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Why Women Are Still Leaving Tax, and What to Do About It

Posted on Sep. 25, 2019

Although women have outnumbered men in law school enrollments for several years, they are still dramatically underrepresented in many senior legal positions, including in tax practices, often making a fraction of their male counterparts’ pay.

Despite the wealth of attention and resources devoted to diversity initiatives, examining pay gaps, promoting flexible work policies, and other attempts to bridge the gender divide in recent years, women are still consistently outnumbered by men in the upper ranks of the legal profession. They report having to contend with gender and maternal biases, sexual harassment in the workplace, lower-quality work, fewer mentoring opportunities, and compensation inequities. 

Women in tax law have reported similar experiences, and their underrepresentation in a spectrum of tax professions is a global phenomenon. While top-tier tax law departments have a somewhat greater proportion of female legal professionals than the average for U.S. law firms, women still make up the vast minority of tax law partners. 

The Numbers 

In fall 2018 women made up 53 percent of total American Bar Association law school JD first-year class enrollment, as well as 51.4 percent of summer associates in U.S. law firms that year, according to data from the ABA and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). But just 35.4 percent of lawyers at U.S. law firms were women in 2018, with smaller percentages in smaller firms, according to NALP's "2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms." 

A 2018 report by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) and the NAWL Foundation said women made up just 20 percent of equity partners, up from 19 percent in 2017. Eleven years of data have revealed “a consistent and relatively undisturbed pattern showing the absence of women in the upper echelon of law firm and legal profession leadership,” the report said. 

“There is a stampede out of the profession — women have had it,” said Roberta Liebenberg, co-chair of the ABA initiative Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law (hereinafter referred to as the ABA women's initiative) in an August 2018 continuing legal education program. “We’ve put all this effort into getting women to go to law school — actually more than 50 percent of the law students are now women — and yet they’re not choosing to stay in the profession,” added then-ABA President Hilarie Bass

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, the ABA Section of Taxation, and NAWL all told Tax Notes that they couldn’t provide tax-specific statistics. “I don’t think that they exist,” said Parag Patel, chair of the Taxation Committee within the ABA’s Solo, Small Firm, and General Practice Division. 

“Really, all you have to do is look at any of the big New York firms and their tax departments and see how many male partners there are as compared to women partners, and you know there’s something going on,” said Kristan Rizzolo, a partner with Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP

Tax Notes’ own review of 45 law firms ranked by U.S. News and World Report as top New York law firms for tax — all of them tier 1 or tier 2 in tax law — revealed that women make up approximately 24 percent of the New York-based partners in tax practices at those firms. That’s better than NAWL's cross-practice group statistics — highly ranked firms tend to have progressive diversity initiatives and more marketing and recruiting resources — but it’s still much lower than the proportion of women among non-partner tax professionals in those offices, which is almost 40 percent. 

Most law firms at the top of the tax game in New York have international offices, and their firmwide ratios are similar: 38.5 percent of tax associates and other non-partner tax professionals are women, compared with just 23.6 percent of partners or shareholders. Tier 1 firms had higher proportions of women in partnership, both in New York and firmwide, with an 8 percentage point difference in the firmwide numbers. 

In a paper titled "Where Are All the Women in Tax?" published in the Australian Tax Review in May, professor Ann O’Connell of Melbourne Law School noted that enrollments in the JD tax law and policy course at the law school averaged 47.4 percent female between 2015 and 2018, and enrollments in postgraduate master's taxation subjects averaged 46.27 percent female during the same period. 

“When I’m teaching, both in a JD program and in a master's program, we seem to have equal numbers of women there, and really smart women, but they’re not staying on; there’s been this confluence of factors that push them out,” O’Connell said. “We’re losing an awful lot of talent.” She said that when she presented her paper in London in September 2018, she wasn’t sure if the lack of women reaching senior positions in tax was uniquely Australian. “I got the impression that it has been the case in other countries as well,”  she said. 

“We know that the profession is suffering a tremendous talent drain when almost half of law school graduates are women, yet most of them do not reach senior levels of the profession,” according to the ABA women's initiative. The lack of women in senior positions affects firm finances, relationships with clients, recruiting, and retention, it said, adding that “ultimately, clients bear the brunt of the gender gap.” 

There is a lot of value in having women in leadership roles, and the research is showing it, said Jacqueline Matoza, director of international tax for Gilead Sciences Inc. For example, Suzanne Mestayer and Blair duQuesnay of the majority-women-owned Louisiana firm ThirtyNorth Investments LLC tracked the performance of S&P 500 companies for 10 years to determine the effects of female board presence on stock performance. They found that “companies with zero women on their boards underperformed those with one or more women and, to a greater extent, underperformed companies with more than 25 percent female board members,” according to a 2017 white paper they coauthored. 

