Washington, June 1 : A new study from University of Iowa has revealed that female lawyers are more likely to practice in firm, but are less likely to make a partner.
The study led by Mary Noonan, associate professor of sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has found that women who practiced in a firm for five or more years were 13 percent less likely than men to make partner, even if their qualifications were equal.
Noonan looked at the data from two groups of Michigan Law School graduates, the classes of 1972-78 and 1979-85, who completed surveys one, five and 15 years after graduation.
Women who graduated in the '80s were more likely to try out and less likely to leave private practice, which typically pays better than other legal careers but has traditionally attracted more men.
In all, 198 women and 1,187 men were surveyed in the first group of graduates and 304 women and 814 men in the later group.
Almost 29 percent of women who earned law degrees in the '70s left private practice within four years, compared to just 11 percent of men.
"That part is good news. There's no glass ceiling keeping women out of firms or pushing them out in the first couple of years. There's a welcome mat: 'Come on in, please work for us, we want you here,'" said Noonan.
Women who graduated in the '70s and worked in a firm five years or longer had a 54 percent probability of becoming partner, compared to 67 percent for men.
In that group who completed law degree in the 80s, women had a 40 percent chance of making partner compared to 53 percent for men.
Nearly 90 percent, of female lawyers in both groups combined reported experiencing sexual discrimination from colleagues or clients.
"What we don't know is whether the women intentionally steered themselves off the path to partnership, or whether someone blocked the road and pushed them off," said Noonan.
The study showed that less than half of partners in law firms were happy with their work-family balance. It's possible some women considered how the demands of partnership could impact their lives and decided to avoid it, Noonan said.
"They might have different priorities. Maybe the women said, 'Yeah, partners have a lot of power and make a lot of money, but they work a lot of hours and they're stressed out, and that's not what life is about for me,'" she added.
She also said: "Older men tend to feel less comfortable spending time with a young woman than with a young man. With the guys, it's more of a father-son bond
"Men might shy away from that type of mentoring relationship with a young woman because they're afraid of what people will think."
The study was published in the March issue of the journal Social Science Research.