Do Other Women Lawyers Prefer Working With Men or Women?

The February 2008 issue of the ABA Journal Magazine features an article entitled What Women Lawyers Really Think of Each Other. The answer? The ABA Journal surveyed 1,400 people, of which 58% were indifferent about the gender of their co-workers. The other 42% had preferences one way or the other with female supervisors over the age of 40 preferring to work with women because women lawyers "take direction better" (80%), "take constructive criticism better" (59%), and "have more discretion" (79%). Younger female attorneys under the age of 40 who expressed a gender preference, however, thought that "male supervisors give better direction" (58%), "give more constructive criticism" (56%), and "are better at keeping confidential information private" (64%).

How can these perception differences be explained?

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According to the ABA Journal, "some experts cite generational tension: Female lawyers entering the profession often don't want to make the same personal sacrifices as their predecessors, and they question whether such sacrifices are even necessary to succeed." Senior women lawyers, on the other hand, "may not understand this mindset, much less realize that the playing field has changed," which can create a block to dialogue between the two groups.

One issue, according to Arin Reeves, a lawyer who consults on diversity, is that "there's no such thing anymore of all the women being in the same boat, who need a particular set of strategies to be kept afloat. Now that women have a lot more models to choose from, they are becoming more selective as to which women they identify with." Deborah Epstein Henry, the lawyer behind Flex-Time Lawyers, counsels that "women need to move away from placing judgment on other women" and "accept more diversity among ourselves."

These comments strike me as potentially explaining a generational rift but not explaining why the rift would be one-sided. After all, the numbers suggest that older women enjoy working with younger women while younger women don't enjoy working with older women. If the split is two-sided, then why the one-sided disparity?

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