Legal Profession

Title

The Quiet Resignation: Why Do So Many Female Lawyers Abandon Their Careers?

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date

3-2020

Keywords

lawyer demographics, gender, lawyer retention rates, implicit bias in the legal profession

Abstract

Thirty percent of female lawyers leave their careers. The same is true for female doctors. Over time, an increasing number of married professionals have recreated traditional gender roles, and society has lost a tremendous amount of training and well-honed talent as a result. Neither workplace discrimination nor family obligations can fully and satisfactorily explain the trend. Both of those theories assume that women take a more dependent and vulnerable position in the household because of constraints, but in one important respect, men are more constrained than women, and they are better off for it: to maintain social status, men have to work. Women do not.

This Article advances a theory and corroborating evidence that the cultural acceptance of female underemployment is a privilege in the abstract, but a curse in practice. Even under the best conditions, the early stages of professional careers involve mistakes, mismatches, and disappointments. An opportunity to escape the stress of the public sphere by focusing on the family may have great appeal in the short run even though the long-run consequences are severe. Asymmetric cultural acceptance creates an easy off-ramp for females, to nearly everybody's detriment.

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