A 2008 ABA Journal survey, with reponses from more than 1400 women lawyers, produced some interesting results as to who they prefer to work with. Of the 42% of women who expressed a preference in the gender of colleagues, that preference was different depending on the age of the respondent.
Female supervisors age 40 and over preferred working with women lawyers because they 1) take direction better (80%), 2) have more discretion (79%) and 3) take constructive criticism better (59%).
Yet younger female lawyers don’t have the same regard for their older female colleagues. Of those under 40 who thought gender matters, the majority preferred male supervisors for 1) keeping confidential information private (64%), 2) giving better direction (58%) and 3) giving more constructive criticism (56%).
Theories about the reasons for the difference abound. Some contend that younger women (and also some younger men) are not on the same wave length about the role of work in their lives, and are not willing to make the sacrifices that older women have made.
According to Lauren Stiller Rikleen, who advises law firms about workplace issues, “I’m concerned that more senior women don’t fully understand the profound demographic changes taking place,” demographic changes that affect all young lawyers and override issues of gender. As a practical matter, Arin Reeves, another lawyer who does diversity consulting, notes, the differing generational views of women can mean that women’s initiatives developed by female partners are often not useful to female associates.
The upshot is that there may no longer be “the woman’s situation,” but rather a growing diversity in what women lawyers want, and, given the luxury of having more role models to choose from, a growing diversity of what they can actually have. Perhaps it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that, as we have advocated for years, rather than placing judgment on women generally or on any particular choice, we as women lawyers can and must accept more diversity even among ourselves.