Magazine article USA TODAY

Women Lawyers Still Face Equity Obstacles. (Attorneys)

Magazine article USA TODAY

Women Lawyers Still Face Equity Obstacles. (Attorneys)

Article excerpt

Despite sweeping changes in the legal profession during the last two decades, women do not have equal access to positions of leadership and power, maintains Deborah Rhode, Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law, Stanford (Calif.) University. "About 30% of lawyers are women, but they represent only 15% of Federal judges and law firm partners, and 10% of law school deans and general counsel positions at Fortune 500 companies." Minority women are further underrepresented, she says, accounting for one percent of corporate officers and less than one percent of law firm partners.

"A widespread assumption is that barriers have been coming down; women have been moving up; and full equality is either upon us or just around the corner," Rhode notes. "Only three percent of male lawyers think that prospects for advancement in the legal profession are greater for men than for women." The facts belie that notion, she argues. Furthermore, the common explanation that the issue is the "product of cultural lag" and that it is just a matter of time until "girls catch up" does not explain the extent of underrepresentation--particularly when women have long made up one-third of people entering the field. "Studies involving thousands of attorneys have found that men are at least twice as likely as similarly qualified women to obtain partnership. The pipeline leaks, and if we simply wait for time to correct the problem, we may be waiting a very long time."

Rhode indicates that three issues continue to pose obstacles for a woman's advancement in the profession: traditional sexual stereotypes, inflexible workplace structures, and inadequate access to mentoring. These problems must be remedied, she stresses, if firms are to be successful in meeting the needs of their clients. "In order to perform effectively in an increasingly competitive global environment, organizations need advisors with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and styles of leadership. …

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