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Elite Government Jobs, the Revolving Door, and the Gender Gap

posted by Mitu Gulati

We all know about the so-called revolving door where a few years of selfless government service translates into a high paying job in the private sector. The question my co authors, Steve Choi and Adam Pritchard, and I set out to ask was whether these goodies resulting from government service got allocated to men and women on a differential basis. 

A couple of days ago, we posted our preliminary results on this question in a paper titled "Should I Stay or Should I Go?".  We think they are intriguing, but would be delighted to get some feedback. 

As background, there is a large literature demonstrating the existence of a significant gender gap in the elite private sector for legal employment. We know a lot less though about (a) government employment and (b) lateral movements from the government sector into the private sector.

Consistent with the small body of literature on the gender gap in government employment, we find relatively small gaps in pay and promotion in the sector that we study -- the Enforcement Division of the SEC. But that is not the case in terms of assignments (especially the kinds of assignments that we imagine get someone noticed by folks in the private sector).  And that differential in high quality and high profile assignments appears to translate (although we cannot as yet confidently ascribe causality) into lateral moves into the private sector.

This is the first of a series of papers we hope to be doing on this question (we are working on analyzing the results on race next).

Here is the abstract:

    The gender gap in gaining promotion to partnership in elite law firms is well known. Less is known about the role that gender plays in the market for laterals and particularly moves from the public sector into the private one. This article examines gender differences in lateral moves out of one elite public sector job setting, the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Using data on the career paths of enforcement attorneys from 2004 to 2016, we find the following: First, gender gaps in pay and promotion at the SEC appear to be minimal, if any. That said, there are significant differences in the types of assignments that male and female lawyers receive, with male lawyers receiving a disproportionate share of the higher profile and more complex cases. Second, male lawyers are much more likely than their female counterparts to move laterally; and when they do, they are more likely than the women to move to lucrative private sector jobs. Women are more likely to move to other government positions or to the non-profit sector.

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