“Greater diversity in boards and management are empirically associated with higher returns on equity, higher price/book valuations, and superior stock price performance,” according to a 2014 Credit Suisse Research Institute report. Acknowledging that it’s hard to separate the influence of women on company performance from the possibilities that women gravitate toward successful companies or that successful companies hire more women, the analysis argued that women in management positions are “more of an influence on corporate performance than simply women in the boardroom.” 

Why Do Women Leave?

The ABA women's initiative has undertaken a great deal of research on the exodus of women from law and even coined a hashtag: #WhyWomenLeave. Much of what women report disliking about the practice of law involves discrimination of some kind, including paternalism, sexual harassment, and credit allocation problems, it said. Focus group participants cited homemaker stereotypes, closed compensation, a “boys club” mentality, and disparate effects of ageism as reasons for the persistence of gender differences at law firms, according to the initiative.

Women have experienced pressure to act within a narrower range of behavior than men; more difficulty attaining the same recognition as male colleagues; receiving less pay as mothers; and bias in compensation, promotions, mentoring, work assignments, and other areas, according to a 2018 report by the Commission on Women in the Profession. 

“I’ve worked at several firms, and the more I see, the more I realize that there’s something systemic going on,” said a tax partner at a large law firm who spoke with Tax Notes on the condition of anonymity. She is hereinafter referred to as Jane Doe

Things have actually gotten somewhat worse over the years, and it may be partly because when people take steps to address bias or discrimination, they feel like they’ve genuinely addressed it, “but they haven’t,” Jane Doe said. The more a firm does under the guise of addressing the issue — the more they bring in diversity speakers and implement trainings — the more they are convinced they’re doing all the right things, “and in my experience, the worse it gets,” she said. 

The overt discrimination, like obvious sexual harassment, has largely been weeded out; that’s not the real problem, Jane Doe said. “The real problem is that a lot of the behaviors that go on are really subliminal.” 

For example, the ABA’s findings that women feel restricted to behave in a way that’s considered acceptable for their gender is "very much true today,” Jane Doe said. “People make assumptions about how women are going to behave, and if she does something viewed as negative, it’s like a hair trigger,” she said.

“There is a clear problem and we see it,” Rizzolo said. “Women who are aggressive are often viewed as being abrasive,” whereas women who aren’t aggressive are considered too passive, and so you get this "Catch-22,” she said. 

Monica Bhatia, who spent over 20 years in India’s Ministry of Finance and recently returned to government after serving as head of the secretariat of the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes since 2012, is not afraid to call out “manels” (all-male panels) and other oversights. She said she has made comments on panels that were later repeated by a male co-panelist and attributed to the man, adding that she speaks up in those situations. While organizers often say women don’t want to speak at events, “I think that’s absolutely not true,” Bhatia said. 

It is true that women are much less likely to be recognized for the same achievements as their male colleagues, and there is definitely a bias in compensation at law firms at the partner level, said Jane Doe. “This is a real career dollars-and-cents issue, not just something inappropriate someone said,” she added. 

A 2018 ABA report on women in law showed that in 2016, the weekly salary for male lawyers was $2,086; for female lawyers, it was $1,619. The average weekly difference has ranged from around $200 to over $550 since 2006. Women’s salaries as a percentage of men’s ranged from 70.5 percent to 89.7 percent in the same time period. 

The legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa LLC reported in its most recent biennial partner compensation survey, released in December 2018, that since the survey began in 2010, male partners have reported average compensation from 32 to 53 percent higher than that of female partners, although only 11 percent of male partners responding to that issue on the survey perceived any pay gap. Sixty-seven percent of female partners perceived a pay gap, according to the 2018 survey. 

“When compensation is controlled exclusively for gender and originations, female partners report lower average compensation nearly 80 percent of the time,” the report said. 

Jeffrey Lowe of Major, Lindsey & Africa told Tax Notes that among tax and ERISA partners, the average male partner compensation was 61 percent higher than the average female compensation, with men making over $1 million on average and female partners making $670,000. 

“I think the men who run law firms — and they’re pretty much all men — understand the difference between paying lip service to something and actually taking something seriously, and I think they take gender discrimination seriously. I just think that they still don’t get it,” Jane Doe said. It’s hard to fix the kind of discrimination inflicted on women in the legal profession because it’s based on deeply held sexual biases that can’t just be extracted from people's minds, she added. 

