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Hello Pink Ghetto

Vivia Chen

May 1, 2017

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I know some people cringe when I use the term "pink ghetto." I've been told it's degrading, misleading, misunderstood. Maybe it's not a politically sensitive term, but isn't that an apt description for low-prestige, low-paying practice areas where women lawyers.

In case you missed the bulletin, here are the practices where women are in ample supply, according to our friends at ALM Intellience:

Labor/Employment

Immigration

Education

Family law

Health care

All respectable practices, though a tad pedestrian. Actually, to be blunt, these are the backwaters—at least to members of the elite circles of the profession. But according to Law.com, women represent about 60 percent of immigration practices, 48 percent of family law practioners and 45 percent of health care groups in Big Law—assuming a major firm would even deign to house some of these departments.

In contrast, women are much more scarce in the more lucrative (and sexier) areas, such as banking, intellectual property and litigation. Women represent only 35 percent in litigation, 31 percent in banking and tax, 27 percent in IP and 23 percent in M&A departments.

So here's the question: Are women flocking to those low-rent areas out of choice or is there an invisible hand that steers them there?

The article suggests that women are making the choice. A partner at Seyfarth Shaw and a recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa are both quoted as saying that women want more control over their hours and that practices like litigation and M&A make that daunting.

It hard to argue that female lawyers are gagged and forced into less demanding career paths. Indeed, talk to most any lawyer, and virtually everyone will say that choice plays a big role in women's ambitions.

"Many women don't want the demands of a 24/7 practice where you have little control over your life," explains a female partner in a big firm. Given that "the odds of success [in Big Law], for both male and female, are low," women may regard a lower-key practice "as being a better route to success, or just may want a more manageable career," she adds.

Then, there are the tides to traditional gender roles. "To the extent you accept that woman are still more likely to be the primary care giver for the kids —admittedly this is debatable—then I think that self selection plays a key role in explaining this disparity," says a senior female associate with three kids.

Which lead to this sticky question: How much of this "choice" is truly choice?

We hate to say that highly-educated, independent women are pressured into certain roles, but the implication is there. For instance, though the aforementioned female partner says, "it's definitely self selection. I don't think it is actual sexism pushing them," she also adds: "I think certain women feel more comfortable in fields that are less male dominated because of the general fact that the business world is more male dominated."

A male partner at the same big firm wonders if women are put off by the testosterone-driven styles that dominate some practices. "Some of it may be that women are more traditionally the peace makers and burn the house down litigation is just not them."

It might be hard to pinpoint the exact reason why women go into certain practices, but gender discrimination, in all its subtle forms, is at the heart. "Certainly sexism," says the female associate with three kids. "I never underestimate the power of the old boys network." What's often require for success in high-power practices, she adds, is "a certain level of alpha male attitude still, unfortunately, and many women may not feel particularly motivated to deal with that."

Ah, that old alpha male je-ne-sais-quois. Until it's available to women in a bottle in a consumable form, can we say that there's actually a choice?

vchen@alm.com

Comments

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I think it's a chicken and egg thing. People tend to gravitate to practices where they think they can succeed. There are many female success stories in those areas. That might be because women were steered there and then the path became well traveled. Also, let's not forget that women often seek out flexibility because of the inequities in home responsibilities...

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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