Solv­ing the law firm gen­der gap prob­lem

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - LAU­REN STILLER RIKLEEN

For decades, stud­ies have demon­strated that male part­ners at Amer­i­can law firms earn con­sid­er­ably more than their fe­male coun­ter­parts. Even when the data are con­trolled for such vari­ables as bill­able hours, se­nior­ity and law firm size, the gen­der gap per­sists. Yet, for years, women have com­prised 40-50% of law school stu­dents in the US – which means this is not sim­ply a pipe­line is­sue; this is dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The Gen­der Eq­uity Task Force of the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion (of which I am a mem­ber) was cre­ated to rec­om­mend ways to elim­i­nate gen­der bias in the le­gal pro­fes­sion, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the dis­par­ity in com­pen­sa­tion be­tween male and fe­male part­ners. In a re­port re­leased this month, Clos­ing the Gap: A Road Map for Achiev­ing Gen­der Pay Eq­uity in Law Firm

Part­ner Com­pen­sa­tion, we de­tail how the roots of pay in­equity run deep. The easy an­swer – that women earn less on a com­par­a­tive ba­sis be­cause of the im­pact of their fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties – is sim­ply wrong. Women earn less be­cause of un­con­scious bias and a com­plex in­ter­play of fac­tors in the com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem.

The ax­iom that ‘com­pen­sa­tion drives be­hav­iour’ per­me­ates the ways in which part­ners seek credit for gen­er­at­ing busi­ness, a key fac­tor in most law firms’ com­pen­sa­tion sys­tems. Of­ten, that be­hav­iour in­cludes ac­tive ef­forts to avoid shar­ing credit. We pro­pose rec­om­men­da­tions that can be in­cor­po­rated into any ex­ist­ing com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem to elim­i­nate the bar­ri­ers to equal pay for fe­male part­ners. Adopt­ing th­ese mea­sures would not only help women, but would also re­sult in a fairer and more trans­par­ent com­pen­sa­tion process for all. We rec­om­mend that firms:


that hav­ing just one or two women on a de­ci­sion-mak­ing body can lead to mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pants be­ing marginalised. By con­trast, stud­ies show that com­pa­nies with more women in key lead­er­ship roles and board po­si­tions out­per­form their com­peti­tors. DE­VELOP SYS­TEMS TO PRO­MOTE FAIR AND AC­CU­RATE AL­LO­CA­TION OF CREDIT. It ’s im­pos­si­ble to pro­vide fair com­pen­sa­tion un­less there are sys­tems in place to dis­cour­age client hoard­ing, pro­mote cross­mar­ket­ing among prac­tice groups, and in­cen­tivise part­ners to share credit fairly among those who help at­tract and re­tain clients. IM­PLE­MENT FOR­MAL CLIENT

SUC­CES­SION PRO­TO­COLS. When se­nior part­ners re­tire and pass on their client re­la­tion­ships to younger at­tor­neys, fe­male part­ners are fre­quently ig­nored in favour of their male col­leagues. Client man­age­ment in a so­phis­ti­cated busi­ness should not be sub­ject to in­di­vid­ual lawyers’ de­ci­sions about client credit and suc­ces­sion. Clients should have a role in de­cid­ing which lawyers they will work with in the fu­ture. DE­VELOP A PROCESS TO RE­SOLVE AL­LO­CA­TION DIS­PUTES PROMPTLY AND EQUITA

BLY. Re­search demon­strates that fe­male part­ners are fre­quently ex­cluded from credit al­lo­ca­tion, and have even re­ported be­ing bul­lied and in­tim­i­dated. Firms should cre­ate a di­verse over­sight com­mit­tee to re­view and re­solve credit dis­putes, en­sur­ing trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.

TRAIN EV­ERY­ONE IN­VOLVED IN THE EVAL­U­A­TION AND COM­PEN­SA­TION PROCESS. Un­con­scious bias can skew our judg­ments of oth­ers. Train­ing can help in­di­vid­ual’s recog­nise their own bi­ases and can en­sure that

or­gan­i­sa­tions put sys­tems in place to help over­ride the ef­fects of th­ese bi­ases.


EQ­UITY. Clients have a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to use their eco­nomic power to en­sure that the team work­ing for them is di­verse and that credit is given where it is due. Law f irms should wel­come their in­volve­ment as part of a client re­ten­tion strat­egy that can also help close the gen­der gap . L aw firms will be bet­ter po­si­tioned to weather the dif­fi­cult eco­nomic cli­mate if they cre­ate a cul­ture where eco­nomic growth and inclusive op­por­tu­ni­ties are linked through en­gaged lead­er­ship and trans­par­ent sys­tems. And the equal op­por­tu­ni­ties women have long sought in the pro­fes­sion will fi­nally be­come a re­al­ity.

Lau­ren Stiller Rikleen is the pres­i­dent of the Rikleen In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Lead­er­ship and the ex­ec­u­tive-in-res­i­dence at the Bos­ton Col­lege Cen­ter for Work & Fam­ily. The author of End­ing the Gaunt­let: Re­mov­ing Bar­ri­ers to Women’s Suc­cess in the Law and Suc­cess Strate­gies for Women Lawyers, she is cur­rently writ­ing a book about mil­len­ni­als in the work­place.

© 2013 Har­vard Busi­ness School Pub­lish­ing Corp. © The New York Times 2013.

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