In her paper, O’Connell called it unconscious bias. “That was sort of being polite—I’d almost call it semiconscious bias,” she said. “Whether it’s unconscious or men just feel more comfortable with men, there’s still something there.” And that kind of bias can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, she added. 

O’Connell started a Women in Tax initiative in Melbourne and said she hears stories from other women about how they’ve been given less appealing work or been excluded from deal-closing celebrations. O’Connell said one senior accounting professional told her that she has two female associates and one male associate and that people tend to direct their questions to the man, even though he’s the weakest of the three.

Meritocracies, Quotas, and Lockstep 

Worldwide, careers in tax law are as varied as the policy environments in which they develop, and predictably, there are differences of opinion about how effective a particular environment is in terms of changing the paradigms that are leading to fewer women in top tax positions. 

Jane Doe said tax may be more gender-blind than other practice areas in law firms. “My impression is that actually women are doing better in tax, and I think that may be linked to the fact that tax is much more a meritocracy than other departments,” she said. “You have to be really, really good at this, and I think there are women who use sexism as a way to avoid acknowledgment that they’re not cut out for it.” 

“Yeah, but how do you get good at it?” Rizzolo asked after hearing of Jane Doe's remarks. “If the work is going to the guys and they’re the ones who are getting good at it because they get more practice . . . you can call it a meritocracy all you want, but it really starts when [women are] young lawyers. Too often, what you see is young women who are not getting the quality work for whatever reason — because the male partners don’t relate to women,” for example, she said. 

There is clearly an imbalance in the number of men and women at the partner level, and it can’t be because fewer women are cut out for tax, Rizzolo said. There are as many smart women who can do tax as there are smart men who can do tax, if they have the appropriate training and support, she said. 

It’s also harder for women to get business, said Phyllis Epstein of Epstein, Shapiro & Epstein PC. “Most businesses these days are owned by men and the networking is with men, and sometimes they think that the person giving them advice across the desk should not look like a young woman,” she said. Once female attorneys convince clients or potential clients of the value they add, that perception bias is less of an issue, she said. “It’s initially getting someone to take you seriously, and to allow you to do something on their behalf.” 

In 2016 Germany introduced a gender quota requiring that 30 percent of supervisory board seats of public corporations be filled by women. That law passed at a time when fewer than 20 percent of corporate board seats in Germany were filled by women, according to a 2015 article in The New York Times. Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, and Spain have also instituted board gender quotas. But those quotas have drawn criticism and political resistance. 

Norway’s quota law requiring that women make up 40 percent of public limited liability company board members passed in December 2003, and its announcement corresponded to a fall in share prices, although the quota didn’t become mandatory immediately, according to the 2014 Credit Suisse report. In 2014 Marianne Bertrand et al. published research findings on the law and said it "had very little discernible impact on women in business beyond its direct effect on the newly appointed female board members.” 

In companies affected by Germany’s quota, “the proportion of women in the boardroom has risen from 25 percent to 31 percent in the past three years,” according to a September 2018 article in Handelsblatt. But the Credit Suisse report said countries with enforceable board quotas have some of the largest gaps between female representation on boards and in top management. 

The quota results in the hiring of “mediocre women,” Johanna Hey, a professor of tax law and director of the Institute of Tax Law at Cologne University, told Tax Notes. “I’m really not fond of the quota because in my view, it’s not really changing things,” she said. 

On the other end of the spectrum are structures like that of the Indian Revenue Service, where Bhatia said women are reasonably represented. Everyone who joins at the same time is promoted at the same time, Bhatia said. There is no jumping the queue, even if you’re outstanding, which is good and bad, she said, adding, “Everybody’s treated the same unless you’re really bad and you’re kicked out of line.” The drawback is a lack of incentive to excel, but the advantage is that women can progress with fewer concerns that their career goals will be derailed by bias or a stolen promotion, she said. “As a woman, I’ve found that that has given me more confidence.” 

The structure holds up even for mothers, and some fathers, taking extended leaves of absence. India has a parental leave that female employees of the central government get for up to two years to take care of children up to the age of 18. The leave, also available to single men with minor children, doesn’t affect their seniority and is paid at 100 percent of their salary for the first year and 80 percent for the second year. “That’s a huge advantage,” Bhatia said. 

Mommy Track 

Finding a firm with diversity initiatives and parental leave is just the beginning. New mothers report having a hard time returning to the projects of former clients and fighting expectations that they'll have less flexibility than other attorneys. 

