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KOMODO

Gender Stereotypes on Bay Street in 2018

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Don’t most associates end up in house? When someone leaves my firm the first question is always, “in house?” Boy or lady. 

Annecdotally all I can say is that “I don’t think they’re likely to stick it out for partnership” is something I’ve heard for both genders, and also something I think is realistically very true. It’s presumably why I’ll leave. 

I’m not sure what to do about the mat leave issue. I think I become a more useful lawyer every year because of experience, and if I took a year off I would be more than a year behind in capabilities compared to my peers. How do you change that? If my partner and I have a kid and she wants her year off, am I supposed to also request a year off so that I’m not learning more than women colleagues? What if my partner prefers me working and earning?

Edited by theycancallyouhoju
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What should be done though? 

I feel like we are told to just accept sexism or racism in the legal profession. Do we call out the partners?

Also, as I lurked in previous threads I found lots of posters trying to convince posters like OP that they were mistaken about gender discrimination or racism... some other innocent factors were involved... Remember the South Asian/East Asian thread?  

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6 minutes ago, theycancallyouhoju said:

Don’t most associates end up in house? When someone leaves my firm the first question is always, “in house?” Boy or lady. 

Annecdotally all I can say is that “I don’t think they’re likely to stick it out for partnership” is something I’ve heard for both genders, and also something I think is realistically very true. It’s presumably why I’ll leave. 

I’m not sure what to do about the mat leave issue. I think I become a more useful lawyer every year because of experience, and if I took a year off I would be more than a year behind in capabilities compared to my peers. How do you change that? If my partner and I have a kid and she wants her year off, am I supposed to also request a year off so that I’m not learning more than women colleagues? What if my partner prefers me working and earning?

Thanks for your reply. I would say:

1. Yes, many associates go in house - but that's not what happened here. This person went to another large bay street law firm, and has never shown any indication of wanting to go in house. I believe that the suggestion that she had some sort of secret long term plan to go in house would not have been made if she were a guy.

2. The default in our industry (and society at large) is that women should take maternity leave, and anything that men take is "extra". You refer to your partner taking "her year off" - but why is it hers and not at least partly yours? I wonder what society would look like if, for example, every new parent was entitled to six months leave instead of one parent being entitled to twelve months. Would women and men be seen (and treated) more equally, because it would be assumed that most associates (not just female associates) would require a leave from work? Right now, partners (mostly rightly) assume that their young female associates will fall a year behind their young male associates in terms of experience for every mat leave (which by the way, we want less than anyone). I think it's interesting to think about how things would change if that wasn't the default. If you're interested in seeing how this would work, the documentary I mentioned shows it in practice, including in Iceland where leave goes 3 months to the mother, 3 months to the father, and 3 months to be taken by either partner. What do you think of that model?

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@KOMODO

1. Sure. But it’s more than half of us that go in house. So even if I switch shops once the fair assumption is that I’ll quit one day - odds are in favor of that.

2. I said “hers” because I was contrasting our possible choices. I have no clue how you read that wrong.

This is personal and not indicative of trends of course, but I like kids more than my partner and I actually can’t imagine she’d want the time off more than me. Her job is easier and shorter hours, less stress. But simple fact is that even if I want it more, I would let her choose. Because I love her. 

If there was some mandate that everyone gets 6 months regardless gender, that would be great and I’d support it wholeheartedly.

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I’ve seen two good friend-colleagues have kids, both dudes, in the last year. They talked a lot about wanting to be home. But their wives preferred to be the stay home parent, so they viewed this as their support of their wife. 

My situation would likely be the same. I’d rather parent. I love kids, even the little ugly ones that aren’t mine or my friend’s. I cook better than my future wife and do more of the House work.

But if she even merely hinted that she would prefer to take more of the time off after giving birth, her wish would be my command.

I am pro-mandated leave. 

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I won't comment on the cultural issues surrounding leave at firms, not having been at one in five years or so, but as of March, most of Canada will be giving families a bonus (5 weeks of EI-funded leave, or about $2750) if both parents take at least 5 weeks of leave.

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8 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

I won't comment on the cultural issues surrounding leave at firms, not having been at one in five years or so, but as of March, most of Canada will be giving families a bonus (5 weeks of EI-funded leave, or about $2750) if both parents take at least 5 weeks of leave.

I wasn't aware of that, and I think it's definitely a step forward - thanks for highlighting it!

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I don't know what to say. I certainly won't dispute that sexism and gender assumptions could easily have played a role here. But unless and until you ask, outright, you don't have the smoking gun. I mean, I'm genuinely not trying to say that gender bias isn't real. But there are still alternative explanations. One example springs immediately to mind, in that the partners at your firm might have concluded quite some time ago that your colleague wasn't on partner track where she was, for whatever reason. And at that point it's human nature to assume she's not partner material anywhere.

That's the crappy thing about bias and discrimination. Okay, it's one of the crappy things about bias and discrimination. It's rarely overt. You don't often have the smoking gun. So you're left wondering.

Ask someone you trust at the firm what they think. Have the candid conversation, if you can. I don't know what else to suggest.

