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Four Ways to Close the Gender Pay Gap

Rebekah Mintzer

August 16, 2013

Climbing_by_KhannanovaMargarita_shutterstockThe pay gap between male and female partners at U.S. firms is well documented. A 2012 study of partner pay at large firms conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa  and ALM Legal Intelligence indicated that this gap is widening (click here for or report).

To combat the problem, the American Bar Association's Presidential Task Force on Gender Equity, along with its Commission on Women in the Profession, have released a report titled Closing the Gap: A Road Map for Achieving Gender Pay Equity in Law Firm Partner Compensation.

"What's very important about the road map is that it's really directed at the law firm managing partners," says Bobbi Liebenberg, chair of the task force.

Here are a few ways that the report suggests firm leaders can help eliminate the disparity.

1. Be Transparent. Firms should make all factors and formulas involved in the compensation process available in writing. When women understand each element of compensation decisions, they can more easily determine whether they are being shortchanged, either by gender bias or by informal workplace networks. 

"If you don't know how your compensation works, you may not even know you're disadvantaged," Liebenberg says.

2. Jump on the metrics bandwagon. These days, quantitative analysis is "in," and firms should crunch their numbers too. "You won't know unless you measure it," Liebenberg says. Firms should continually measure the compensation of men and women at every level of the firm and keep track of other statistics, like the number of women included on pitch teams and selected for high-profile matters. 

3. Create a succession plan. Without clear-cut legacy plans, retiring male lawyers tend to pass business along to other men in their firm, even if a female lawyer might be a better fit for the client. Infighting over credit allocation that can result from an ambiguous succession plan can lead to bullying of female attorneys by more senior male colleagues. Firms should also create oversight committees to guarantee that women are included in legacy plans.

4. Diversify your compensation committee. It's not enough to have a handful of token female partners on the firm's compensation committee—there should be a critical mass. Nominating committees can achieve this by presenting a more diverse slate of candidates for the committee, or firms can create at-large seats in these groups for women.


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Thank you for putting the burden on the structure rather than solely on the women. I understand what Vickie is saying, but if we accept all of the responsibility for change without simultaneously demanding changes in the structure I think we are making a mistake.

This would be great if the AmLaw genuinely desired to "cut women in" to the economic power game they've played so well all these years. THEY will not close the gap for us nor will they upset their own crony apple-cart to even the playing field, share power, make law careers in the AmLaw more "fair" or anything else that has the potential to reduce their power. When was the last time anyone, anywhere at anytime gave economic power away to insure fairness in the workplace? It is time for AmLaw women to use the power they have to block vote with their women partners to assure at least one woman nationwide is made partner next year, to refer within their own powerful women's networks, to use their own funds if the firm won't fund training that will trump women's own internal gender tendency not to ask for their true market value, and demand - not ask for nicely - objective metrics. Oh yes, and the THREATEN. My friend Kate McGuinness wrote a piece at The Guardian this week recalling how a "men's club" asked her to put a gingham wrap-around skirt over her stylish pant-suit in the late 80s before they'd let her in. I too recall those days when we were still playing by the rules in place that did not favor our autonomy let alone our retention and promotion. I hit my forehead in recollection and said "why did we put up with that shit? Why didn't we just say 'step aside, sonny, I have an appointment with a client in there'" and then let the chips fall. What were they going to do? Call the police? 'Arrest this woman, officer, she's not wearing a skirt!" Let's please STOP ASKING for what is rightfully ours. Let's simply take it.

Point 1. is exactly the Lily Ledbetter issue. Once we do know what we don't know, something needs to be done. When doors are open, and light let in, unfairly treated women can walk through. It will still be some struggle, but people are frequently embarrassed to show their "me-mine" in public.

The difficult hidden issue is that because there is only so much money to go around, unfairly overcompensated lawyers will need to have their pay reduced.

Thank you for how succinct you made this piece.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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