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1 year ago
If Your Boss Does This, You're Less Likely to Get a Promotion

Biased beliefs about gender role stereotypes—like the notion that women belong in the kitchen and men belong in the office—haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. And, as a recent study suggests, that particular belief is more likely to be held by bosses with Republican political affiliations. As a result, the women who work for them are less likely to succeed.

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The study analyzed promotion rates at the top 200 law firms in the country between 2007 and 2012, and found that women with male bosses who donate to Republican causes have a much more difficult time making partner.

The study, which was authored by Seth Carnahan from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and Brad Greenwood of Temple University, controlled for factors like legal specialties, race, and geographic patterns, and found that when comparing two offices with similar practices, the ones with more conservative men in leadership roles had higher rates of gender inequality.

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“The gender gap in promotions is almost twice as large when your bosses are conservative, compared to when your bosses are predominately liberal,” Carnahan told the Washington Post.

The Washington Post also reported: “According to the General Social Survey, a majority of politically conservative men believe that a woman’s job is ‘to look after the home and family.’ And conservative men are twice as likely to oppose the idea that employers ‘should make special efforts to hire and promote qualified women.’”

It’s worth noting that although this phenomenon likely holds true in other industries as well, law firms are notoriously bad at promoting gender equality to begin with—women are consistently underrepresented among leadership, make less money than their male counterparts, and are 50 percent as likely as men to get promoted as partner.

In firms with male bosses who donate to Republicans, though, that promotion gap widens significantly—women in those offices are 80 percent less likely to make partner than their male counterparts.

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Samantha (not her real name), a 29-year-old attorney in a major metropolitan city in Pennsylvania who recently left her job at a large law firm, told us that her own experiences with conservative bosses confirmed that the “good old boys’ club” was very much still in effect in her firm.

“Generally speaking, I didn't get too much client contact,” Samantha said, “which is how you bring in business and what eventually earns you the right to a partner spot. A lot of that goes on at sporting events and on the golf course, or even strip clubs. Needless to say, I wasn't asked to go along all that often.”

In a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation, law firms cited “lack of business development” as the number one reason women aren’t attaining equity partnership, but Green and Carnahan’s study confirms that Samantha's experience is a common one among female attorneys with conservative male bosses, who are significantly less likely to choose women for their client teams. It’s difficult to bring in clients when you aren’t being given any access to prospective ones.

Samantha also noted that when even when she was invited to client events, she often received different treatment than her male peers. “I do specifically remember two instances when middle-aged male partners asked me to come along,” she recalled. “Once, when a client was single and it was subtly suggested I could ‘make sure he had a good time’—talk to him, flirt with him even. I found an excuse not to go that time. Another time I was invited because the prospective client was committed to diversity and they thought they'd like to see a woman on the team.”

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The second most common reason law firms cite for the lack of gender equity among partners is attrition—and Carnahan and Green’s study confirmed that women with conservative male bosses were not only less likely than their male peers to get promoted, but were also more likely to leave the firm, as Samantha eventually did.

“Shortly before I left, my middle-aged Republican boss, who was assigned as my mentor, called me into his office and told me my best bet for advancement was to try to get work from female partners. He said something along the lines of ‘People take care of their own,’ and that it wasn't likely I'd get assignments from other male partners.”

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“He even said he’d asked a few of the partners in the area of law I focused on, and they'd said they wouldn't give me work,” Samantha continued. “I'm not sure it was because I'm a woman, but it certainly seemed that way, since I was advised to seek out ‘my own kind’ if I wanted new work assignments and client contact.”

Carnahan and Green’s study also revealed that the higher the amount of the boss’s financial contributions to conservative causes was, the more likely it was that their female associates would quit.

While Carnahan and Green’s study doesn’t provide enough evidence to prove that Republican bosses are overtly or intentionally discriminating against women, it does suggest that offices with conservative bosses are less likely to take steps to actively encourage the promotion of women than offices with more liberal bosses are—which is generally needed if an institution want to overcome the sort of unconscious gender bias that leads to widespread workplace inequality.

"[Republican bosses] are probably not consciously discriminating against women,” Carnahan said in a press statement, “but their beliefs could influence their willingness to invest in female subordinates.”

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