A couple of days ago, a survey came out showing that the wage gap between male and female partners is still very large. The National Law Journal put it this way:
It’s no secret that women earn less than their male colleagues at law firms. The National Association of Women Lawyers concluded last year that female equity partners make an average $66,000 less a year than male equivalents.
This news was met with a tremendous yawn.
Amazing. We’re living in a world where women who rise to the top of their profession still suffer a ridiculous income gap, and nobody seems to care very much. Even my ATL co-editor Kashmir Hill said: “Women get paid less than men. D’uh.” So much for righteous indignation. The suffragettes must be thrilled…
Newsweek reported on the study and noted that the kind of simplistic and sexist arguments usually offered to explain away the gender wage disparity are lacking:
The study, called “New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling?,” found that the oft-cited explanation for the gap — that family responsibilities mean women are less ambitious, more distracted, and less productive than men — is ultimately an inadequate excuse. The biggest contributing factors, according to the study’s authors, are not nearly as benign: they include stereotyping, gender bias, and even bullying and intimidation.
We know that many of the commenters on this very post will share “evidence” of women who don’t earn as much as men because they’re not as committed, not as good at generating business, and easily distracted by the pressures of motherhood. We know that some will say such things. We also know that those theories are full of crap:
The conventional wisdom, as Williams notes, is that women bring in fewer clients because their domestic responsibilities preclude them from being able to go golfing, have late dinners, and engage in other activities that cultivate those relationships. But the study found that female lawyers believe that they do just as much “rainmaking,” but then are denied legitimate claims to credit. “I was surprised at the fervor and surprised that that’s the way they felt,” Williams says. “It’s very clear that senior women lawyers are just incensed about their firms’ compensation systems.”
Much like the Agents in the Matrix, the white-male power structure is still guarding all the doors and holding all the keys. They can justify the income disparity, or they can try to fix it.
But it’s foolish to think that they will relinquish their economic advantage willingly. Women, and men of conscience, need to bitch and moan and agitate and force change upon a system that resists. Clients need to start punishing law firms who support gender inequality. New associates need to proactively avoid firms that are committed to maintaining the old boys network. And successful female partners need to branch out and start building their own firms so that in a generation Alpha & Ladies LLP can compete with the Cravaths and Skaddens of the world.
And we’re not going to get there with apathy and resignation. This study wasn’t focused on terrified female associates; it was focused on women partners who have the wealth and contacts to fight. A $66K income gap? In 2010? Where the hell are the pitchforks? Where are the torches? Jesus Christ, can we get a Howard Beale up in here?
Law Firms’ Compensation Systems Perpetuate Gender Gap, Study Finds [National Law Journal]
Even Female Law Partners Suffer Wage Disparities [Newsweek]