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The Uneven Partnership Track

Women lawyers jump off the partnership track at a much higher rate than their male counterparts, and the reason remains rooted in the "neo-traditional division of family labor" that leaves women bearing greater responsibility for children and households. This is the conclusion of a report published yesterday, Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership, from the MIT Workplace Center.

The report draws on the findings of two surveys, one of attrition rates in Massachusetts law firms and the other of career decisions in the practice of law. It seeks to provide an explanation for the "confounding fact" that women and men have been graduating from law school and entering firms in virtually equal numbers for at least 15 years, but women make up only 17 percent of firm partners. Even excluding the period before women entered firms in large numbers, the number of women partners would only be 21 percent.

The report finds that women leave the partnership track at a much higher rate than men. Some move to off-track positions within their firms, but nearly a third of associates and another third of nonequity partners leave firm practice entirely, compared with less than 20 person of men at both levels, the report says. They leave because of the difficulty of combining law firm work and child rearing. And those women who stay at a firm part time do not receive treatment equal to their full-time counterparts.

Interestingly, men on the partnership track, on average, have more children than their female colleagues, but few adopt part-time schedules to care for family. The difference: Most male lawyers live with someone who is able to assume responsibility for family care. By contrast:

"Most of the female lawyers live with spouses or partners who have an equal or greater commitment to their careers and contribute an equal or higher percentage of the household income so that both have severe time constraints. And assuming traditional gender roles, more women than men in law firms solve the time problem by reducing work time which for many means leaving firm practice."

In The Boston Globe, Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a senior partner at the law firm Bowditch & Dewey and author of the book, Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law, says of the survey: "This shows that we are reaching a crisis point when it comes to the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession, and therefore a crisis point when it comes to women leaders generally."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 3, 2007 at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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