Women’s advancement within law firms has flatlined in the last decade. The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) annual survey of women in AmLaw 200 law firms shows that only 15 percent of equity partners are women—the same percentage since NAWL began tracking these numbers in 2006. In fact, in the last two years, this percentage has declined. The news is not so different in the corporate world. Catalyst’s annual Census, which tracks the number of women on boards and in executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies, reveals that women’s representation in business has also stalled in the 14–16 percentage range.
Many attribute these disparities to women’s reluctance to go after the top jobs. But research shows that there is no “ambition gap” between men and women. In Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership, Catalyst surveyed nearly 1,000 senior-level employees who shared similar backgrounds and characteristics—and learned that women aspired to be CEO in proportions equal to men, but they often faced obstacles that men do not. These obstacles included, but were not limited to, persistent gender stereotyping, a dearth of female role models, and exclusion from the informal professional networks that can lead directly to opportunities those outside of the network might never learn about.