Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is the Ceiling Still Made of Glass, Or Is The Other Side Merely A Miserable Place?

I sat for 8 hours in a windowless conference room for a deposition with 20 other lawyers, all of whom were men. The witness, court reporter, and videographer were also men. Most of them were graying at the temples. They had bad coffee, and it was so boring I wanted to stab myself repeatedly in the heart with an ice pick.

During the past few weeks, I have interviewed 6 candidates, all of whom are under the mistaken impression that they want to work for my law firm. All of them were male except for one women.

Both of these lead me to conclude that there is still a considerable gender gap at the law firms, particularly as you move in to the upper echelons of the law firm (where the crazies who don't care about having a life or family go).

It also makes me wonder about the source of this gender gap. Possibly, it's some form of discrimination once you get into the partnership process. I, of course will never find that out first hand because (a) I'm leaving, and (b) only about 2 people make partner each year. The chances of any one associate making it to partner are quite slim.

I personally have never experienced any type of sex discrimination since working at the firm. What I'm beginning to think instead is that the gender gap is, in part, a result of women being smarter than men, and thus getting out quicker upon realizing the hellish reality of law firm life. It's convenient that we can get pregnant and get out that way too. Not me, not any time soon. But if things were different, I would most certainly take my maternity benefits and go. Why not? They've already had my blood, and pregnant, I would be perpetuating the human race. They owe me. Maternity leave is a small price to pay for women's professional and societal contributions.

My boyfriend, also a lawyer at a big firm, would probably disagree that women's disproportionate representation in the law firm ranks is a result of their higher intelligence. Maybe not? I'm sure it also relates fundamentally to the gender roles that are still very much entrenched in our society, and the expectations that they create both on an individual and societal level.

Sitting in the conference room, I felt a familiar feeling of being torn, something I remember feeling a lot more when I first started my job. Torn because I am the equal to all of those men, and, as a woman, I should have the opportunity to work among them if I want to. It's important to create space for women in all these formally male-dominated professions. Remember that our time in the professions is relatively recent. We only got the vote 86 years ago.

But, I don't want to take up this space anymore. Not even a little bit. I don't want to grow up to be like the men I see at my law firm, working all the time, missing family events, going bald and developing guts from too little exercise, too much restaurant food and take-out, and too much stress. And, I certainly don't want to grow up to be like the women at my firm. What a miserable existence.


Ally Bean said...

As a lifelong observer of lawyers (father, uncles, husband, friends, neighbors), I'd say that you're 100% right that woman leave law firms as "a result of women being smarter than men." The good ones see how spiritually deadening and time consuming it'll be to be partner, so they go do better things.

And as for the lawyers (male and female) who I know personally that make it to partner, they are chronically unhappy, generally confused and decidedly arrogant. Most don't know what day of the week it is, let alone how to be a good person. You're very smart to get out while you're young and find a better way to connect to the world.

Tracy said...

I hope that feminism is about to turn a corner. It seems that women have been fighting for their place in a man's world (and rightly so) for a long time. But I think that's also part of the problem. It is still, in many ways, a man's world. I hope that the next season of feminism will be that the man's world will become a man's and a woman's world. In other words, now that we have "proven" that we are equally capable to do the work that men do, I hope that the world we work in will begin to change. Since men were the majority of the workforce for so many years, the working environment and the way of working was a masculine expression. Part of our struggle now is that we are working in a distinctly masculine infrastructure. I hope that now that women have been able to work in a man's world, they will be ale to bring change to that infrastructure, to bring a balance to it so that it has a feminine expression as well.

Buttercup said...

Ally Bean - "Spiritually deadening" strikes a chord.

Tracy - I couldn't agree more, and initially I had thought maybe I could do that kind of feminist change from within the firm. But now, no way! I fully support the efforts of other women to create internal revolutions. It's just not the battle I want to fight.

InterstellarLass said...

Barring being male or female, I dislike how the corporate world sucks up all of a person's life if they want to get ahead. Working your hardest 40 hours per week (the amount of time your salary is supposed to cover) is no longer acceptable. You have to do it 60 or 80 (for the 40 hour pay rate). No thank you. I don't care to do so. I prefer the outdoors, my kids, and my husband.