Let's pretend you head a firm that has a woman problem—like trouble retaining female lawyers, poor record elevating them to partners, etc. And you hire a consultant to look into the problem, who, after an exhaustive study, tells you that your firm's evaluation process is riddled with gender bias. If you're in charge, what would you do?
M.J. Tocci was the actual consultant in that situation. Tocci, along with Monica Biernat and Joan Williams, authored a study (which I wrote about just a few days ago) on how male and female associates were reviewed differently at this anonymous Wall Street firm. In a nutshell: Male lawyers at the firm got higher numerical scores (which counted more for partnership) though women got raves in the narrative portion of the reviews.
So what did the firm do with these startling findings?
Here's the kicker: Nothing.
"I thought the results of the study were shocking," says Tocci. "But the firm didn't care." (Tocci says that her agreement with the firm forbids her from revealing its identity.)
Did the firm doubt the validity of her findings? No, says Tocci: "I think they believed my conclusions. They were just unwilling to do anything about it." Tocci adds that she made a number of suggestions, such as training the partners to be more conscious of bias. But the firm decided against implementing them.
"One partner said to me, 'We'd like for you to help us get a better outcome, but we'd rather not change anything,'" says Tocci incredulously.
There's a logical explanation for the firm's inaction: The partners had no compelling reason to change. Even though "[the firm] was getting dinged as one of the worst places for women to work, their philosophy was that there will always be people who are willing to break their backs to work here," says Tocci. Indeed, she adds, the firm has no problem attracting junior women.
What's more, "the clients didn't care [about its record on women] either," adds Tocci. "So where is the pressure?"
It should come from the clients. I bet the firm would hop to action if the firm's partners sensed that their clients really gave a hoot about promoting women. I know people say that clients are pressuring outside counsel on issues like women and diversity, but, honestly, how insistent are they?
Tocci describes her work for the firm as a draining, frustrating experience. "I was sent all over the world to do focus groups; I had thousands of conversations with lawyers," she says, lamenting how the firm dashed associates' expectations that the firm was serious about reform. "I worked for almost a year on the project; it was like a year with a dysfunctional family. . . . The good news is that the firm paid me a lot of money."
How wonderful that this firm can spare that kind of time and money!
Naturally, I'm trying to figure out what firm this is. We know it's a big New York firm with international offices (which eliminates Wachtell). So what other firms have poor numbers on women partners? Could it be Milbank, Tweed or White & Case? (According to NALP's Web site, both firms seem to have fewer than 10 percent female partners, though White & Case lists higher percentages in some locations outside of New York.)
Am I getting warm? What's your guess?
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