Posted December 8th, 2014.
By Rob Starr, as appeared on Big4.com
Sanford Heisler LLP is a public interest class-action litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, and San Francisco. They’ve become involved in a class action gender discrimination case against KPMG with claims related to pay, promotion and pregnancy discrimination.
The action is in the 120 notice period now where approximately 9,000 women will have the option to opt-in to the Equal Pay Act claim and we contacted Katherine M. Kimpel, DC Managing Partner and Executive Board Member at Sanford Heisler LLP, to get her expert opinion on the challenges women face looking for careers in the Big4 firms.
“Women who work in the Big4 face challenges that are similar to those of professional women in a whole range of industries,” Kimpel told us recently. “They experience some of the most recognizable kinds of discrimination like sexual harassment or hostile work environments and they also can experience challenges where women’s contributions and performance are evaluated and rewarded differently than that of their male colleagues.”
She goes on to use the example of a woman proposing strategic suggestions in a meeting only to be ignored.
“Then when a male colleague voices that same idea or tack for moving forward, it’s not only recognized but celebrated.”
Another barrier holding women back occurs when their work is scrutinized in a different way. Kimpel references studies that she says show looking at things as objective as a piece of writing can be interpreted differently based on what the person reading the work knows about the author. She says this is true across both racial and gender lines and notes that senior executives in many organizations might focus on different aspects of the same work depending on whether they thought a man or woman wrote the piece. She explains:
“Reviewers who believe an article was written by Joe Smith might focus on the positives—his
ideas, forward thinking and the ways in which his analytical prowess showed through,” she says. “Whereas if reviewers believe that exact same piece is written by someone named Jane Smith, the reviewer might look at it and focus on typographical errors or formatting issues. They would be hypercritical of things they might have dismissed when they thought it was a man writing it.”
Kimpel points to these discrepancies playing out in the Big4 firms in “significant” ways.
“One of the things I’ve heard time and time again when talking with women who work in the Big4 is that when they’re trying to move up the ladder, they are expected to prove themselves far more before being promoted, whereas they see their male colleagues being promoted on an assumption that they’ll prove themselves after they’ve been promoted because they’ve done great work in the past.”
 See, e.g., http://www.shatteringtheceiling.com/index.html?item_id=75988.
Look for part two of our conversation Katherine M. Kimpel soon