March 29, 2011 Practice Points

Not So Sweet Sixteen

By Sara E. Dionne

A recent article by Patricia Gillette, an employment partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, explores the progress of women as leaders in the legal profession. “Not So Sweet Sixteen,” which appeared in Law 360 on March 10, 2011, notes the significance of the number 16 for women today: Approximately 16 percent of female lawyers are law firm partners, 16 percent of general counsels are women, 16 percent of members of Congress are women, and 16 percent of CEOs are women. Contrasting these figures with the hope and possibility associated with the number 16 in the 1950s and early 1960s, Gillette opines that the 16s of today “demonstrate the bitter truth . . . [that women] are often still treated as less than equals in the workplace.”

Examining the reasons for today’s figures, Gillette opines that the answer is complicated. For some women the answer may lie in their own choices. But, it is clear that gender stereotyping and hidden biases also play a role. Asking what can be done, Gillette declares that it “is time to move past the 16s” and calls for a “conscious commitment to actively groom and recruit women for leadership positions,” and for firms to create a level playing field that includes transparency in identifying and grooming firm leaders, accountability for the development and transitioning of large client relationships, and training to assist partners in recognizing their own biases. Gillette calls upon women to ask for and prepare themselves for positions of leadership and economic power.

Keywords: women, legal profession, law firm, equity, 16 percent

Sara E. Dionne works at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Sacramento, California.

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