Several recent gender discrimination class action lawsuits illustrate that women in law firms face a number of additional hurdles not encountered by their male colleagues. While women have made up more than 40% of law school students for more than three decades, the number of women diminishes at every level of advancement. In last month’s Glass Ceiling Report, Law 360 reported that women still comprise less than 20% of equity partners at law firms. Furthermore, female law firm partners position are paid substantially less: 44 percent less according to a partner compensation report released last year.
It is disappointing that true gender equity is still so far away, particularly within a profession responsible for upholding the rule of law. However, several recent initiatives indicate that the profession as a whole is engaged in a conversation about improving gender diversity. Various legal groups are focusing on increasing transparency, mandating that leadership ranks include a specific percentage of women, and engaging men in women’s issues.
It is also important for women themselves to question how discrimination and bias could be affecting their opportunities for advancement and compensation. Most firms are not transparent about how personnel decisions are made, and many women are being deprived of hard-earned compensation without their knowledge. Female lawyers should learn what they can about who makes pay and promotion decisions and the criteria used. Women are then in the best position to advocate for themselves and ensure they are getting the proper credit for their work. In general, law firms credit and reward the revenue a lawyer generates – through business generation and, to a lesser extent, through billable hours. Women often reach out to me only when they have a specific reason to question how their efforts are being credited and rewarded – and whether their male colleagues are receiving greater credit for doing a lot less. Through the course of the representation, however, these women often learn that they have been earning less for years.
Law firm advancement and compensation can be complex, and it is important for lawyers to understand how such decisions are made so they know what they need to do to succeed and how best to advocate for themselves. To help you think through questions about your advancement and compensation, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. Sanford Heisler Sharp has experienced employment attorneys in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, and Tennessee.