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Ladies Get Lucky in Washington

Vivia Chen

October 11, 2010

Rick_Philips So it's bland and stodgy, but D.C. is also the hot, go-to place for ambitious women. "In the metropolitan region, one in six women earned more than $100,000 last year, the second- highest ratio in the nation behind No. 1 San Jose," reports The Washington Post.

That's in contrast to the nationwide statistic, where "about one in 18 women working full-time earned $100,000 or more in 2009."

Why are women vastly more successful in Washington? "The swelling ranks of well-paid women workers are largely attributable to almost three decades of growth in the number of women with the academic credentials to land good jobs. Women now outnumber men at almost every level of higher education, with three women attending college and graduate school for every two men. They get more master's degrees and more PhDs. Most law school students are women, as are almost half of all medical students," reports the Post.

In other words, brains wins over brawn--and that's usually good for women. "It's a city that runs more on cognitive skills than it does on physical strength," says James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, which issued the report, in the Post.

In fact, the success of women in Washington almost follows the script laid out in an article in The Atlantic ("The End of Men"), which argued that women will be taking over most of the higher- paying jobs in the near future, as manufacturing jobs continue to dwindle.

And what about women in D.C.'s legal sector--are they part of this pattern of success? The report didn't address the legal profession specifically, but some believe that the D.C. legal market--especially in the public sector--is more women-friendly.

Legal career consultant Ellen Ostrow says Washington is generally "more progressive" on issues like work flexibility. She says that "the back-and-forth between government and firms gives women more power." (The Post article says women make up "more than four out of ten of the federal government's civilian employees who rank high enough to earn $100,000 or more.")

Bridget Calhoun, a lawyer at Crowell & Moring, adds that the federal government, which is the largest employer in the region, has a "significant" impact on work/life policies at law firms. "The experiences of women lawyers working for and coming out of the government has likely had a beneficial effect on private industry."

Ironically, while the Beltway might be the center of action, it's not where women show the greatest earning power in the area. That honor goes to Fairfax County, where "one out of every four women makes more than $100,000."

The cradle of women's success is actually a Virginia suburb? Go figure.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


Photo:  Rick Philips

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The cost of living increase from Houston to DC is 52.05% higher according to bankrate.com. Therefore, a $100,000 attorney in DC is a $66,000 attorney in Houston. And Houston is not bland or stodgy! A number of us gals make $100, and higher in H Town!

While it is encouraging to hear that women are well-paid in DC, it is important to keep in mind that with DC's high cost of living, earning $100,000 per year in the DC area is not the equivalent of earning $100,000 in most parts of the country.

And as for describing DC as "bland and stodgy," clearly Ms. Chen hasn't spent much time in our nation's capital in recent years.

Of course Fairfax has a high proportion of successful women. Those well paid lawyers may work in D.C., but they live in Fairfax.

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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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