The ABA report said that “women of all races reported that they were treated worse after they had children,” meaning they received lower-quality work and less pay and were “unfairly disadvantaged for working part-time or with a flexible schedule.” Forty-two percent of white men and 47 percent of men of color reported that they thought taking parental leave would hurt their careers, according to the ABA report. Fifty-seven percent of white women and 50 percent of women of color agreed. 

Employers often assume a woman who goes on maternity leave isn’t coming back, said Jane Doe. “That is true many times, but so what?” she asked. “Maybe firms feel like they’re investing a lot, but most associates leave.” 

And most departing associates leave early in their tenure, according to the NALP Foundation’s "2019 Update on Associate Attrition (Calendar Year 2018)." Seventy-five percent of associates leaving their jobs in 2018 left within the first five years at their firm, according to the study, which examined the responses of 120 law firms in the United States and Canada. Men who left had less tenure than women, it said. 

The time when a tax academic is seeking an appointment as a full professor or when an associate decides to try to make partner at a firm often coincides with when many women want to start having children, Hey said. “Familywise, I would say if you are quick enough, an academic career in tax is easy,” she said. 

Hey said she sometimes had babies lying on her desk while she was working and sometimes had two full-time nannies. Spending time with her children meant starting work at 4 a.m. and working into the evening. The ability to work those flexible hours and not have to be in an office at a specific time is a privilege of working in academia, she said. 

“I sometimes have a feeling that women — especially if they are married, if they have children — they are just not so willing to go through all the stress,” Hey said. In Germany, husbands generally have higher-end careers than their wives — “it’s almost like a law,” Hey said. You might have a man who is a director of a clinic or partner at a law firm who is married to a female secretary, and “that works, but never the other way around,” she said. It’s also deeply ingrained in the German culture that “mothers who don’t take care of their children themselves are bad — really bad,” she said.

Caroline Ciraolo of Kostelanetz & Fink LLP and former head of the Justice Department Tax Division, told Tax Notes that she spends a lot of time at the office and doesn’t have many hobbies. She would like to spend more time with her children, she said, "but what parent doesn’t? This is a choice I made, and I don’t think my kids are the worse off for it.” 

But for some women, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice, O’Connell said. In private law practice at least, “I think the structures that are in place make it so that you can’t stay,” she said. The choice between working 60 hours a week and not working can feel very binary, she said. 

Employers can accommodate remote workers and fewer hours—“we’ve just got to accept that they’re viable choices,” O’Connell said. It would be nice if the system allowed women to spend some real time with their children but also retain their skills and contribute to the debates that are taking place, she said. “As long as the system is run by gray-haired old men, we’re not going to have recognition of things like child care expenses” as a cost of earning income, she said. 

“Why aren’t women making it to partner? I think they’re just getting disillusioned with the rat race,” O’Connell said. “It’s not the work that’s too hard, it’s the expectation that’s too hard. It’s gotten to the stage where I think we’ve got to question whether the system is good for men or women.”

Flex Schedules and Face Time 

Things are improving, according to Ciraolo. Many women are having children and staying in the practice, she said. They take maternity leave, they work from home — “in this day and age you can work from anywhere. . . . It’s so much better now than it was 20 years ago,” she said. 

Rizzolo agreed that the old-school paradigm of firms requiring face time is changing. “That’s actually the thing that has changed most dramatically, most quickly,” she said. There are some firms in New York where people are regularly at the office until 9 p.m., but "you're seeing less and less of that," she said. “This is a positive for the life of a lawyer. It’s not that they’re not doing the work; it’s just that they don’t have to be here to do it.” 

But while the availability of flex schedules and remote work is catching on among law firms, “repeated studies have found a dramatic difference between what is written on paper and what happens in reality,” the ABA report said. “The majority of lawyers answered that they believed even asking for flexible work arrangements could hurt their career,” it said. 

Flexible arrangements have become more established in the United Kingdom, said Rhiannon Kinghall Were of Macfarlanes LLP in London. Kinghall Were chairs Women in Tax U.K. and was one of the group’s founding members. She said she hears of some skepticism among women that being out of the office is OK, even if a firm ostensibly accepts working from home, "but I think that that’s changing.” 

But O’Connell said women who try the part-time or flex-time arrangements offered by firms sometimes fare poorly. “They’re treading water when they do that. They’re not going anywhere,” she said. Measures instituted in the last decade or two aren’t working, O’Connell said in her paper. Flex work policies haven’t translated to more women in senior positions; “in fact, working part-time would seem to have negative implications for career progression, remuneration, and retirement incomes,” she said. 

