Gender Equality in the Legal Field
Overcoming Challenges and Making Strides
Since it’s inception, the legal field has been a predominantly male-dominated profession. Although there is much work to be done and significant hurdles to overcome, significant progress has been made towards making the profession more accessible and approachable for women.
Diversity and Inclusion: a Matter of Ethics and Core Values
John Bales of John Bales Attorneys knows that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. At his firm, gender equality is a matter of ethics, core values, and simply doing the right thing.
From how women are raised, to the educational opportunities presented, to a level playing field when they graduate, we all have a duty to ensure women have a voice that isn’t muffled, but heard and valued.
Gender Equality Isn’t Just ‘Right’, It’s Profitable
According to research published by McKinsey & Company, narrowing the gender gap across the board could result in up to a $12 Trillion increase in GDP.
How does that translate to law firms? Looking at those companies (including law firms) where gender equality initiatives resulted in a more diverse executive team, there was a 15% increased rate of that company experiencing “above average profitability” than those in the bottom fourth quartile for gender equality on the executive team.
In yet another study, the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that increasing the number of females in leadership roles from 0 to 30% resulted in an average increase of 15% net margin.
Trending in the Right Direction
Women in Partner Roles
In 2018 The National Association of Women Lawyers conducted a large survey on the promotion and retention of women in law firms. What they found was that the overall percentage of women who had made partner in their respective firms rose to 18%. By 2019 the American Bar Association reported this number reached 23%. Although 23% may seem appalling at first glance, this marks a major milestone in the move towards gender equality in the legal field. It was not all that long ago when that same survey would have revealed a single-digit percentage point for what is now growing past 23%.
Women vs Men: Only 10% Away from the Goal Line
According to the American Bar Association, by the age of 40, women make up 40% of the attorneys in their field, highlighting that efforts to level the playing field are working. We’re not there yet, but the goal line is in sight.
In other professions, such as judgeships, women make up 45% of the workforce, narrowing the gap even further.
More Women than Men In Law School
Another area where much focused has been placed, is on making law school more open, accessible and attractive for would-be future female attorneys.
In 2020, the percentage of women to men in law school swayed in the favor of women, with enrollment stats reporting a student body of 55% women to 45% men.
John Bales’ own mother graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1949, along with 17 other women in her class. Early to the party, Evelyn Bales led by example, breaking through barriers, overcoming hurdles and challenging the status quo.
What Can Law Firms Do to Further Gender Equality
- Adopt the Mansfield Rule 3.0 to improve gender diversity in hiring and senior-level positions
- Create a gender-neutral policy for maternity and paternity leave
- Adopt agile work practices and allow flexibility as to how, when and where work is done
- Adopt a formal process for the establishment and formation of teams, ensuring each attorney is valued equally
- Institute quarterly and per-project performance evaluations aimed at lifting up and furthering the careers of employees
- Review compensation and succession plans for diversity and inclusion, as well as equal pay and compensation
There’s Still Work to Be Done
The legal profession has come a long way in America. After all, it wasn’t even until 1920 when women were allowed to vote and sit for the Bar. There is still much work to be done on the topic of gender equality, but we’re proud that both efforts are being made and results being seen.