I'll be out on vacation much of this month so will be re-posting some of the gems from the last three years. When first published on April 26, 2010, this post generated the most comments I'd ever gotten on my blog. Be sure to read them, too.
It's been a while since I've become incensed at some trivia published in The Recorder, but last Friday's column by Sabina Lippman on Closing the Rainmaker Gap really hit a nerve. I simply must vent.
Ms. Lippman starts out in a promising fashion by summarizing some well known facts—that women lawyers drop out of private practice at a higher rate than men, that the further up the food chain one goes in law firms the fewer women there are, and that women with children are far less likely to be represented at the highest income levels than men with children, or even women without children. She discusses a number of possible rationales, but sadly gives some credence to the bizarre marriage advice trumpeted by Linda Hirshman, a "former trial lawyer, law professor and author of "Get to Work".
Hirshman's thesis, as described by Lippman, is that women lawyers:
• should tell their male life partners (what we used to call husbands) before getting married that they will keep working after having children,
• should negotiate an agreement to a 50 percent division of labor for housework and childcare—and to turn aside suitors who are not on board, and
• should marry men who are their income-earning peers, so that the inevitable "how are we going to do this" conversation doesn't have an obvious verdict.
What a convenient way to leave the responsibility for insidious discrimination at the foot of the victim. Wow. I can see male partners and comp committees everywhere feeling quite excused for any part they might play in the lack of progress by lawyer moms in their firms—it's really the fault of the woman for not negotiating a better package with a more suitable spouse who would allow the wife to put work before family so that she could be a rainmaker.
The logical extension of that theory of course is that all lawyers who want to be rainmakers should marry spouses who make less, and will be willing to sacrifice their careers for the rainmaker wannabe. Oh, wait, the men have known that for years, that's why most of those who have children also had stay-at-home wives when the children were young. Women need to be given the same career advice memo the men got: get yourself a good wife. In fact, working moms have long known that what they really need in order to meet the dueling demands of career and family, is a loving, reliable, devoted helper.
That's all true, but it should not be used as an excuse for the legal profession that has ALSO limited rainmaking opportunities by maintaining the other impediments that make up the glass ceiling: fewer mentors, an old boys network, social clubs and structures that until very recently excluded women, patterns of prejudice that kept women from succeeding by punishing professional women for being too approachable (and hence not credible), or too assertive (and hence bitchy). And so on.
I hope young lawyers (men and women) everywhere will see the Lippman/Hirshman approach for what it is—an excuse to not work for more equitable opportunities for business development by women, and downright bad marriage advice.
My advice? Marry someone you love without regard to their income potential, work as hard as you can at your profession, treat your colleagues fairly and leave any environment where your peers aren't doing the same.
Ok, I feel better now. Hope you do too.