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Expand chart
Data: Afra Afsharipour, Women and M&A; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Consider the most prestigious role on the most prestigious deals at the most prestigious companies in the most prestigious profession. In other words: The job of lead counsel on big-ticket M&A transactions. That position is still overwhelmingly held by men, 30 years after women became roughly half of all law students.

Why it matters: The asymmetry is hardly confined to the legal profession. CEOs, boards of directors, M&A investment bankers — all are dominated by men. But a new study has now released quantitative data on just how male the senior lawyers involved are.

What they found: UC Davis law professor Afra Afsharipour examined the 100 biggest deals where U.S. companies were acquired for each year from 2014 to 2020. Overall, women served as lead partners on just 10.5% of those deals. That's about half the rate at which women make partner at law firms.

What they're saying: "These are all large 'bet the company' type transactions that are predominantly led by lawyers who have the most significant clout and power in a large law firm," writes Afsharipour.

Between the lines: In general, the representation of women in law firms decreases the further up the ranks you look. That doesn't stop when they become partner — the most senior partners are much more male-dominated than partners generally.

By the numbers: Davis Polk touts its “commitment to developing, retaining and promoting women,” and has won the Gold Standard award from the Women in Law Empowerment Forum eight times. For six successive years between 2014 and 2019, however, not a single woman from Davis Polk served as lead counsel on a major M&A deal.

  • At Wachtell, the top M&A law firm in the world, six women led 13 deals between 2014 and 2020 — an average of just 2.2 deals per woman over seven years. By contrast 40 men led 299 deals between them, or 7.5 deals per male partner.

The bottom line: As one American Lawyer article put it: “If having a strong female mentor in a position of authority, such as the lead on a deal and the owner of a client relationship, is paramount to facilitating other women into that position, you first need to have enough women in those prominent roles. There are not.”

Go deeper

Mar 19, 2021 - Sports

NCAA blames amenities at women's March Madness on "limited space"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An NCAA spokesperson acknowledged the stark differences in amenities offered to male and female basketball players at March Madness, such as weight rooms and meals, attributing the disparity to "limited space."

Driving the news: Female players and fans took to social media to expose the stark contrast between the facilities provided to them and the elaborate facilities provided to their male counterparts.

Why 401(k) rollovers are so annoying

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you happened to change jobs recently, you may have tried to transfer your retirement account from your former employer into an Individual Retirement Account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. If so, you probably encountered a bureaucratic gantlet — and you're not alone.

Why it matters: Kludgey processes around retirement account transfers result in people losing track of their funds, giving up important tax advantages, or otherwise disadvantaging themselves and being less prepared for retirement.

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

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