The Law of Diminishing Motivation (400 words)
The enrollment of women in U.S. law schools took off after 1970, and women have been graduating at the same rate as men for more than 25 years. Today, however, the census of American law firms still counts relatively few women partners—typically, the veteran lawyers who are joint owners and directors. Currently, for example, 32.4 percent of all lawyers are women, yet only 19.2 percent of law firm partners are women. Most female lawyers are associates—paid employees with the prospect of becoming partners. Moreover, the further up the law-firm ladder you look, the greater the disparity. According to the National Association of Women Lawyers, 92 percent of all managing partners (partners who run the business end of a firm) are men; men occupy 85 percent of the seats on the governing committees that control a firm’s policies, and they hold 84 percent of all equity partnerships (which come with ownership and profit sharing). At this rate, women will achieve parity with their male colleagues in approximately 2088.
So what happens between the time women get job offers and the time firms hand out partnerships and promotions? Bettina B. Plevan, an employment law specialist and partner in the Manhattan firm of Proskauer Rose, believes that, somewhere along the way, female lawyers lose the kind of motivation necessary to get ahead in a law office. “You have a given population of people,” she observes, “who were significantly motivated to go through law school with a certain career goal in mind. What de-motivates them,” she asks, “to want to continue working in the law?”
The problem, says Karen M. Lockwood, a partner in the Washington, DC, firm Howrey, is neither discrimination nor lack of opportunity. “Law firms,” she says, “are way beyond discrimination. Problems with advancement and retention are grounded in biases, not discrimination.” In part, these biases issue from institutional inertia. Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a partner in the Worcester, Massachusetts, firm of Bowditch & Dewey, points out that most law firms are “running on an institutional model that’s about 200 years old.” Most of them, she adds, “do a horrible job of managing their personnel, in terms of training them and communicating with them.” Such problems, of course, affect men as well as women, but because of lingering preconceptions about women’s attitudes, values, and goals, women bear the brunt of the workplace burden. In practical terms, they face less adequate mentoring, poorer networking opportunities, lower-grade case assignments, and unequal access to positions of committee control.
To all of these barriers to success, Lockwood adds the effect of what she calls the “maternal wall”: Male partners, she says, assume that women who return to the firm after having children will be less willing to work hard and less capable of dedicating themselves to their jobs. As a result, men get the choice assignments and senior positions. Jane DiRenzo Pigott, a onetime law-firm partner who now owns a consultancy firm, agrees but thinks the issues run deeper than maternity leave. “People explain it simply as the fact that women have children,” she explains,
but so many other factors play into it. Women self-promote in a different way than men, and because women don’t get their success acknowledged in the same way as men who more aggressively self-promote, it creates a high level of professional dissatisfaction for women. Saying these two words “I want” is not something women are used to doing. They’re not saying, “I want the top bonus” or “I want that position.” … [W]omen need to learn how to be comfortable saying “I want” and how to say it effectively.
The fact remains that, according to a study of “Women in Law” conducted by Catalyst, a New York research firm, one in eight female lawyers work only part-time, compared to just one in fifty males. Why? According to Plevan, most female attorneys would prefer to work and raise children at the same time but find that they can’t do both effectively. “I organized my personal life so I was able to move toward my goals,” she says, but admits that it helped to have a gainfully employed spouse (also a lawyer), dual incomes sufficient to hire household help, and nearby relatives to pick up the slack in home–life responsibilities. In most cases, of course, although dual incomes are an advantage to a household, it’s difficult for either spouse to devote time to child rearing when they’re both working. The Catalyst study shows that 44 percent of male lawyers have spouses who are employed full-time—and are thus unavailable for such household duties as attending to children. Among women, nearly twice as many—84 percent—have spouses with full-time jobs.
Like firms in many other industries, law firms have experimented with such options as flexible scheduling and parental leave. More and more, however, they report that such measures have not been as effective as they’d hoped. Says Edith R. Matthai, founder with her husband of the Los Angeles firm Robie & Matthai, “We’re very accommodating with leaves and flexible schedules, and even with that we still lose women…. [The] pressures on women from spouses, family, peers, schools, and others is huge,” she adds. The situation has improved over the last 30 years, but “we have a long way to go…. I think the real solution is a reassessment of the role that women play in the family. One thing we need is a sense of shared responsibilities for the household and, most importantly, shared responsibilities for taking care of the kids.”
Among the various approaches to enhancing workplace satisfaction and productivity discussed in the chapter, which ones might you take under the circumstances described in the case? Why are some of the other approaches less likely to be effective (or even relevant)?