Let me be the first to say, that in my lifetime I have heard about gender inequality on countless occasions. Throughout my education, it was drilled into my mind, and the minds of others like me, that being a female will prove to be challenging when attempting to climb the corporate ladder in my chosen profession.
When I first stepped into law school 2 years ago, I was (and still am) an ambitious and driven law student who always dreamt of becoming a big shot partner at a reputable law firm. I quickly came to realize that, in the legal profession these traits might not be enough for me to achieve my professional development goals.
Is it for my lack of qualification or my lack of drive? I want to assume (and I hope this to be true) that it is not. Unfortunately, this is the reality that many young and seasoned, very qualified, female lawyers face throughout the course of their careers. Over the years society has decided that women are not sound investments. Mark A. Cohen recently touched on this topic in his article, “BigLaw’s Gender Diversity Problem is The Traditional Model Itself.” He describes how women have historically been “punished” for seeking work-life balance, especially when it comes to child rearing and maternity leaves. So what I am hearing is that being genetically predisposed to bare children is the reason fewer women (who work very hard, if not harder than men in some instances) are not fit to climb the corporate ladder and sit in the top ranks of the legal profession. This seems very absurd and unfair, considering we are living in the 21st century. However, this is the reality.
Despite recent initiatives to neutralize the legal profession and tackle the gender bias that exists, the presence of women in the legal profession is seemingly low, especially in senior and partnership positions. The presence of the white male continues to dominate in many law firms. We know that women have been attending law school in equal numbers to our male counterparts, but this fails to be reflected in practice. I would like to argue that the reason for this is that even with the increased initiatives to recruit more qualified female lawyers, there is little done to keep them in the profession and allow them to grow in an environment that meets their needs.
What I mean by this is that hiring an equal number of female and male associates is not enough to change the gender bias. Internal practices and personal views that have been embedded in our society, particularly the “superior” male, need to be altered. Gender roles in the 21st century have changed significantly, and we now see more males assuming domestic roles and contributing to historically female “jobs”. Paternity leave is becoming much more common than it once was. To me, this equalization in the domestic sphere should naturally coincide in the employment sector. If a partner will support a male associate and afford paternity leave to him then why condone a female who may or may not even take maternity leave, simply because she is predisposed to and has a right to, if she so chooses.
The obstacle remains in changing firm culture and views in order to adequately address the gender bias issues. This is obviously no easy task. I suggest we start at the bottom and work our way up, and hope for a slow, seamless change because history tells us that dramatic change in the legal profession is unlikely. Bringing up these issues and engaging in active discussions in classroom settings throughout law school, and in law firms will, slowly but surely, impact and diminish dated attitudes about women in the legal profession. It has been shown that simply hiring more women and meeting the “quota” will not be enough to change the current gender disparities. We need to demand more from the profession and that means accepting and acknowledging women as equal to men despite our genetic differences. The 21st century needs to foster change, and we need to be the ones to implement it, because we have gone too long working in a profession full of ancient attitudes.