Diana Melnyk, a cross-border tax specialist with American Expat Tax Services, said that while a firm she worked for had formal, written policies for flex time and maternity leave, they didn’t always hold up in practice. “Everyone understood and accepted it until the end of the year, when performance reviews came up,” Melnyk said. If full-time workers were putting in a lot of overtime, flex-time workers were expected to as well, she said. 

Generally, people who were on flex schedules and tried their best to adhere to them got lower performance reviews because they weren’t putting in what was deemed an acceptable amount of overtime, Melnyk said. Even within a culture ostensibly accepting of flexible arrangements, there was still always a demand for more, she said. 

New hierarchies and positions are being created in larger firms to accommodate rising demands for balance, Epstein said. “On one hand, they’re saying, 'We’re doing you a favor by allowing you to work less hours'; on the other hand, they are doing a disservice to women by creating these positions that have no equity, no opportunity for equity, that are paid on an hourly basis,” and that may pay less than what an individual on a partner track would make for the same work, she said. 

Some women welcome these alternative positions — and they are disproportionately occupied by women — but the flip side is that women need to be aware of what they’re not getting and what they’re giving up, Epstein said. 

Ciraolo said she supports alternative work schedules but is not a fan of paying someone who needs to leave the office at 4 p.m. 80 percent of full-time compensation just because they’re presumed to be working fewer hours. “They go home, they spend time with their families, they get the kids to bed, and then they’re online until 2 in the morning, working,” Ciraolo said. There’s no reason the firm should pay them less, she said. 

Ciraolo acknowledged that she has received some pushback from attorneys who want the option not to work until 2 a.m. “I always let people know that I support them with whatever choice they make, and I think if you’re at the right firm, you’ll find that,” she said. 

Hey said that in her view, it’s not really about being male or female, “it’s all about combining family and your profession.” While she said it may be easier to do that in academia than in other tax professions, she’s one of only two women at her level in tax law academia in Germany. 

“In a small firm you have more flexibility, but then again, I know very, very few small-firm tax practitioners that are female. It is male-dominated,” Patel said. Still, Patel said he considers tax to be able to offer more flexibility than other areas of law. “There’s fewer tax attorneys and it’s probable that they’re in higher demand, so because of that, there may be an opportunity for flexible work arrangements, as opposed to [mergers and acquisitions] or litigation,” he said. 

Epstein said she has more control in her small firm. “There aren’t that many tax emergencies,” she said. “The question is not necessarily balance. The question is 'What makes you happy and what is your idea of success?'”

The Pipeline

There is a strong perception in Germany that women are not interested in figures or math, Hey said. About 15 percent of tenured professors are female, with many gravitating toward fields like family or criminal law, she said. 

“The whole finance thing is not being seen as something that women are good at, but it doesn’t stop them starting out in that area,” O’Connell said. Something must be happening once they’re in the profession, she said. 

There were more men in tax courses than women by a very small margin in O’Connell’s data. At Melbourne Law School, enrollments in the JD tax law and policy course between 2015 and 2018 were 47.4 percent female and 52.6 percent male, the paper said. Enrollments in master's taxation subjects over the same period were 46.27 percent female and 53.73 percent male. 

The problem may start before law school, Patel said. Women gravitate less toward science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, and tax is effectively in those areas of law, he said. Whether that begins in LLM populations, with undergraduates, or even before is unclear, he said. There’s also a general distaste for the quantitative field among typical law students, who often come from liberal arts backgrounds, he added. 

But those are generalizations. Ciraolo finished college with a finance degree and said she was drawn toward tax in law school. She had high praise for the progress and support among women in the field of tax controversy over her career. “I really can’t imagine a young woman coming out of law school looking at tax or tax controversy and saying, 'It doesn’t seem like I would be welcome in that area.' I think it would be the exact opposite,” she said. 

Epstien said it’s a misconception that tax law is just a numbers field. “Maybe we don’t get the message out,” she said. Those who categorically reject tax as an area of law they might want to practice should understand that “tax has its footprint on everything, and not just where you can be employed, but how you can practice,” she said. Tax is a part of family law, estate practice, business, M&A, real estate — the list goes on, she said. 

There are more role models now on the Tax Court, Epstein pointed out. There used to be only one position on the court “that was essentially slotted for a woman — so when one would cycle off, another would cycle on, but you wouldn’t have two,” she said. “It was tokenism,” but the playing field had a lack of depth. Now there are not only more women on the court, but Mary Ann Cohen and Paige Marvel have served as chief judges, she noted.

