Business & Practice

Millennial Women See Sexism at Their Law Firms, Male Peers Don’t

April 4, 2019, 7:39 PM

Female millennial attorneys are far more likely to spot systemic sexism in their law firm workplaces than male attorneys of the same generation, according to a new survey.

Forty-five percent of millennial women strongly agreed that U.S. law firm culture is inherently sexist, compared to just 14 percent of men.

The survey, conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa and Above the Law, polled 1,200 millennial lawyers working at U.S. firms. The MLA survey did not define millennial, but Pew Research brackets the generation as those born between 1981 and 1996.

Women were also far more likely to prioritize diversity and inclusion in their law firms. Some 63 percent of female respondents strongly agreed that a diverse and inclusive workforce should be a priority for law firms, while only 37 percent of male respondents did.

However, with regard to work-life balance, a topic that has historically been relegated to women’s groups at law firms, the survey indicated millennials are not as divided along gender lines. Both men and women ranked work-life balance as a high priority in firm life, and nearly 75 of respondents said they would trade a portion of their pay for more time off, a flexible schedule, or a cut in billable hours.

“Work-life balance is highly sought after by young attorneys, and by attorneys of all genders,” said Michelle Fivel, co-author of the study and a partner in MLA’s associate practice group. “There’s the perception that there’s an appreciable gender difference, but the truth is that women are no more likely to demand greater work-life balance than men are.”

Millennials currently make up the largest cohort of the legal profession, according to MLA. The survey participants were primarily junior, midlevel, and senior associates.

The survey was first conducted in 2017 as a way to test whether the platitudes and stereotypes so often associated with millennials were true and if they applied to lawyers, according to Ru Bhatt, the survey’s other co-author and managing director in MLA’s associate practice group.

“There is a stereotype that millennials are lazy … and don’t have a high work ethic, but we found that they believe they do have a high work ethic,” Bhatt said. “They just want to do work differently, in less traditional ways and more creatively.”

It appears that millennials are still willing to put in the hard work required to make partner someday. The survey found that 40 percent of millennial lawyers still see partnership as a long-term career goal, more than any other career path. “Even though the common perception is that partnership is getting less desirable, it was by far the top career goal for our respondent,” Bhatt said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com.
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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