narrower. The deconstruction of these outdated mentalities will only occur when there is a viral movement of their exact opposite.
Research into the private industry shows us that gender diversity compels greater success and achievement. A joint study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT found that the most successful groups are those that have more women than men. Alice Eagly of Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research found that there is a strong correlation between the number of women serving in corporate leadership positions and the profitability of those corporations. Similarly, McKinsey & Company has called for the advancement of women into leadership positions.
“Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs. There is a correlation between the presence of balanced women leaders and greater profitability” – Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee, McKinsey & Company
Though this research was conducted in the private sector, I believe that it is safe to assume that similar findings would be found in the law sector.
A Systemic Problem
The core issue starts in high school and continues into college and law school, when many young women start to believe that the goal of becoming a named partner in a trial lawyer law firm is incompatible with the goal to start a family.
How can men and women, law students, associates and named equity partners begin to deconstruct this mentality? The reality is that Eagly may be right- critical mass is necessary for institutions to reach the level of success needed to afford an approach to hiring that seeks out a more diverse talent pool. Similarly, the trial bar at large is a compilation of boutique firms who may not have the resources to diversify. But can they afford not to?
I’ll leave you with this: fifty percent or more of every decision is made by a woman. When her husband or child is hurt, whether she is retaining the lawyer directly or not, powerful influence on that decision is made every time. Time and time again, I have seen these women driving the train in litigation, supporting their families, caring for the injured and being at the center of strength in tragedy.
I second remarks made by Judge Cathy Seibel, posts like Rob Jenner’s, and efforts made by Women En Mass that call for more equality not only on Plaintiffs’ Steering Committees, but also in equity partnerships, associates and law school graduates who envision a life advocating for justice for the little guy.
If your firm is in a stature of prominence, please consider writing about this and paying it forward in the deconstruction.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).