June 26, 2014 Practice Points

It's About Gender Balance, Not Gender Diversity

By Stefanie Wayco

It is an industry-accepted statistic that at law firms each year, women make up 50 to 60 percent of first-year associates. The trend continues that within the first couple of years, women attorneys begin to leave law-firm positions, not to leave the profession, but to work in corporate, government, or regulatory roles. This ultimately results in an absence of female equity partners (a mere 17 percent), especially at the top 100 U.S. law firms.

To overcome this predicament of the absence of women at the top, law firms have taken different approaches to retain women lawyers, from women’s initiatives to networking to mentoring programs. But not all approaches are equally effective and some efforts have had little to no substantive effect in increasing the percentage of women in the top ranks at law firms.

A different approach from women’s initiatives and networking taken by Gianmarco Monsellato, head of TAJ (the No. 5 law firm in France), is the “gender balance approach,” rather than a gender-diversity approach. His law firm is 50/50 gender-balanced across the board. His approach involves gender parity, where he personally ensures that assignments, promotions, and compensation are evenly awarded between men and women. Women receive equally tough cases and assignments as the men. Notably, unlike the recent developments at many U.S. law firms, Monsellato does not push gender-diversity initiatives or programs, rather he promotes “people on performance.” He believes that when someone works part time, a performance adjustment on that part-time basis must be made. He believes that when performance adjustment occurs, “maternity issues stop being an indicator” of performance and promotion.

Promotion based on performance and gender balance rather than diversity means that quality results stem not from “getting women to change their own behavior,” the focus of many women’s initiatives, but from men, like Monsellato, pushing for that balance. In her article, “How One Law Firm Maintains Gender Balance,” Avivah Wittenberg-Cox rightly notes that “[t]his kind of leadership on gender is rare, but spreading.” She continues that male leaders pushing for gender balance do so because it is good for business. This change most definitely comes from the tone at the top and all levels pushing for gender balance in all ranks. As Monsellato said recently at a conference to women lawyers: “You are not a minority. It’s about balance, not about gender diversity.”

Keywords: litigation, woman advocate, women professionals, balance, gender diversity, partnership

Stefanie Wayco works at Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C. in New York, New York

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