Full Time Practice

Monday, June 2, 2014

Don't "Fix the Woman", Instead Promote Based on Performance

(Written by Desiree Nordstrom, a WIL Committee member.)

And so it continues, the gender gap is alive and well in the legal world. Many industries have put men and women on equal playing fields, but not in the field of law. According to the National Association of Women Lawyers Survey in 2014, the top 200 law firms in the United States recruit more than 60% female law graduates and less than 40% male graduates. Yet, the percentage of female partners in the top 100 US law firms is at a staggering 17%.

According to an HBR Blog Network post by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of the gender consulting firm 20-first, The No. 5 law firm in France, TAJ is gender-balanced at the level of equity partnerships, governance committees and all other levels.[1] This firm is led by a man, Gianmarco Monsellato. The key to TAJ’s success is to promote people on performance.

Gianmarco Monsellaato
The apparent disparity is an issue of leadership. For Monsellato, he decided to take it personally. That meant making case assignments to lawyers fairly. For many years, he was the only person making those assignments. He was also involved in every discussion of promotion. Further, Monsellato tracked compensation levels of those promoted to ensure equality. He assigned some of his best female lawyers on the firm’s toughest cases. If a client had a problem with a lead female attorney, Monsellato asked for three months for the attorney to prove herself.  On every case, the female attorney overwhelming won the approval of her client, and overcame the initial gender bias.

According to the article, Monsellato’s approach is “dramatically [different] than most law firms. Most of his competitors have spent years organizing women’s initiatives, networks, or mentoring programs that have done little to increase the percentage of women reaching the top.” Monsellato states the key is the “tone from the top.”  It is as simple as promoting based on performance.

[1] http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/05/how-one-law-firm-maintains-gender-balance/

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