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I guess my only point is, it seems most of the women in my circle in and outside of law would love a year off for mat - and all of them took that. My partner and I have discussed it and she says she’d prefer that simply on the basis of its great not to work for a year, though who knows what will change. If I go back to work in five weeks, then like my colleagues, it’s probably because that’s what the mother requested. 

So...?

I’m all for both parents taking six months off. I think a lot of the guys I know would be, though definitely not all. But I also don’t think many of the women I’m friends with would appreciate losing the freedom to stay home a year and tell dad to go work. If I’m wrong about that, then, great! 

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8 hours ago, Diplock said:

I don't know what to say. I certainly won't dispute that sexism and gender assumptions could easily have played a role here. But unless and until you ask, outright, you don't have the smoking gun. I mean, I'm genuinely not trying to say that gender bias isn't real. But there are still alternative explanations. One example springs immediately to mind, in that the partners at your firm might have concluded quite some time ago that your colleague wasn't on partner track where she was, for whatever reason. And at that point it's human nature to assume she's not partner material anywhere.

That's the crappy thing about bias and discrimination. Okay, it's one of the crappy things about bias and discrimination. It's rarely overt. You don't often have the smoking gun. So you're left wondering.

Ask someone you trust at the firm what they think. Have the candid conversation, if you can. I don't know what else to suggest.

Hey Diplock! Long time no see!

Your comment is fair, but I can tell you that in this situation, the person would have been on the partner track - this is a person who was exceeding target, participating in firm initiatives, handling files independently, etc. 

I wasn't brave enough to directly tell the partner that I thought his assertion was based, at least partially, on her gender.  I did ask him why he thought what he thought, and all he could say was "time will tell, not everyone wants to be in private practice". I did also speak with the person generally in charge of associates and relayed the conversation and my concerns. That person agreed that certainly in this case, the "theory" wasn't warranted, but didn't address what I was saying more broadly. 

One of the other crappy things about bias is that you risk putting yourself in the line of fire when you call it out. I could make a bigger deal of this, confront the partner, etc., but it probably wouldn't change much and I think it would create issues in my own working life. It's hard to tell where to draw the line sometimes between saying enough and saying too much.

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8 hours ago, theycancallyouhoju said:

I guess my only point is, it seems most of the women in my circle in and outside of law would love a year off for mat - and all of them took that. My partner and I have discussed it and she says she’d prefer that simply on the basis of its great not to work for a year, though who knows what will change. If I go back to work in five weeks, then like my colleagues, it’s probably because that’s what the mother requested. 

So...?

I’m all for both parents taking six months off. I think a lot of the guys I know would be, though definitely not all. But I also don’t think many of the women I’m friends with would appreciate losing the freedom to stay home a year and tell dad to go work. If I’m wrong about that, then, great! 

It's great that you're open to / supportive of this idea and it's also great that you're so supportive of your partner. But I think you may not be recognizing the central part of what I'm saying. It is currently the case that by and large, in big law firms, men do not take more than one month of leave, if that (for the most part, I see men taking two weeks). It's also the case that women generally take as many as twelve months. Everyone knows this to be true, so partners treat their female associates differently than their male associates - when we make career choices, it is assumed that we are making them for certain reasons, and when partners invest time in us, they wonder about when long interruptions to our working lives will happen (and sometimes their wondering manifests as commentary). They don't have to wonder the same things about male associates because it's unheard of for male associates to take months of leave when they have a child. You also mentioned earlier that taking leave puts you behind your peers, and I think that's true - but shouldn't we be concerned that women are routinely being put behind their peers when men aren't?

As for how this impacts your personal situation, naturally it's up to you and your partner to determine what makes sense for you. But recognize that in an opposite-sex, two-lawyer partnership, there are many factors at play causing a female lawyer to take leave while a male lawyer continues to work. It may not be about "freedom" or the idea that it's "great to not work for a year". It may instead be about the very real fact that firms don't provide the same kind of top-up benefits to male parents, or it may be that the female partner would be ostracized for returning to work "early" because that's so unusual in our circles, or it may be about her male partner's firm being shocked and unsupportive about the idea of him taking six months off for the arrival of his child. Understand that what you describe as "freedom" is seen by many female lawyers as a serious limit on their options. 

I recognize that I might be coming across as a hardline feminist or something here, reading sexism into a partner's comment and calling for a complete overhaul of the way we deal with parental leave in our profession, but I'm actually not someone who would usually be associated with those labels. A combination of recent events is making me think more seriously about the real barriers to being a successful non-male lawyer, and this is what I've come up with. I think the modern issues women face are mostly tied to child-related events and the natural conclusions that people draw based on what's "normal" right now. I also think it's possible to do things in a way that doesn't cause these issues. 

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10 hours ago, theycancallyouhoju said:

Don’t most associates end up in house? When someone leaves my firm the first question is always, “in house?” Boy or lady. 

Annecdotally all I can say is that “I don’t think they’re likely to stick it out for partnership” is something I’ve heard for both genders, and also something I think is realistically very true. It’s presumably why I’ll leave. 

