Pay equity between men and women is a big issue, and there is a lot in the news these days leading us to believe that women lawyers are paid less than their male counterparts. If that is true, it is something to make a big deal about — and I will be a person to lead that charge. But, let’s make sure that we understand the statistics before we rev up our engines.
In a recent article from a progressive think tank, the premise discussed was that women lawyers continue to work longer hours than male lawyers but the women are paid less. While it probably is true that women lawyers make on average less than male lawyers, there are some additional questions which must be asked.
For instance, are the women working full time or something less? What are the relative positions in the firms between the male lawyers and the female lawyers whose salaries are being compared? In other words, are the salaries being compared those of female associates and those of more senior male lawyers, including partners?
We know that many women leave law firms or cut back on their hours in the early years of their practice and long before they reach partnership, mainly because of the work-life challenges that seem overwhelming in those years, and that fact can make a very big difference in compiling the statistics. If the women lawyers are not partners, comparing their salaries to male law partners is like comparing apples and oranges.
Be careful about what you believe from what you read. Check the underlying facts to make sure that you understand the issues. Treat your situation just like you would treat a client’s case. Do thorough research and analysis before you decide that you are not being treated fairly.
I am sure that there are some pretty egregious pay equity violations in law firms today, and those need to be exposed and remedied. But, not every pay difference amounts to gender inequality. Know the facts! Then decide whether there is a problem, and, if there is a problem, attack it.
This is no time to jump on board the discrimination band wagon without proof. Facts count. Lawyers are trained as fact finders, and you need to be one. If you do not, you will lose credibility, and women in our profession have fought too hard for that credibility to have you play fast and loose with it.
Consider the recent firing of Jill Abramson as Executive Editor of the NY Times, which has created a lot of controversy and debate in the last week. Many commenters want to make this a gender issue. However, the facts, as described in a New Yorker article, disclose a conflict between Ms. Abramson and the publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., which had little to do with gender and seems to have driven the result.
The fact that Ms. Abramson had recently made allegations that she was paid less and had fewer pension benefits than her male predecessor is interesting, but there appears to be much more to the story. In fact, although spokespersons for the Times have stated that the allegations were not true, the publisher, known in the industry for his attention to diversity and gender issues, made some adjustment to Ms. Abramson’s compensation package after he became aware of her discontent.
For me, the real gender issue surrounding the firing of Jill Abramson is something very different and very positive — and it is about her becoming the first woman executive editor of the NY Times and about the success she enjoyed there for a matter of years and the improvements to the newsroom and to the news industry that have been attributed to her. For me, that is the important story for women in this case. That is what women should be remembering about Jill Abramson — that she was so accomplished and such a force in the industry that she positioned herself to break one of the classic glass ceilings in America. That she made it. Not that it did not work out. Lots of jobs do not work out.
So, I repeat what I have said many times before. Be a discriminating listener, but do not listen for discrimination. And, make sure you are comparing apples and apples.
It is just that simple.