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The Effect of Mentorship and Socialization on Female Attorneys

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Job occupations and professions in the United States have a deep history of embedded segregation. Until the 1970s, the term “segregation” suggested the separation of the races, but the concept itself has evolved to encompass more than just racial segregation but physical separation by sex. Sex segregation in the workplace is a fundamental process in social inequality whereby categorized men and women symbolize dominant and subordinate status and becomes the basis for differential social and economic treatment. Accordingly, sex-typed occupations have traditionally relegated women to stereotypical empathic and nurturing emotive work occupations such as K-12 teachers and nurses compared to men in prestigious doctor and attorney professions that have historically associated aggressiveness as permitted masculine behavior. How does cross-gender mentor relationships help female attorneys achieve partner-level status? Or do cultural mentorship relationships in law firms dissuade or retain female employees?

A study conducted by the New York Times, “Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms?” (O’Brien, 2006) analyzed women’s underrepresentation in the upper ranks of law firms argued that because women are among the top-ranked graduates from their respective law schools, supporting women’s careers trajectory to partner-level should be a top priority among law firms. Despite the increasing entry of women into legal professions since the 1970s (growing from 3% between 1951 and 1971 to 49% in 2004, and steady rise in female students attending law schools (52% males and 48% females in 2004, ABA, 2005) structural segregation in this profession dominated by men, women are still less likely to achieve partner status than their male counterparts. Various research studies, particularly “The Benefits of Mentoring for Female Lawyers,” have determined that women who aspire to be successful in male-dominated professions, such as law, benefit most through mentoring relationships from established senior leaders at firms.

Mentoring relationships prove to be especially important for female professionals’ careers because they tend to face greater organizational, interpersonal, and individual obstacles to advancement than their male counterparts. Mentors offer rich advice on the company dynamics like its unwritten rules and internal politics, emotional-stress coping strategies, career advising, and help adapting to fast-paced environments without needing to go through the grueling process of learning through trial and error. Some mentors are also instrumental in advocating on behalf of their protégés for pay raises and promotions, while others may bring the accomplishments of the protégés to the attention of the management team that can lead to rewards. This mentor sponsorship benefits the protégés while alienating associates without mentors, and begets the question of “procedural justice” – “is this fair to associates without mentors?” Procedural justice, according to Scandura (1997), refers to “employee perceptions of fairness of the application of rules in decisions regarding resource allocation,” meaning those without mentors view this practice as unfair because those selected as protégés receive preferential treatment and are fast-tracked to partner status. Meanwhile, protégés view this procedure as fair because they believe they were selected based on their merit, not nepotism – yet foregoing the possibility that homophily may had something to do with their selection (in some cases).

Consequently, like other professions such as investment banking and business management, law is not only male-dominated but also male gender-typed where men hold most senior positions. Success in these fields is often attributable to being able to thrive in highly competitive, strenuous, and independent cultures that require characteristics stereotypically associated with aggressive behavior (Fagenson, 1990; Sander, 2006). In these workplace cultures, seizing or being allowed to demonstrate one’s ability to prove themselves while on the job is part of the course that positions associates on the partnership track, and what matters is not the association with just any mentor but with a mentor who is already part of the leadership team, a senior male in most cases. This occasion does not come easy for female lawyers seeking to establish mentoring relationships with senior male lawyers who have their hands on the lever of power. The general nature of cross-gender mentoring relationships is problematic because senior male lawyers may be less willing to mentor female lawyers due to anxiety over muddles of romantic involvement and tension, or even accusations of sexual harassment (Ragins & Sundstrom, 1989), thus limiting the women’s access to informal mentoring relationships. Therefore, this setting poses an advantage for male associates who benefit from cultural homophily in the workplace, including attending business development opportunities in male gendered-typed environments –– from golf courses to sports games, or through an invitation for an after-work drink with a male boss. Finally, homophily effects and stereotyping may interfere with the establishment of cross-gender mentoring pairs. Senior male mentors may be more comfortable mentoring individuals whom they believe share their values and perspectives. Such common ground makes social encounters with one another more mutually gratifying, which in turn leads us to feeling more inclined to engage in future sociable interactions with each other. These repeat encounters often eventually develop into friendships and other long-term relationships.

