You know that old adage—"What gets measured gets fixed"? Well, the National Association of Women Lawyers has been carefully tracking women's progress in the nation's 200 largest firms for seven years, and things aren't getting fixed.
Arguably, the pieces are more broken than ever. NAWL's 2012 report just rolled off the presses, and it's hard to put a positive spin on the results. Here's a quick summary of some of the findings:
- That cursed 15 percent figure again. Women make up barely 15 percent of equity partners, and just 26 percent of nonequity partners.
- There's no shortage of women in lower-status positions. Women represent 46 percent of associates, 35 percent of counsel, and 70 percent of staff attorneys.
- A big wage gap exists between women and men in median compensation. The worst gap is among equity partners, where women make about 89 percent of what men make.
- Women associates get smaller bonuses. Although nearly 50 percent of all associates are women, they receive only 40 percent of the bonuses.
- Women lag behind in business. "Women partners are credited with a smaller median book of business than men, even though their business development efforts may be substantial," reads the report.
- Compensation decisions are made in a black box. "The gap between the median compensation of male and female equity partners cannot be explained by differences in billable hours, total hours, or books of business."
- Women partners lack clout. Women hold only 20 percent of the positions on a firm's highest governance committee, and only 4 percent of firms have a firmwide female managing partner.
The "bad" news this year seems similar to what we heard last year—and the year before—except that the news may be worse in certain areas. One troubling trend is the increased number of women holding staff lawyer positions (80 percent of the responding firms now use them), which is now a whopping 70 percent —"the only category where women constitute a majority." (And we thought it was a bummer that women accounted for 55 percent of staff lawyer positions last year.)
What's new this year, says the report's author, Barbara Flom, is that NAWL took a closer look at the relationship between compensation and median hours worked (billed and otherwise). Though men's and women's total hours are largely comparable, Flom says it's "troubling" that women are consistently billing fewer annual hours than men. "The difference is only some 50 or 60 hours at most," she says. But what she fears is that partners will see that as "a lack of career commitment from women lawyers"—a theory that many are "predisposed" to believe, she says.
The report also highlights how hard it is to decipher how firms make decisions about compensation. "There aren't any useful correlations," says Flom. "It isn't purely based on
books of business, it's not purely based on hours . . . so what are firms
looking at?" Though Flom doesn't say it in so many words, she strongly suggests bias in the process: "Our concern is that if compensation formulas are opaque or
discretionary, women—or men—might not be getting a fair shake and
wouldn't even know it."
Is there any good news in the report? Well, let me do some scraping: In the nonequity partner ranks, women are now earning 98 percent of what their male peers earn (in 2006, women nonequity partners made only 84 percent). So at least there's parity among partners who lack power!
Moreover, the report notes that "although median equity partner compensation is down across the
board, women's compensation has declined less than men's." (Considering the wage gap between the sexes, I guess we should be thankful for small favors.)
But let's just call this latest report what it is: depressing.
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