Top law firms report having few or no women on their list of the top 10 "rainmakers ." Fifteen years out of law school and a veteran of big-firm life, I asked former classmates and colleagues why women don't bring in the bucks. Should I be surprised that the answers turned out to reflect their own gender divide?
Men, while offering a nod to the idea that perhaps women led more balanced lives (proper rainmaking behavior is a 24/7 job: If you've seen Ari Gold on Entourage , you've seen somebody making it rain), seemed inclined to put the new statistic (from a study the National Association of Women Lawyers and reported on Law.com ) in the category of "change that hasn't filtered up yet." Top rainmaking men, they proposed, just haven't died out. Most "new business" isn't really new, of course-law firms collect new deals from the same old banks and clients, and those relationships, many established decades ago, still persist.
The women in my totally unscientific survey (just as professionally accomplished as the men) saw it differently. They noted the macho culture that still walks the walk at many top firms-and at the offices of their clients. The men at the top are still more comfortable hanging out with men, along with which goes the chest-thumping, the desire to hold conversations that aren't exactly PC. One recalled men who refused to socialize with women colleagues out of fear of what their wives would say-which doesn't exactly encourage the kind of comfortable interaction that leads people to want to continue working together. All of them tagged the ruthless competition. Rainmaking is a zero-sum game; any edge has to be played to the hilt, and if you can knock a woman out of the game by taking a client to Hooters, so be it. (Let it be said that I know women who've done that to other women, too.)
I have to admit that my first take on this question was to write it off, as did the men I asked, as a leftover, something likely to change sooner than later. Hearing from my colleagues still in the fray reminded that it's probably not quite so innocuous. It also reminded me that we probably won't hear much more about this statistic-because not one of the women I talked to would even breathe on this topic until I promised not to name names. Maybe, Emily, this all has something to do with why we don't hear the women of the White House on the subject of Obama's all-male basketball games. Unfortunately, nobody ever got to the top by trying to level the playing field.
Photograph of businesspeople by Jupiterimages/Getty Images.