More women are not only attending ABA tax section meetings, but also speaking and moderating panels, Epstein said. A concerted effort is underway to have diversity as a policy, but change is slow, she said, adding, “At this rate, maybe in another 100 years we’ll get to 50 percent.” 

Some of the steps firms are taking to increase the proportion of women in the profession might not be visible yet, Kinghall Were said. The path to partner in the United Kingdom is about 10 years, and firms often like to train their own attorneys rather than hire them laterally, she said. If firms have put gender equality on their radar only in the last few years, “I don’t think they have the pipeline yet,” she said. 

Will the Solution Be Client-Driven? 

Consumers can make big changes with their spending choices, which has led to more humane, ecological, and healthful products and practices in the global marketplace. According to some sources, consumers of legal advice are making similar strides when it comes to diversity. 

“Clients are standing up and letting us know that they want diversity in their firm,” they want to see themselves in the firm that’s going to represent them, Ciraolo said. “It is critical for clients that you show them that you value what they value,” she said. 

Rizzolo said it’s become more common for clients to ask about diversity on teams assigned to them — and not just about who’s on the pitch team, but who’s actually doing the work. “Our diversity and inclusion director often ends up buried in surveys from clients,” she said. “When the clients start asking for it, that’s when it really gets done.” 

But client demands can also work in the other direction, Melnyk said. One of her firm's clients “just didn’t feel comfortable dealing with women” for cultural reasons, she said, adding that she was left out of meetings and phone calls with the client. She said she didn’t complain, explaining that she thought the firm handled it respectfully. “It wasn’t like I was fired because I was a woman,” she said. 

Melnyk said she also once received a last-minute invitation to a meeting with clients who weren’t hers. Her firm hadn’t staffed any women on the client’s team and thought the meeting would be awkward without any, because the client’s decision-maker was a woman. It was purely for show; she would not be a service provider to the client, she said. Asked if she billed her time for the meeting, she said she didn’t recall but that she probably hadn’t. 

“Unfortunately, I think the one thing that needs to change is people's inner wiring,” said Jane Doe. Many of the "microaggressions" or exclusions against women aren’t happening consciously, and they happen at cocktail parties as well as law firms, she said. “People hopefully will be socialized differently over time, and those little microaggressions will start to disappear,” she said. 

Rizzolo’s firm has set the goal of having women make up 30 percent of its equity partners by 2021. As of October 2018, the number was around 20.35 percent, she said. Adding non-equity partners brought it up to 23.12 percent. 

But firms aiming for lower than a 50 percent female partnership are “admitting that there’s some reason why they’re not going to be there,” O’Connell said. “It should be a whole lot better than that.” 

“We seem to have just abandoned any notion of having a balance, and I think that’s a really big factor,” O’Connell said. “I think the model’s got to change before we get people seriously committing to a career in tax that doesn’t eat up their whole lives." 

What does that look like? To start, it would involve far more flexibility and recognition of child care costs as a legitimate cost to earning income, O'Connell said, adding that “for many women, it’s the biggest expense that they’ll have.” Child care is not recognized as a legitimate cost of working for tax purposes in several developed nations, she said, adding, “I think there’s another battle to be won there.” 

“I do believe it’s going to change. I actually do have great faith that enough attention is being paid to this that people are going to change it,” Rizzolo said. “Awareness is important — awareness of who is getting the work, why they’re getting the work, and how things are distributed.” Practice group leaders, partners, managing partners, and executive board members need to look at their third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates and ask what they can do to ensure that those young women are being treated the same way as the men in those classes, she said. 

“For women to advance in the field, they need mentors, they need professional relationships that help build practices, and they need opportunities,” Epstein said. Seeing women in more senior positions and as tax court judges is a signal that this isn’t just a man’s field, but because there are still so few female tax lawyers, “we do have to look to men to be our mentors,” she said.

“Female lawyers don’t always need exclusively female mentors. . . . It’s important to have mentors and sponsors from all genders,” Ciraolo agreed. 

“The rest of us need to pay it forward to other women who are striving to do this field,” Epstein said. It’s also important to engage men on the issue, Kinghall Were added. “We can’t just have a conversation ourselves.”

Correction, September 25, 2019: Due to an editing error, this article originally stated that Monica Bhatia heads the secretariat of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes. It has been corrected to state that she recently returned to service in the Indian government.

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