Nine years ago, when women constituted barely 15 percent of equity partners across the country, the National Association of Women Lawyers issued a challenge to the nation’s largest law firms: Double the number of female equity partners by 2015. The goal seemed within reach. After all, since at least 1991 women have made up just under half of law school graduates and new associates, and partnership promotions would be expected to occur between eight and 10 years later, driving up the numbers. Across the country, firms responded; as of 2012, according to NAWL, 97 percent had rolled out women’s initiatives to better retain and train women for advancement.
But here’s the thing: Their efforts have mostly failed. All the Pinot Grigio-fueled women’s networking events and anti-bias “training” seminars notwithstanding, the gender gap has hardly budged. According to demographic data from Am Law 200 firms, women accounted for just 16.8 percent of equity partners last year. At this rate, women equity partners will reach 30 percent—by 2081. Without extraordinary new efforts, parity remains a distant possibility, in 2181. (Facing a double bind of gender and minority status, women of color continue to occupy just 2 percent of equity partnership ranks, according to data from NAWL and The American Lawyer.)
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