June 2013 Bar Bulletin
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June 2013 Bar Bulletin

Going to the Top of the Jungle Gym: The Premise and Promise of Women "Leaning In"

By Averil Budge Rothrock


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg
(Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013)

Retention and advancement of women attorneys is a challenge in the legal profession. The ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession has well documented the attrition of female attorneys.1 While women join the associate ranks of law firms in the same numbers as men, they do not stay. The number of women lawyers in partnership and leadership positions is unacceptably low.

We know this. What to do? The ABA has its recommendations, which you can view online in the November 2011 Bar Bulletin.2 One often-repeated key to improvement is for employers to measure and reward attorneys in ways that de-emphasize traditional measures in favor of more gender-neutral measures. Another is to ensure equal assignment opportunities. But this is easier said than done in today's world where the inequities often are invidious and not blatant.

Enter a new voice in the dialogue: Sheryl Sandberg. In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg seeks to broaden the discussion and the possible solutions to the dearth of women in leadership roles in America. Not only does leadership in the legal field remain largely in the hands of male attorneys, the statistics are similarly dour in other fields. Women make up only 14 percent of executive officers, 18 percent of elected congressional officials and, looking outside America, 22 of 197 heads of state. Given the absence of women in leadership roles, Sandberg rightly points out that "the voices of women are not heard equally."

The Jungle Gym

Sandberg shapes her book as a clarion call to women to aim for the top. To aim high. To go for it. She acknowledges that not every woman will want to do this. And she makes a point of respecting the contributions of stay-at-home moms like her mother and grandmother, who are big sources of inspiration to her.

But for women in the workplace who want to, or must, seek fulfillment and financial security in the workplace, she shares insights and suggestions to help women reach senior positions. To Sandberg, modern careers are not pursued on ladders, but on jungle gyms. Multiple paths to the pinnacle exist. Sandberg wants to keep more women on the jungle gym reaching for the next bar and rising higher.

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