By Elizabeth • January 16, 2008•Firms and the Private Sector
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly published an interesting interview with Lauren Stiller Rikleen, the author of Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law. There's an interesting review of the book on Ms. JD here. To research her book, Rikleen, through interviews and research, identified many "misconceptions women have about work." The main misconception seems to be that women think "if they just come in, close their door, work hard and leave at the end of the day, that as long as they're doing good work, they will succeed." However, Rikleen maintains that success is about more than good work and that "doing good work is the baseline, the starting point; it's not the end point."
So what's the second step? In addition to doing good work, Rikleen argues that women need to build networks by "getting to know their colleagues, getting opportunities to work with those lawyers in their firm who do the interesting work they want to do, [and] becoming seen as a valuable resource to partners." Rikleen discovered that "men tend to do a better job navigating their own careers internally," which leads to frustration on the part of their female colleagues as they see men of equal experience advance more rapidly within the firm because the men "were smarter about the kinds of relationships they were building at work." For example, Rikleen notes that when senior partners retire, younger men at the firm are more likely to "inherit" their business and then get credit for the work, causing "disparities in business development" between male and female lawyers.
According to Rikleen, another barrier to women's equal career progression at law firms is the assignment process. Though women do get good assignments, they are more likely to get more of the "less attractive assignments that invariably exist in any firm" than their male counterparts. Gender can also influence the evaluation process, and Rikleen asserts that "firms have to spend much more time learning how to do gender-neutral evaluations . . . if they want to see changes in the numbers of women in leadership roles."