What do women attorneys really need to make it to the equity partner level of their firms? While mentoring and coaching can help, having more opportunities to develop new business would go a long way toward leveling the playing field.
This is one of the key findings of “Women in the Workplace,” a recent study of law firm practices by McKinsey & Company as part of its broader research with LeanIn.Org. Thomson Reuters supported the study by facilitating access to law firms and their diversity leaders. More than 2,500 lawyers completed a survey designed to explore their experiences regarding gender, opportunity, career and work-life issues.
While law firms hire an even balance of men and women as associates, the gender gap widens with every step toward the top:
- Women receive first-time promotions 11 percent less often than men
- Women are 29 percent less likely to be promoted to the first level of partnership than men
- At the equity-partner level in law firms, women are 43 percent more likely to leave than men, based on a one-year data sample – a gap that is much higher than in other industries
The McKinsey study also found that women of color account for 16 percent of attorneys at the entry level but only 3 percent of equity partners and 4 percent of managing partners.
As for coaching and mentoring, women are more likely than men to say a supervising attorney or partner has helped their career. However, more men believe they receive adequate coaching in their firms. Does this mean the “good old boy” network is alive and well in Big Law, despite the lip service to gender parity?
An even bigger question is how women who want to become equity or managing partners can break through that glass ceiling in all too many firms. The McKinsey study does point to a possible strategy: Giving women attorneys more opportunities to bring in new clients.
Women attorneys in the study said the strength and depth of client relationships was perceived as the number-two factor in the partner-election decision, second only to profitability. They also said they believe women have few opportunities than men to network with clients and develop new business through referrals and personal contacts.
So, if you’re ready to move up to the next level at your firm, put client development at the top of your 2018 priority list. It could be the key to making a big step forward in your career.