One of my wonderful new colleagues at Bentley sent me this NYTimes piece on the comprehensive efforts to help women students and faculty do better at Harvard Business School. These included placing stenographers in classes to help uncover perhaps unintentional gender bias among professors in who they called on and coaching women students to raise their hands more assertively in class. This got me thinking about whether certain law schools (you alumnae know which these are) should try something similar. This might benefit graduates who go on to non-legal careers as well.
In interviewing over a hundred former lawyers for Life After Law, I noticed certain differences between women’s and men’s post-law experiences – a qualitative gender gap. For example, women generally face fewer social repercussions when they leave big firms in the context of having kids than men do, so they find it easier to leave firms without a clear sense of their next professional step. But are they more inclined to leave in the first place? (My guess: oh yeah). Do they have different assumptions about what they can do next? Does what and how we learn in law school affect our divergent career paths?
We all know the stats about women lawyers in firms, including the persistent fact that women make up 50% of junior associates but only 15-18% of equity partners. But maybe we can come up with ideas for potential law school reform by extrapolating from our own collective experiences about the post-law gender gap. Here are some of my personal data points:
- I found it easier to leave a high-paying, high-status law firm partnership than some of my male colleagues who were equally unhappy because I had a broader personal definition of success. By the time I left, I no longer thought that money would buy happiness for my family or myself.
- Taking my wildly generous 12-week maternity leave created a meaningful space away from the firm. While I didn’t come up with any great new career ideas on 2-3 hours of sleep a night, I did come to believe that some kind of non-legal career was generally possible and increasingly appealing. Weekends and vacations had never created enough time for that to sink in.
- I wasn’t great at firm politics when I practiced law. I understood that mentors and sponsors could make a difference, but my male colleagues seemed to fit right into the system while I was still studying it. It wasn’t until after I left my big firm that I learned to network effectively. If I had understood the process and power of networking earlier in my career (say, in law school), I might have made partner sooner than I did. I also might have left sooner than I did.
Readers, what would you add to this list? Has your experience in law, and/or leaving law, been affected by gender? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Do you think law schools should be re-engineered in any way to reduce gender bias? Let’s talk.
Photo courtesy of MadameNoire.com