This article was first published in the Lex Witness February 2016 issue.
1.2 Million Lawyers. Sounds too many right? Well, that’s what the Indian Legal Community is in numbers. Undoubtedly the country is going through interesting strides and growth tones, thanks to the global repositioning wave that India is going through in terms of ease of doing business in India. And hence the need of lawyers, even more.
However, there is a darker side as well. There has been a major lack of uniformity in terms of gender representation – yes the obvious as always – the woman power is nowhere to be ‘entertained’ in the legal fraternity as well. Fortunately, Indian needn’t feel lonely enough as this remains a global cultural aspect that has ever since been groomed up to a becoming a saturated state of intellect today.
This article takes a new perspective on the strategic growth of law firms. There are various elements that contribute towards a firm’s growth. One such factor also includes promoting diversity and encouraging successful practices that may be against the commonly accepted norms. Hiring, retaining and promoting women lawyers in the firm and the profession can be a good start to this trend. Are you bold enough to be the torch-bearer?
GROWTH OF WOMEN LAWYERS – INDIA & THE GLOBE
For the context of this article, we will focus on the Indian scenario, along with a bird’s eye view on the global landscape. In many countries, policy-makers have responded by introducing gender quotas in politics and increasingly, many have expressed an interest in requiring gender quotas for corporate boards. Over the last half-century, women have made their stands clear in terms of the magnificent contributions they have made in terms of education and political realms of the global landscapes. In fact, in some case they have easily defeated back the heroes as well.
A few years ago The Economist magazine published a really interesting article and it said something quite profound – “Forget China, forget India, forget the Internet… women will be drivers for economic growth in the 21st century”. Leading economists term women as Global Reserve.
Not more than a few decades ago, Law was often looked at as a marriage degree – three years in law, then you get married. Since then law firms have gradually fought the profession’s gender bias, but there is still a long way to go. India can boast of M. Fathima Beevi who was the first female judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court a nation in Asia (1989). While women have managed to peg their marks well in various spheres of law – corporate law, civil or family law. Criminal Law is yet to see their brawn power to come in. If one was to say, if there are weaknesses that women may have as professionals – you would hear quite a few of them – too ‘soft’ or too ‘vociferous,’ too aggressive, or not aggressive enough.
Despite the growth in the number of female lawyers and their accomplishments, women continue to struggle though an uphill battle to advance in the legal profession. Albeit the rise of corporate law firms in India may have slightly improved women’s prospects to flourish in this industry, realistically women’s legal careers still look considerably different than men’s.
I was recently at one of the major legal gatherings of the country, and most of the points raised by the attendees regarding their views of the staggered growth of female lawyers in India involve:
Facilitators Vs. Leaders – women are often perceived as good facilitators and not leaders. What we fail to realize is that being a successful facilitator/administrator is equally if not more important as being a rainmaker. One of the most valued quality of a law firm Managing Partner is that he/she should be an effective administrator, who can bring in a smooth and planned functioning of the firm and in turn ensure effective growth in business.
Work Vs. Personal Priorities – it is a common misconception that women tend to prioritize their personal and family life more than their professional life. In truth, women tend to be excellent at maintaining work-life balance, and in effect provide their utmost dedication and energy to both the spheres. Various studies have proved that in order to be a successful professional, one has to maintain a steady work-life balance. This holds true for men and women alike. In order to have a higher efficiency while being at work, it is important to also give one’s personal life sufficient time and attention.
Aggressive Vs. Submissive – female lawyers tend to be often looked upon as ‘not aggressive’ enough. The opposite may also hold true, wherein if a woman in this profession is equally aggressive as her other male colleagues, she is perceived as ‘too aggressive’ instead. In order for a law firm to grow effectively, the top management has to discard such notions and begin to judge a professional, male and female alike, for their core nature and work ethics versus various gender biases that exist. If a woman lawyer is good at her work, but may not be as ‘vocal’ or ‘aggressive’, encash on her strengths and effectively use them to deal with clients who require that personalized attention and consistent assurance of excellent service. If a woman lawyer is ‘too aggressive’, ensure that her strength is best used in negotiations and/or situations where one has to be vocal to make the stand known.
ENCOURAGE & FLOURISH
More often than not, women leaders in law firms tend to be the least supportive of other women in junior positions. It is important to remember one’s own struggles, and work towards creating a better work environment for the younger colleagues. Successful women can come forward as role models and mentors to other men and women working with and for them, and share knowledge and experience with those seeking to mirror their success. To get more women in leadership positions in a sustainable way, women – and employers – must eliminate limiting beliefs about women’s capability to do the top jobs.
So are you bold enough?