A Virtuous Cycle: Investing in Diversity and Inclusion

By: Larissa B. Neumann

The call for more equal representation of women in positions of power in the tax law profession has never been louder than it is today. Companies, professional organizations, law schools and society at large are initiating a concerted push for greater gender diversity within law firms. According to the American Bar Association’s “ABA Profile of the Profession 2020 Report,” the percentage of female lawyers has increased very slowly in the last 10 years; it stood at 31 percent in 2010 and is now at 37 percent. Male attorneys still greatly outnumber female attorneys, especially in management and equity partner positions. Although women generally have made up half of graduating law school classes for the last 20 years, there continues to be a disparity in the legal profession.

While most law firms have explicitly professed a desire for more women in leadership, implicit biases and structural impediments within the profession have kept women significantly underrepresented within the upper reaches of the tax law hierarchy. To display commitment to the firm, women who are parents have felt the pressure to submit to a work environment and time schedule at tension with their obligations as mothers and domestic partners. The recent ABA report “Walking Out the Door,” which includes results from a survey of more than 1,200 senior lawyers at the nation’s biggest private law firms, reported that 58 percent of women viewed caretaking commitments as the most important reason that female lawyers leave their jobs. To fit the mold of a dedicated professional, women have felt pressure to delay or alter the timing of significant life events such as marriage and pregnancy. Over time, the frictions of these structural impediments wear against female attorneys’ psyches, often causing them to compromise their careers for the sake of family and personal commitments.

Throughout my career I have worked in tandem with my firm, Fenwick & West LLP, to dismantle these subtle and not-so-subtle structures of male power that have stood in the way of female professional empowerment. By advocating for my own interests and having a progressive law firm that took those interests to heart, I have been able to advance in my career without disregarding my unique experiences and challenges as a wife and a mother. By seeing me and hearing me as a woman, Fenwick has demonstrated a commitment to diversity in its highest levels of power and laid the institutional foundations for many more female attorneys to follow in my footsteps.

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Originally published in the Volume 99, March 8, 2021, edition of Tax Notes State as part of its Search for Tax Justice series examining the inequities inherent in state and federal taxes.