A recent study commissioned by a Wall Street law firm found convincing evidence that the firm assigned higher evaluation points to male associates for the same attributes and qualities as the females possessed. The firm must have had an inkling that men were getting an undeserved edge over the women, otherwise it would not have hired the consultant. It was right: women who performed just as well as men, according to the open-ended narratives accompanying the evaluations, somehow earned a lower ranking than their male peers.
Acknowledging that the differential was narrow, the authors point out the high-stakes consequence: “the firm’s reliance on this number for partnership consideration makes it nearly three times more likely that men than women will be promoted to partner.”
Despite the finding, the law firm chose not to revamp its system, institute training, or take any creative steps to erase the ingrained bias. The firm apparently gave lip service to the idea of improving its record of promoting women, but “we’d rather not change anything.”
Although the identity of the firm is a secret under the consultant’s agreement, I never underestimate the power of the grapevine; its identity may yet leak out, which could yield an interesting situation for the scores of women held back by the firm in spite of its realization that its evaluations were biased.