Swethaa Ballakrishnen, Stanford University

Across the globe, elite professional work has been predominantly male-dominated and even committed organisational interventions have been unsuccessful in maintaining completely egalitarian workspaces. In this context, the case of elite law firms in India poses a puzzle. In the country’s most prestigious firms, women are about one half the population, even at senior levels of partnership. This is at odds both with scholarship on women in high status professions as well as the more particular research on India. Using in-depth interviews with 130 elite professionals across different organisational sites, this research adopts comparative frameworks to reveal the organisational mechanisms underlying this unlikely gender parity. Unlike Indian banking and consulting firms that are local offices of elite global conglomerates, elite Indian law firms struggle with issues of organisational legitimacy and feel the need to aggressively differentiate themselves from their more traditional peers. At the same time, as institutions trying to mimic global firms without actual scripts to do so, these firms engage in a form of speculative isomorphism that has unlikely advantages for its actors. These data suggest that equal gender representation is one such mechanism by which these new, elite firms signal meritocracy and modernity to their global audience.

Speaker bio

Swethaa Ballakrishnen is a doctorate candidate at the Sociology Department at Stanford University and an affiliate research fellow at the Program of the Legal Profession in Harvard Law School. Her research broadly investigates organisational innovation, stratification and global legal and regulatory influence in emerging markets. Particularly, she is interested in the ways in which the West and the assumptions of the West orient and organise individual outcomes, interactions and institutions in the developing world. At Stanford now, her doctoral research explores the construction of gender and the organisational mechanisms that promote (and inhibit) viable equal opportunity in global legal workspaces.

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Room 107 (Keynes House)
Trumpington St
Cambridge
CB2 1QA

Clock icon Date & time

Date: 19 March 2015
Start Time: 11:30
End Time: 13:00

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Open to: Members of the University of Cambridge

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Event location


Trumpington St
Cambridge
CB2 1QA

Event timings

Date: 19 March 2015
Start Time: 11:30
End Time: 13:00