Thought leadership from our experts

Women in the legal profession: Are we seeing changes? Or, better yet, is something going to change?

Getting straight to the point: I do not know. Having spent over 20 years working for the same law firm has allowed me to witness and even to star important changes for women in the legal profession who work at law firms. And, aware of the fact that I may fall into a common place, I have seen what has been studied thus far: law faculties have more women than men; more women are entering law firms than men (at least in Colombia) ; for most of the career path, the number of women exceeds the number of men; women in general have very good evaluations and in some cases there is even a preference for working with women. Yet, as the career path progresses, the trend is reversed and the number of female partners becomes significantly lower than the number for male . However, this is not the result of inequality between male and female lawyers. For starters, at the partner level it is clear that fewer women are found in more complex areas of practice. Thus, female partners concentrate in more traditionally feminine areas, so to speak. Female partners abound in labor, intellectual property and general corporate practice, but it is more difficult to find them in practices such as litigation and arbitration, mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance, or project financing, among others. And if we go to lawyer directories, which are so in fashion today, we have the task of looking at how many women have reached the coveted "band one". Really, it is very few. , It is clear that all of the above has an impact on the compensation perceived by women. It is not a secret that men earn more (because they produce more) than female partners. Why is this? Are men really better lawyers than women? Is that the reason that women are leaving their career paths and those who stay only rarely receive the acknowledgment of their male colleagues?

The answer, obviously, is no. And as the obvious answer is no, still the subject has not gone unnoticed for anyone. Much has been written, much research has been done, and documents have set forth long and creative lists of principles and recommendations. The blame comes and goes, but solutions and alternatives also come and go. This is all of immense value. I have read what I have read. I have seen how a significant number of recommendations are implemented in law firms, always with the desire (from both male and female partners) to attract, retain and promote female talent. What I have not yet seen, however, are the expected results, or rather, the results do not correspond to the effort.

You can call me pessimistic. I do not think I am. Rather, I'm just being realistic. After 20 years, I have undoubtedly seen the effort that has been made to close the gap between male and female lawyers. I have seen the effort of some andwhy not recognize, the resistance of others, to look for creative alternatives that allow for women to develop their career within our organizations. I have seen how resources are invested, both economic and in personnel, in trying to understand and solve the problem. And the results? They are not what was expected. In fact, you could say that we seem to be stuck.

Has there been progress? Yes. Today there is awareness, especially from women themselves, of the gap between them and their male counterparts. And this is not a minor accomplishment. The breakthrough is tremendous. Today we understand how it is not "normal" that we are a step, or more, behind. Today we know that the normal thing should be having no gap, at least not because of gender. Today it has also been understood that this gap does not do anyone; not for law firms, nor universities, nor clients. However, the numbers have not significantly changed.

The reasons? We believe we have them clear. Women's duty to provide care, whatever their profession or socio-economic level is far superior to that of men. Because of this, it has been evidenced that women work more hours a day than men, but possibly less than them in the office. This duty of care not only falls on women with children, but on all women, in general. The profession was born and continues to be "masculinized". The profession's predominant values are essentially those assigned to masculine roles in society, and the hours that are kept by lawyers are in many cases incompatible and irreconcilable with the schedule of a person with children. On another front, the individuals responsible for making decisions on the part of clients are usually men. Companies are predominately managed by men. Negotiations are carried out in a typically masculine way. Women are still a little "foreign" in our profession. The most worrisome thing, however, is that this masculinization of the profession goes beyond the scope of the workplace. We live in a masculine culture. It is what it is. I think we cannot change it, or at least, I think not for now and, because we cannot change it, we have to adapt and survive. Moreover, I hope that in the process of adapting, we infuse that masculine world with more traditionally feminine characteristics, principles and values, and that, with the slow passage of time, we make our profession become more neutral, somewhere we feel more comfortable every day doing our job. I believe in this and, for this, I am optimistic. However, I believe it is a slow process and we have to be persistent in this task. In other words, I believe that even with poor results, we must continue to do what we have been doing, while firmly believing that in the long term we will achieve those results so longed for.

I think we have come forward, but not enough. I think part of the problem is that we are not quite clear on what the problem is. It might not even be an actual problem which can be properly defined , but rather just a reality to which we must adapt, in order to change. I am convinced that we cannot stop now as we must continue to try to close the gap. We have a great responsibility to younger generations of lawyers. That said, I think it is not true that we can havit all. I believe that neither men, nor women can have it all. We cannot promise the youngest that they can be successful partners without working very hard and without making sacrifices. Nothing is free and, in particular, success is not free. Being successful, in any field, requires focus, hard work, some luck, tenacity and many dreams.

Then, to the question of whether we are going to see the change, I do not know if I will ever see it. What I do know is that there is going to be change, that it is going to be achieved slowly and that we cannot lose focus at this time, even in spite of not seeing the results that we hope for.