Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Just like Global Firms: Unintended Gender Parity and Speculative Isomorphism in India's Elite Professions

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Just like Global Firms: Unintended Gender Parity and Speculative Isomorphism in India's Elite Professions

Article excerpt

Recent comparative demographic research on the legal profession reveals that while most countries have followed a trend of positive feminization over the last half a century, two countries-India and China-still offer strong resistance to this norm (Michelson 2013). Of these, India, despite having one of the world's largest legal professions with over a million lawyers, still remains the least feminized with women comprising less than 10% of the profession overall. This unequal representation becomes even starker at senior levels (Ballakrishnen 2019). And the patterns described in historical accounts (e.g., Sorabji 2010) continue today, with many successful professional women still facing inhospitable work environments (Mishra 2016; Rajkotia 2017). India's new corporate law firms, however, offer a sharp contrast to this pattern, with women attorneys in these firms experiencing a vastly more encouraging professional environment (Ballakrishnen 2017a, 2017b). Among these new and prestigious firms, women constitute slightly more than half of the entering cohort and a similarly significant representation at partnership (see Table 1). This kind of gender parity is unusual for prestigious workplaces in general (Acker 1990; Epstein 2000; Kanter 1993; Pierce 1996; Williams 2001) but especially stark given the broader evidence about gender and professional work in India (Naqvi 2011; Patel and Parmentier 2005; Sood and Chadda 2010). What enables women professionals to so successfully navigate their environments? In particular, what about these new kinds of organizations afford women within them a differential experience? This is the empirical point of departure that motivates this research.

To answer this question, this article takes a comparative and reiterative case-study approach. Using data from 139 original semi-structured interviews with professionals in India's elite litigation, transactional law, and management consulting firms, I analyze the variations in the experiences of similarly high-status professionals to shed light on the ways in which different organizational environments and motivations influence individual experiences. In unpacking these comparisons, I find two specific factors to be of relevance in dictating firm choices and culture. First, following a line of research that suggests the advantage of new firms to offer new kinds of gendered environments (Ridgeway 2009), I find that institutional novelty is important: newer kinds of professional practice in India like transactional law and management consulting are indeed more hospitable to women than more traditional forms of practice like litigation. However, not all kinds of new practice are equally advantaged. This research suggests, somewhat counterintuitively, that the most egalitarian work environments are found not in local offices of global firms (such as global management consulting firms), but rather in domestic firms with foreign-facing clients and transactions (such as Indian corporate law firms).

In analyzing this unlikely empirical case, this article engages with a set of interrelated conversations about global organizations and institutional emergence. First, this study adds to the literature in recent decades that has increasingly focused on professional organizations and legal institutions as a way to make sense of the layered relationship between the global and the local (Halliday and Shaffer 2015; Faulconbridge and Muzio 2008, 2012; Dezalay and Garth 2002; Garth 2016; Klug and Merry 2016; Liu 200; Liu and Halliday 2009; Muzio and Faulconbrdige 2013; Plickert and Hagan 2011). As recent comparative research reveals, India's market liberalization offers an especially useful landscape to investigate many of these questions (Dezalay and Garth 2010; Krishnan 2013; Wilkins et al. 2017). While most high-status professional practice in the country was traditionally organized around individual or family practitioners, market liberalization in 1991 introduced foreign investment across sectors, and alongside it, exposed many historically closed professions to new work, transactions, and clients (Ballakrishnen 2017b; Wilkins et al. …

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