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Are the Brits More Advance on Gender?

Vivia Chen

May 6, 2019

The-britannia-bar-3Very little is cool about Britannia these days. Brexit is an unmitigated disaster, Meghan and Kate are bickering, and 97-year-old Prince Philip had his car keys taken away (he mowed down an innocent commoner earlier this year).

Moribund and dysfunctional as it might be, Britain is also strangely progressive—arguably way ahead of us Yanks—when it comes to tackling the gender pay gap. Last year, the U.K. implemented legislation that requires businesses with 250 or more employees to report the wage and bonus pay gaps between men and women.

That’s radical stuff. As someone who covers the gender front, I can tell you it’s impossible to pry that kind of information from law firms. And if I ask nicely, most firms would voice indignation, as if I’ve crossed a sacred line.

Firms won’t volunteer their own gender pay gap details, which is why I think strong-arming is in order. How else are we to cut through all the hype that firms throw at us about how wonderful they are to women—the endless parental leave, the posh lactation rooms, the expensive coaching sessions—and get to what really matters: the pay differential between men and women.

Of course, the U.K. requirement hasn’t resulted in total transparency. One technicality is that the law only requires that “employee” pay be disclosed, rather than that of partners. When the law came into effect last year, The American Lawyer affiliate Legal Week reported that less than a third of the U.K.’s top 50 firms provided information about partner pay. And some firms that have disclosed partner pay are being less than forthright, lumping partner pay in with that of administrators.

That said, there’s pressure on firms to disclose the gender pay gap for partners. In fact, some firms are trying to be shining examples by disclosing more than the law requires. Recently, Baker McKenzie not only disclosed the gender pay gap among its partners (the mean gender pay gap was 14 percent, while its median gap was 30 percent), but also the pay gap for its minority partners and employees (of the partners who disclosed their ethnicity, there was a 7 percent mean and no median ethnicity pay gap).

And Clifford Chance went a step further, disclosing its LGBTQ and disability pay gap, on top of its gender and ethnicity pay gap data.

Another interesting nugget: U.S. firms with U.K. offices, which are subject to the rule, are sometimes providing information about the gender pay gap among partners that they don’t disclose in this country. For instance, Legal Week reports that White & Case forked over information about its pay gap for both contract partners (3.7 percent in favor of men) and equity partners (34.9 percent in favor of men).

So should the U.S. adopt the U.K.’s law on the gender pay gap? (President Obama proposed a similar law in 2016, but it was ultimately killed by President Trump.)

Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of Diversity Lab, is skeptical. Though she admits “transparency is always better than black-box systems when it comes to identifying and closing pay gaps,” she says the impact is limited because “there are no consequences” for poor results. She adds, “What’s the catalyst for them to change—public scrutiny or shaming?”

Well, why not?

vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist.

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About The Careerist

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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