Firm business

Women dominate the professional ranks of law firms, new survey finds

A first-of-its-kind survey of the diversity of law firm professional teams found that many firms were more diverse than they thought and had a strong female presence, but that the senior ranks at within these teams were more evenly distributed. .

The results of the survey, conducted by Calibrate Legal, suggest that women play a major role in law firm business, but may not be progressing at the same rate as their male counterparts. While the most junior ranks of these business departments are overwhelmingly female, leadership at the top does not match this proportion.

This mirrors the ranks of lawyers in many firms, where women and men are fairly equal in the ranks of partners, but far from it at the partner and partner level. Nevertheless, it should be noted that women occupy the majority of leadership and practice management positions in the companies surveyed.

Jennifer Johnson, Founder and CEO of Calibrate Legal, noted the decrease in the female-to-male ratio as jobs became more important, and said a long-standing issue for women in the workforce is still playing out: “Women are the ones who have the babies,” she said. “And it’s still the case that the majority of parenting lies with the mother.”

This can alienate women from the level of work that many employers, including law firms, expect of them to rise to leadership. Unable to work 60 hours a week while caring for a child, many women leave the workforce just when they would be ready for one of these higher-level jobs.

That doesn’t mean the problem can’t be overcome, but Johnson said it would take companies, like law firms, to re-evaluate how they view contributions to the organization and recognize that there could be financially more beneficial to provide housing for working parents than allowing them to leave.

“Attrition is expensive,” Johnson said. “It might make more tax sense to bring in high-performing professionals.”

Women running law firms

Calibrate Legal conducted the one-time survey of eight companies and more than 2,700 respondents, asking professionals to self-identify by job title, race, gender, sexual orientation, military status and disability . Among the professionals surveyed, women outnumbered men by a three-to-one ratio (75% to 25%), with 0.15% of respondents identifying as non-binary.

Women tend to outnumber men in most departments, the survey found, with the exception of information technology where men made up 69% of respondents and women 30%.

The departments with the highest female to male ratio were administration (9:1), talent management (7:1) and legal support services (6:1).

But those ratios fell to 5:4 for positions labeled “leadership” and 3:2 for practice management.

The workforce was also significantly more female at the non-exempt level compared to the exempt level (4:1 vs. 11:7).

The job that had the highest percentage of women was ‘assistant’, with 93% of respondents with this title identifying as female.

The findings illustrate what could be an impactful time for women in the professional ranks, as a tight labor market and changes brought about by the pandemic make some professionals feel newly empowered and look for more of their businesses.

It also comes at a time when roles such as assistant and secretary, which were historically held by women, are being phased out or reworked at many companies to accommodate advances in technology and remote working.


When it comes to race, the survey found the total breakdown of respondents to be 78% white, 12% black, and 5% Latinx, covering 95% of total respondents.

A closer look shows that when it comes to “leadership” positions, white respondents increased their percentage to 90%, with the highest overall percentage being at the executive level (92%). The executive level was also the least racially diverse, with only three of the seven races identified in the survey being represented.

In search of security

While race and gender are often at the center of DEI efforts, sexual orientation, military status and disability are increasingly part of the conversation among DEI advocates. But Calibrate’s survey data suggests some are still not comfortable sharing this information.

For example, a total of 3% of respondents indicated they belonged to the LGBTQ community and 83% answered no. 14% chose not to answer. (In around 2021 5.6% of the US population identifies as LGBTQ.)

The non-response rate is higher when looking at disability and military status. While 80% of respondents said they did not have a disability and 2% said they did, 18% chose not to answer.

And when it comes to military service, only 1% said they identified as a veteran, 71% said they were not a veteran, and 28% chose not to answer. Johnson said certain stereotypes about military veterans may play a role in their choosing to keep their service record to themselves,”and that’s a shame.”

As for those three questions, “we’ve had a lot of people say they’d rather not answer,” Johnson said. “People are understandably nervous that this information is not being put to good use. If someone is gay, they may wonder if it could hurt them in their workplace.

Johnson said the high non-response rate outside of race and gender is a sign that many business professionals don’t feel comfortable sharing this information in their current environment. “Companies need to cultivate an environment where people can be themselves at work and feel safe.

Johnson said the next step for companies that took part in the survey is to set goals and milestones for the next three years and define tangible, process-oriented ways to channel diverse talent into performance-focused roles. deals.

“It’s a long play,” she said. “It will take more professional development and clearer career paths for professionals as well as lawyers, and this process will need to be regulated and intentional for it to work.”