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Afsharipour on "Women and M&A"

posted by Mitu Gulati

I'm writing to second Melissa's wonderful post (below) on Afra Afsharipour's recent article.  My thanks to Melissa for pointing out this super piece.

There is a rich literature on the question of the gender gap in the legal profession, with wonderful work by scholars such as Elizabeth Gorman, Ronit Dinotvitzer, Fiona Kay, Joyce Sperling and others. One of the gaps in this literature that I've found over the years though is the lack of in-depth analyses of particular practice areas or individual firms.  Many of the analyses look at the gender gaps in the fractions of law students, junior associates and partners and stop there (I am guilty as charged on this). But, of course, we know (or at least suspect) that there is likely tremendous variation across fields. Understanding that variation might help us better understand what causes the gender gap and how to remedy it.

"Women and M&A", by Afra Afsharipour, a leading expert in the Mergers and Acquisition field, takes some steps towards showing us the benefits of a deep dive into a the study of the gender gaps in particular practice areas.  In Afra's case, the deep dive is into M&A deals, one of the most prestigious and remunerative practice areas in most elite law firms.  One of my favorite aspects of this article is how Afra handles the always difficult gender gap measurement problem. She comes up with an original measure of lawyer success (whether one gets designated as the "leader" on the deal for purposes of 8-K and other public filings) and then takes a cut at showing us the numbers.  Turns out that the gender gap at the top of the pyramid (if status and money count as being at the top) is a lot bigger than elsewhere.  Lots of food for thought.  The paper is available here, and I've reproduced the abstract below. (For those interested, Afra has a prior paper on this general topic as well, in the 2020 Wisconsin Law Review and she also did an appearance on the Business Scholarship podcast hosted by Andrew Jennings to talk about this topic).

The abstract, from ssrn.com, reads:

Corporations, law firms and investment banks all state that diversity matters. This Article shows that there is a chasm between discourse and action. For the most important decisions undertaken by companies—large merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions—a gender gap persists. This Article provides a holistic examination of the entire network of lead actors involved in M&A, revealing that women’s leadership opportunities continue to be vastly unequal. Using hand-collected data from 700 transactions, this Article reveals that thirty years after women began to account for almost half of all law students, gender parity in M&A leadership lags far behind. To illustrate, over a 7-year period, women make up on average 10.5% of lead legal advisors for buyers in M&A. Moreover, this Article documents the lack of transparency on leadership data for other players in M&A. This Article argues that understanding, documenting, and disclosing the gender gap in M&A leadership is critical for increasing accountability and for determining the solutions that may work to reduce such disparities.


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