originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal:
a major shift from a generation ago, women now account for a third of
the nation's lawyers and doctors when those professions were occupied
almost exclusively by men, new Census figures show.
of jobs in the legal and medical fields climbed during the past decade
even as their share of the overall workforce stalled at slightly less
than half. Women held 33.4% of legal jobs—including lawyers, judges,
magistrates and other judicial workers—in 2010, up from 29.2% in 2000.
The share of female physicians and surgeons increased to 32.4% from
26.8% during that time.
According to the president of the
Institute for Women's Policy Research, a nonprofit group in Washington,
that's very significant progress, in the midst of a lot of evidence that
women's progress has plateaued, nevertheless we can see that women are
still making progress in some very professional, high-wage fields.
gains in these fields follow the rise in their professional school
enrollments over time. Harvard Law School, for example, was closed to
women until 1950, and the Washington and Lee University School of Law
was the last U.S. law school to open its admissions to women in 1972,
according to research by Hannah Brenner and Renee Newman Knake of
Michigan State University's College of Law. Today, women graduate from
law school in roughly the same numbers as men. They make up just under
half—45.4%—of medical residents and fellows, or medical-school graduates
in training, according to the American Medical Association.
26-year-old Miami resident said earlier generations in her family of
Greek heritage believed women were meant to stay at home and raise
children. While she was growing up, her mother didn't work.
her parents emphasized the importance of getting an education to achieve
a middle-class lifestyle. She earned a bachelor's degree in American
history at Columbia University. During school, she worked part-time at a
Manhattan law firm feeding off the energy of assisting on big cases,
She graduated from the University of Miami School of
Law last year and now is a commercial litigator. Two partners in the
Florida firm where she works are mothers raising children, she said that
for her, and for other women we're kind of just trying to get a start
on our careers and focus on that.
Despite women's greater
presence in law and medicine, wage gaps between men and women persist in
both fields. In 2007, the median income—the point at which half earn
more and half earn less—of female lawyers was $90,000, compared with
$122,000 for male lawyers, according to research by Harvard economists.
median income of female physicians was $112,128, compared with $186,916
for male physicians. Those differences are largely explained by
individual choices, including women taking off time to raise children or
opting for less-demanding career tracks or positions that pay less. But
a small portion of the gap exists for unclear reasons. Discrimination
could also be a factor, though it isn't clear how much, according to the
One of the economists said women's gains in medicine
have coincided with the rise of corporate-owned hospitals and medical
practices, in many cases making it easier for women to balance work and
family. Health-care companies have bought up many small, previously
male-owned independent practices and raised women's wages closer to
men's, while offering more flexible work schedules.
women have made strides in the legal profession, at law firms few are
taking management positions. Some leave for jobs as counsel to
corporations, where hours can be more predictable. At large law firms,
women make up just 15% of equity partners, according to a survey
released in October by the National Association of Women Lawyers. Of the
200 firms surveyed, just 4% had a woman at the helm in the role of
firm-wide managing partner.
A lawyer in Oakland, Calif., said
biases against women were overt in 1975, when she graduated from the
University of California Hastings College of the Law and started looking
People would say directly, 'You can't be a lawyer
because you're a woman, women are too emotional, their voices are too
high,... they aren't tough enough,' she said women still face barriers
to leadership jobs at firms, because advancement is largely based on
hours worked. You're really trying to break into an established network,
coming at it from the perspective of the woman, when most of the
structures are designed by men.
A Michigan State University
associate law professor, said while women graduate from law school in
roughly the same numbers as men, many women leave the field for careers
that offer more flexibility in hours and location.
stated, as much as it's good to see the progress, she still remains
troubled that we don't see a lot of our law graduates staying in the