Hiring, developing and promoting female attorneys has been a priority at law firms nationwide for almost a generation.
Yet despite these well-intentioned efforts, the law continues to be a conspicuously male-dominated profession, particularly at the levels of senior management and partner.
Even though almost half of the nation’s law school graduates are women, and almost 45% of new associates are women, only 21.5% of partners in US law firms are women, and only 18% of equity or managing partners, according to data from the American Bar Association.
In a new white paper, entitled Nudging Law Firms to Hire & Promote More Women, (available for free download below) Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, a behavioral economist and senior research fellow for Harvard Law school’s Center on the Legal Profession and Harvard Kennedy school, examines the reasons behind this ongoing situation and offers some suggestions for improvement.
In order to understand the types of organizational biases that prevent women from advancing in law firms, Dr. Cecchi-Dimeglio (who is also a lawyer) analyzed a decade’s worth of hiring data from some of the world’s top law firms and conducted hundreds of interviews with lawyers of both genders. She then used a concept called Gender Balance System Design (GBSD) to develop a series of procedural changes, called “nudges,” that law firms committed to promoting women can implement to address specific gender-disparity issues.
Nudges are data-driven, scientifically informed tweaks to the traditional process of recruiting, hiring and promotion. They target cracks in a system where bias against women can creep in, and are designed to gently guide the behavior that produced the bias back toward parity.