A woman’s worth


India’s women lawyers have made great strides in the profession, but outdated beliefs about their abilities, roles and behaviour must be dismantled, writes Parveen Mahtani

Indian law firms rarely seem to talk about career progression for women. Although women in the legal profession today no longer face the challenges that they encountered 25-30 years ago, they still grapple with several gender-based issues.

Parveen Mahtani, Tata Housing Development
Parveen Mahtani

Pre-conceived notions

Traditional sexual stereotyping poses several problems. While aggressive female lawyers are often judged as abrasive and cold, those who are less aggressive are termed weak and lacking in self-confidence. Female lawyers are also criticized for lacking physical attributes such as sufficient height, weight, and/or a deep voice, which are considered to convey experience and authority in the profession.

Both male peers and clients often make false assumptions about women lawyers. For example, many assume that a female lawyer may be too soft to manage an aggressive negotiation or a complex litigation.

Archaic thinking across law firms and companies has led many male lawyers to treat their female counterparts as “work wives”, reducing their role and contribution to legal work to organizing files, scheduling meetings, keeping a calendar and taking notes.

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PARVEEN MAHTANI is the head of legal at Tata Housing Development. The views expressed in this article are personal.