I’m not sure what to do about the mat leave issue. I think I become a more useful lawyer every year because of experience, and if I took a year off I would be more than a year behind in capabilities compared to my peers. How do you change that? If my partner and I have a kid and she wants her year off, am I supposed to also request a year off so that I’m not learning more than women colleagues? What if my partner prefers me working and earning?

Aren't you in NYC? It's my understanding that things are different in your market. The burn-out rate in big law is substantially higher than in Canadian markets, and people tend to lateral to an in-house position more frequently.

Further, the partnership to associate ratio in US big law is much more lop-sided than in Canada such that if someone around my firm were to say “I don’t think they’re likely to stick it out for partnership”, you'd be hard pressed to find someone that wouldn't take offence.

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1 hour ago, setto said:

Aren't you in NYC? It's my understanding that things are different in your market. The burn-out rate in big law is substantially higher than in Canadian markets, and people tend to lateral to an in-house position more frequently.

Further, the partnership to associate ratio in US big law is much more lop-sided than in Canada such that if someone around my firm were to say “I don’t think they’re likely to stick it out for partnership”, you'd be hard pressed to find someone that wouldn't take offence.

People tend to lateral out of big law firms at high rates regardless of whether you're in Canada or the U.S. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a mid-level or senior associate on Bay Street where a majority of their year is still at a Bay Street firm. Most of my year has already lateraled out, and if I recall correctly, none of them are still with a Bay Street firm. That's just the nature of practice.

Plenty of people don't want to stick it out for partnership and I think quite the opposite of what you're saying - most people wouldn't take offence, because most people don't want to. Most of my colleagues constantly joke about looking for their exit or when they're going to leave. Most don't think about partnership realistically. Partly that's because making partner is a black box, but it's partly because they genuinely do not think they will stick it out for partnership.

It also depends on the firm. There's one firm in the market where if someone lateraled out of it to another Bay Street firm, I'd chalk it up to the fact that the first firm is a hellhole of misery. If someone lateraled out of a different shop, I'd possibly have a different view.

I can't speak to the situation KOMODO experienced since I wasn't there so I'll take it as given that it was based on gender. But largely speaking, partners are often more aware of where an associate stands, the type of work they do and their profile within the firm and future prospects than fellow associates are.

Edited by Rashabon
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It was pointed out to me quite some time ago that people who experience discrimination recognize patterns, and people who don’t share that experience have more trouble doing so.

So picking apart the one scenario offered is one way to discuss this topic, and it’s a valid approach. But I think the larger context is much more meaningful and I hope we collectively choose to engage with it instead.

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In my experience, it isn't as uncommon as the OP's experience has been for men to take parental leave, and yes, it's parental leave, not maternity leave. Most of my experience has been in Ottawa but I also have male friends at large firms in Toronto who have taken it. In my own experience, my husband and I have shared it, and we also had an 8 week overlap where we were both off together, with accumulated vacation time. Both of our firms 'topped up' our EI for the entire time, and to the same extent, and each would have for 12 months, not four. Several of our friends have taken a similar approach, and honestly, I don't know any of our male friends who have taken fewer than 3 months off.

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Just one anecdote on parental leave...

When I was with a prosecutor with PPSC I took 3 months parental leave when my oldest child was born.  Nobody blinked an eye at this, because the last two new dads took the full 12 months.  The Feds of course have a parental leave top up program.

When I was with Alberta I had my other child.  Alberta does not offer a top up, so taking any extended leave was not economical for our family.  While most women do still take a full year off when they have a child, I haven't known any men who have done so.

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12 hours ago, KOMODO said:

I wonder what society would look like if, for example, every new parent was entitled to six months leave instead of one parent being entitled to twelve months. Would women and men be seen (and treated) more equally, because it would be assumed that most associates (not just female associates) would require a leave from work?

We already know what this looks like, because we have Nordic countries with this regime. If memory serves me right, we see a large increase in number of men taking parental leave, but they still choose to take less time off than women. 

We also see a ton of resentment, from men and women, if the government forces men to take time off when they don't want to / take away time off for the woman in favour of the man. 

ETA: I actually wish the government would require the man to take some time off. My partner and I recently discussed kids (in the far, far away future), and she would want me to take a fair amount of time off. Since I assume I'll be having kids as an associate, it would actually be nice to have the cover of legislation to take time off from my firm. Not that I have any idea what my firm's parental leave policy is or how taking time off as a man would be treated (or even what firm I will be at in the far, far away future). 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois
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Why not provide enough time off for both sexes? Obviously this is is laced with value judgements, but say there's a general consensus that women can reasonably expect to take a year off work. Allow them to if they want up to that limit

Then determine that same appropriate expectation of time off for men. Allow them to up to that time. 

EI benefits should be the same for each sex during that "appropriate time" as assigned so there's no dis-incentive in taking time off.

To counter the issue of career progression/stifling because of pregnancy, impose a minimum time off for dad, that is lower than that "reasonable time off" limit prescribed above? And any time off that dad doesn't take, he's not allowed to transfer to the mom. The reasonable expectation should be set to a limit which doesn't have moms wanting dad to transfer their time in the first place.

 

 

I'm sure I'm missing issues and haven't taken labour law/am not well conversed in this area. But what problems are there with the above?

 

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