Women Are Not Convinced By Law Firms’ Statements Of Commitment To Diversity

If you’re interested in improving gender equality at your law firm, check out both of these studies.

“I’m going to compel him to include women in the sequel!” — AngelicaHamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) 

This week, McKinsey & Co. published a new study titled, Women in Law Firms. This study is part of McKinsey’s and LeanIn.Org’s broader Women in the Workplace 2017 research.

In their broader initiative, which gathered data from 222 companies and surveyed over 70,000 employees, McKinsey and LeanIn.Org make several observations, which include:

  • Women fall behind early and continue to lose ground with every step –inequality starts at the very first promotion. This is even more dramatic for women of color.
  • Women are not leaving their companies at higher rates than men, and very few plan to leave the workforce to focus on family.
  • Women experience a workplace skewed in favor of men.
  • Women of color, particularly black women, face even greater challenges.
  • Women and men see the state of women — and the success of gender-diversity efforts — differently. In other words, men think women are doing better than they really are.

McKinsey partners Alexis Krivkovich and Irina Starikova and their colleagues introduce their write-up on the study, by stating:

More companies are committing to gender equality. But progress will remain slow unless we confront blind spots on diversity—particularly regarding women of color, and employee perceptions of the status quo.

They end their report by presenting a roadmap for supporting and advancing women, which includes the following:

  • Make a compelling case for gender diversity;
  • Invest in more employee training;
  • Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair;
  • Give employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives; and
  • Focus on accountability and results.

As for the Women in Law Firms 2017 study, which gathered data from 23 law firms and surveyed 2,500 attorneys, McKinsey makes several key findings, which include:

  • Attrition among women is lower than that among men, until the equity partner level.
  • External hires for more senior positions are less likely to be women than men.
  • Women are not convinced by law firms’ statements of commitment to gender diversity.
  • Women see the playing field as uneven.
  • Law firms lack the gender-equality targets and senior-leadership accountability that would enable the tracking needed to ensure real progress.

McKinsey partner Marc Brodherson and his colleagues introduce their write-up on the study by stating:

 [Law firm diversity] efforts have had limited success. Only 19 percent of equity partners are women, and women are 29 percent less likely to reach the first level of partnership than are men. We found that law firms face higher attrition among women than men at the equity partner level and that the gender gap is much is much wider in law firms than in other industries.

Women of color face an even steeper climb, with their representation dropping significantly at all levels in the pipeline. Female attorneys perceive less commitment to gender equality and a more uneven playing field at law firms than their male colleagues.

They end their report by recommending  three specific questions for law firms to ask themselves:

  • How do we make flexible-work programs a real option?
  • Where should we invest to strengthen coaching and formal sponsorship?
  • How do we drive accountability for gender diversity?

And they conclude their report by stating:

Law firms clearly take gender diversity seriously and have made efforts to increase their diversity. But challenges remain, and the law firms committed to superior performance and employee satisfaction will act to address them.

If you have a few moments this weekend and are interested in improving gender equality at your law firm, I highly recommend you check out both of these studies — Women in the Workplace 2017 and Women in Law Firms 2017.


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