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Boys Rule

The Careerist

Part 2--Boys Rule

By Vivia Chen

January 5, 2012

Here's where I left off in my last post: New women partners are doing their damndest to develop business, but they already seem dispirited by their efforts. You almost get the sense that they're madly flapping their wings but not getting very far.

Any wonder then that most women don’t see themselves as the movers and shakers at their firms in the long run? (According to The American Lawyer's survey of new partners, only 33 percent of the women set being a major rainmaker as a goal, while 50 percent of the men did so.)

What's behind that gender gap? Are women just less confident about themselves and the future? Or are they hard-nosed realists? And are men just cockier?

The short answer is all the above. For a variety of reasons, men are simply more in the loop--both inside and outside of the firm.

For starters, men tend to identify more closely with the power structure. More men say they received leadership or management training from their firms (45 percent of men versus 33 percent of women). There was also at least a ten-point split in how the genders rated their satisfaction levels on client contact (56 percent of men versus 45 percent of women said they were “very satisfied”) and management openness about money matters (32.5 percent of men versus 22.5 percent of women answered “very satisfied”).

Then this shocker: Almost 15 percent of the women (but only 4 percent of the men) in the survey say they're "not sure" how to describe their firms’ partner compensation system—whether it's lockstep, base plus bonus, an amalgam of subjective and objective factors, or a closed system. (How could any partner be in the dark on this basic issue? More on that in my next post.)

Worse than the boys' club within the firm, though, is the one outside: the clients. “If your clients tend to be men--like financial services, banking,  or bankruptcy—they are old boy's networks,” says Ellen Ostrow, a career coach who specializes in women lawyers. “Women in those industries show the greatest amount of pessimism.” (See "Don't Let Your Wall Street Sisters Quit.")

One brand-new M&A partner at an Am Law 100 firm says she already knows she can't compete with the boys: “It’s easier for men to develop business, because there are more men in position to hire outside lawyers.” It's a stereotype, she adds, but her male colleagues really seem to bond with male clients over golf.

Indeed, even at the starting gate, men are already ahead in the race. In the Am Law survey, male partners attribute almost 23 percent of their work to business they've generated, compared to 16 percent by women.

So the upshot is this: Female partners are still guests at the boys' club. What's a gal to do? Climb out of the treehouse?

Not to despair (totally)--my next post will look at some solutions.


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