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The Boss's Daughter

Vivia Chen

March 15, 2011

Dad:girl Listen up, women lawyers: If you have a male boss, check out the family photos in his office. Do you see images of little girls among the personal photos?

Men's attitudes about working women are affected by the gender of their kids, reports Columbia Business School (hat tip: The Juggle at The Wall Street Journal), about a study that looked at the salaries of over 700,000 workers at 6,230 firms in Denmark. (The research was conducted by David Gaddis Ross of Columbia, Michael Dahl of Aalborg University in Denmark, and Cristian Dezsö of the University of Maryland.) Denmark is a gold mine for this type of study, because it maintains detailed demographic statistics about its workforce.

According to the study, male CEOs with daughters tend to treat female employees more fairly. This is what Columbia says about the daughter effect:

[A] short time after male CEOs had daughters, women’s wages rose relative to men’s, shrinking the gender wage gap at their firms. The birth of a son, in contrast, had no effect on the wage gap. First daughters who were also the firstborn children of a CEO had a bigger effect than subsequent daughters, decreasing the gap by almost 3 percent. First daughters who were not the firstborn children of the CEOs had a less dramatic but still significant effect, closing the gap by 0.8 percent. The overall reduction in the gender wage gap was 0.5 percent.

Moreover, said professor Ross: "It follows that CEOs may be more apt to see their more educated women employees as resembling a possible future incarnation of their daughters." 

And how does this play out in the legal arena? Personally, I've worked for a number of men with daughters. Did I find a difference? Well, it's complicated. Interestingly, some were both encouraging and sexist at the same time. I remember one rainmaker partner with two daughters who never hesitated to give plum assignments to women; but what was uncomfortable was that he also expected female associates--and not the men--to help him entertain male clients during late-night outings on the town.

In fact, several women lawyers I spoke with aren't convinced that men with daughters are more sympathetic to female employees. "It should be true in theory, but I don't see it in my experience," says one New York associate. She adds, though, that partners who have adult daughters in the workforce might be a bit more sensitive toward female employees.

Another associate says the real focus should be on the wives, not the daughters. "[Male partners] whose wives work [outside the home] make better supervisors than men whose wives don't," she says.

Readers, do you find that male bosses with daughters treat women more equitably? What's your experience?


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected]

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I get where the study is coming from. But maybe your own experience with a boss with a daughter differed because Denmark's general attitudes about women in the workplace differ slightly from Americans'?

From personal experience, when my boss had his first child, he started talking to me like one of his children. When I disappointed him, he would call me by my full name (first, middle, last) and when I did something right, he would say "good girl". But I did get a [meager] raise. I agree that the more important factor is probably whether the boss's wife works outside the home. My boss's wife is a stay at home mom and has a nanny. So, every aspect of my boss's personal life is handled. He gets frustrated when I have to take the dog to the vet, or pick up my drycleaning, or leave the office by 7 to go grocery shopping, or be home to have dinner on the table for my husband. He forgets that I don't have a stay at home wife of my own to handle by personal business. So, perhaps that is really the bigger factor. Clearly, I need to hire a stay at home wife for myself. But, I will need another raise for that.

I meant, more likely to go to "men"

When I was an associate, I found that senior male partners were with daughters were a mixed blessing. I think I was treated well by them, and not given the miserable drudgery (the male associates were), but they also didn't think that the female associates should be working so hard -- and hence, some of the more important, higher profile cases, with lots of work (maybe out of town) were more likely to go to me.

That's interesting. But I've had a boss with a daughter and he's been very nice to me. We've actually even met his family.

Our boss jokes a lot but he definitely earns our respect because aside from the fact that he's our boss, we know he's a good family man.

@ TM.

Sorry, TM, but you are missing something. As David accurately states, there is a squib for the article found at
That squib states,

"So women lawyers, it behooves you to find male bosses with daughters."

First impressions, such as that squib, count more than anything.

I should add that the squib misinterprets the article and study, which only concern events shortly after the birth of the CEO's daughters. The article and study say nothing about how the CEOs with daughters pay their employees as their daughters age. In fact, the study finds that the effect is lessened for subsequent daughters.

It may very well be the case that CEOs with daughters actually pay female employees less than CEOs with sons, rendering the squib inaccurate.

In any event, David is spot-on in his criticism.

Dovid, I find it interesting that someone who didn't read a word of the text had so much to comment on. Without reading the text, you probably missed the part where the author was reporting on a study done by Columbia Business School. Also, having not read the text, you may have been confused, as the author does not, anywhere, suggest finding bosses with daughters.

If you were to actually read the article, you would learn that the author: (i) recaps the study; (ii) gives an account of her experiences with male bosses with daughters; and (iii) talks to other women lawyers about their experiences. She doesn't give opinion (except when recounting her personal experiences) or make suggestions. It sounds like you have a personal problem here.

A rule I learned when I was in law school was FRCP 11: your factual contentions must have evidentiary support.

I think it depends on whether the daughter is a stay-at-home mom or a career woman.

Really? Really? Seriously, REALLY!?!?!

Well, I read the title, and the squib about the article "find bosses with daughters." Then, I was utterly confused; and, I re-read the title, and the squib about the article; and, I'll not read another word of the text.

How is it possible for someone who has gone to law school to, less than six articles ago, rale against the gender roles that are perpetuated in our industry, then, here make such a suggestion as quoted above? Doesn't it completely contradict the prior position? And, doesn't such a suggested strategy further exacerbate the problem?

A word, learned when I was in school, when I was just a 1L, comes to mind: estoppel.

For shame!

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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: [email protected]

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