Emotional outcomes. Psychosocial functions are somewhat different from career development functions and their outcomes are demonstrated by protégés emotional responses to their workplace or occupation. Four emotional outcomes are examined in this study: career satisfaction, intent to stay a member of the profession, met expectations, and work–nonwork conflict. The literature on protégés’ emotional outcomes largely focuses on the impact of having been mentored on feelings of job satisfaction and organizational commitment or intent to stay a member of the employing firm, where protégés report higher levels than non-protégés. These positive emotional outcomes result from the high degree of interplay between the two primary functions performed by mentors. Protégés feel a sense of success in performing their daily work tasks and they also feel more satisfied about the job as they are continually learning and advancing to accomplish objectives with a higher level of competence than those who are not mentored. As well, employees who are more satisfied with their job tend to be more committed to their work. Mentors are also important in socializing the individual, not only into being a member of the employing firm, but also a member of the profession. Having a mentor has also been shown to reduce some potentially negative aspects of work for protégés (Kram & Hall, 1989). For example, protégés report lower levels of work-related stress in terms of role ambiguity, role conflict, and role stress because mentors provide clarity and definition to the job tasks. By delineating the boundaries of the protégés work responsibilities, the mentor also engages in role clarification that may help protégés perform their work efficiently. Mentors often offer strategies for dealing with excessive and potentially conflicting demands of the job and may offer suggestions for ways of coping with work-related stress and balancing work and family demands. McManus and Russell (1997) suggest that there are notable similarities between social support coping responses identified in the stress literature and both psychosocial and career functions identified with mentoring activities. Given the excessive and demanding nature of practicing law that often leads to work spillover into lawyers’ nonwork lives, protégés’ effectiveness in coping with work-related stress is examined in terms of the extent to which having a mentor is related to lower levels of work–nonwork conflict. Work–nonwork conflict is defined as the degree to which the time pressures associated with work invades the time associated with nonwork roles. The literature suggests that female professionals experience greater work–family conflict than men be- cause of the primacy that they attach to being successful both in their career and wife/mother roles. Mentoring may help women develop realistic career plans and aspirations that are compatible with raising a family as well as forewarn protégés’ of the potential for work–family conflict and suggest ways to cope with it. Thus, the better professional women can cope with balancing work and family demands, the more successful they should become in their career (Cox & Harquail, 1991).

Gender composition of the mentoring relationship. As indicated above, the legal profession is a male-dominated occupation in both Canada and the United States, where approximately three-quarters of practicing lawyers are male. This may have important implications for not only the likelihood of female lawyers being mentored but also the benefits they receive from the mentoring experience. The shortage of potential female mentors in male-dominated occupations, such as law, increases the likelihood of women having cross-gender relationships. Thus, it is essential to examine whether the mentor’s gender plays an important role in understanding the extent to which female proteges benefit from mentoring relationships in the male-dominated occupation of law. Kanter (1977) suggests that minority protégés, such as women in male-dominated organizations or occupations, likely need more career development to compensate for the structural barriers they may face compared to majority protégés, such as men in male-dominated organizations and occupations. One reason professional women in male-dominated occupations may face a “glass ceiling” when it comes to career advancement is because of the lack of female mentors or role models in more senior positions (Javidan et al., 1995; Noe, 1988). Moreover, it is critical that the mentor has enough resources to provide the necessary career development functions and, in most cases,, women are less likely than men to have the necessary power associated with their position.

The influence of the gender composition of the mentoring relationship on protégés’ career and emotional outcomes appears to be complex where, for example, women may face certain “trade-offs” in having a female rather than a male mentor. That is, female mentors may be better role models, more empathetic, and more comfortable sponsoring a female protégés. Female mentors, however, may be less powerful than male mentors and therefore less able to promote their protégés career. In contrast, male mentors are more likely to be in a better position to confer legitimacy to their protégé and provide them with the necessary resources to be successful in their career (Ragins, 1989). Supporting this argument, Dreher and Cox (1996) found, for example, that protégés with white-male mentors were paid significantly more, whereas those with mentors from other race and gender categories were not paid significantly more, in comparison to non-protégés. Similarly, Ragins and Cotton (1999) report that female protégés who had a history of male mentors earned significantly more than female protégés who had a history of female mentors. Consequently, it is expected that female protégés careers will benefit more from having had a male mentor than a female mentor.

The theoretical arguments posed in the literature suggest that same-gender mentoring relationships should provide more psychosocial and role modeling functions than cross-gender mentoring relationships. In same-gender relationships, mentors and protégés are expected to identify more closely with one another, and they are more likely to share more similar social identities because of their memberships in similar social groups. Identification is central to effective role modeling and psychosocial support in develop- mental relationships such as mentoring relationships. In cross-gender relationships, mentors may be less able to empathize and counsel their protégés and, more specifically, male mentors may be less able to fully appreciate the unique work-related stress and work–family conflicts faced by female professionals (Nelson & Quick, 1985). For example, Ragins and McFarlin (1990) found that female protégés with female mentors’ report that their mentors served more of a role modeling function than those with male mentors. Ragins and McFarlin suggest that the role modeling function may be very important for female protégés in learning how to cope with work–family conflict and gender barriers to advancement.

As a result, it is expected female mentors may be best suited to prepare their female protégés for the unique sources of stress that women face in the workplace, such as discrimination, social isolation, and coping with work–family conflict. A female mentor who provides socialization and role modeling regarding appropriate gender and work role behaviors may help her female protégés resolve the role incongruencies that professional women face. Thus, women protégés with female mentors may report more realistic career expectations that are more likely to be met, being better prepared for the potential conflict between work and home, and ultimately being more satisfied with and committed to their chosen vocation. As a result, having a mentor in a demanding profession translates into positive career outcomes. Women report significantly worse career experiences and outcomes than their male counterparts. As a group, they receive lower quality work assignments, are less satisfied with their experiences, and ultimately leave these firms at faster rates. Very few ever become partners. Indeed, segregation facilitates unequal treatment by subjecting groups to different reward systems. Professional socialization may perpetuate occupational sex segregation.

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The Effect Of Mentorship And Socialization On Female Attorneys. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-effect-of-mentorship-and-socialization-on-female-attorneys/
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