Conservative bosses promote fewer women, study finds

Women are less likely to move up the ranks in firms where the male partners in their practice area are politically conservative, and more likely to leave.


A new study of associate promotion and turnover patterns at the largest 200 law firms in the US has suggested that there may be a link between the political leanings of law firm partners and the career outcomes for women within their ranks.

Mind the gap

Female associates were found to be on average 3.5 per cent less likely to win promotions than their male counterparts when their bosses are conservative men. By contrast, when male partners in an associate's practice area are liberal-leaning, the gender gap shrinks to 1.9 per cent. The study also found a correlation between donations by male partners to conservative causes and the likelihood of women leaving their firm. When male bosses in an associate's practice area had donated around $1,000 to conservative causes over the last 10 years, female associates were 2.9 per cent more likely than their male colleagues to have walked away from the firm. Again, the gap widens further to 3.3 per cent when the average conservative cause donation climbs to $2,000. Finally, conservative partners were 2.7 per cent less likely than moderates to select female associates for training and development, while liberal partners were 0.8 per cent more likely than moderates to do so.

The influence of values

University of Michigan assistant professor Seth Carnahan and Temple University assistant professor Brad Greenwood, who co-authored the research paper, offer several possible explanations for the gender gap disparity between conservative and liberal-leaning partnerships. Firstly, they suggest that an aversion to inequality among liberal male partners may influence outcomes for female associates working below them. Additionally, the authors propose that beliefs held by conservative partners about family responsibilities and desirable leadership qualities may also hold sway over the gender gap.

Other explanations

However, several other explanations for the survey findings are equally possible, and the authors warn against interpreting the study as 'anti-conservative and pro-liberal', or drawing any direct inferences about discriminatory attitudes towards women. To the extent that female associates may be more liberal leaning, Dr Carnahan suggests that it may be that law firm partners (liberal and conservative alike) tend to reward and retain associates who share their own political views. 'You could have conservative managers who don't promote women enough and you can have liberal managers who promote women more than they otherwise should,' said Dr Carnahan. Sources: ABA Journal; University of Michigan; Social Science Research Network 

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