Just Like Global Firms: Unintended Gender Parity and Speculative Isomorphism in India's Elite Professions


Against most male-dominated accounts of professional work, elite law firms in India pose a puzzling exception: women make up about half of these firms, even at senior levels of partnership. Using in-depth interviews with over 130 professionals in India’s elite litigation, transactional law and consulting firms, this research suggests that elite law firms—as new, local organizations—aggressively differentiate themselves from their more traditional peers to establish organizational legitimacy. At the same time, as institutions trying to mimic global firms without actual scripts for doing so, these firms engage in a form of “speculative isomorphism” through which they signal meritocracy and modernity to their global audience. Because equal gender representation is one such mechanism, the result is environments where certain kinds of women are uniquely advantaged.

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