At least $100K

May 13, 2019

What do you generally ask your employer in relation to pay? When I’m meeting with candidates, a question that I always ask is, “Do you have an expected compensation and if so, what does that look like?” Men answer with a confidence that defines the expectation, yet when a woman answers, you’ll first hear their hesitation.


Gender equality is ubiquitous yet still taboo. So how is it defined, and does it even stand a chance?


By definition, gender equality is equal access to rights and opportunities gender withstanding. Beatrice Alba’s To achieve gender equality, we must first tackle our unconscious biases further defines it as “seeing males and females as being of equal status and value. It is judging a person based on their merit, and not viewing them as inferior or superior purely based on their gender.”


Women don’t tend to think that their gender will affect their pay, but they shouldn’t be naive to the discrimination they will face once they’ve settled into the workforce. During their first steps into the legal profession, women and men lawyers approximate the same earnings. Over time, the gap widens with men tending to earn more than women. Alison Monahan’s Understanding The Gender Wage Gap in the Legal Profession states that “Even after all of the work and the policies passed, women are still only earning 78 cents to the man’s dollar, on average.”


But if “equal pay for equal work is a matter of law…how do you know you’re a victim of this gap?” (Harvard Business Review: Mind the (Wage) Gap). Let’s delve into a few of the reasons to gain a better understanding of where the disparities lie.


There is a lack of sponsorships amongst women in law firms


Typically, men receive sponsorships whereas women receive mentorships. A sponsor will award you with quality work that can later earn you a promotion and lead to an advancement in pay, while a mentor will award you the guidance and support that’s simply surrounding the work you’re afforded. Women are not afforded opportunities when people think they have potential because they’re still being mentored versus a man that’s being sponsored. So, there’s an illusion of progression.


Women shift out of positions with extensive and unpredictable hours


Mid-sized to large law firms are known to have extensive and unpredictable hours. A shift away from this, whether it be by time-off or otherwise, would be a shift away from potential partnership and larger earnings. This movement – call it ‘work-life balance’ – is in part to care for your growing children or aging family members, but it’s generally women that are looked to for this amenity. According to Harvard Business Review’s A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work ‘if men and women are equal stakeholders in a family, they should presumably be leaving the workforce at the same rate. But this isn’t happening.” So, in an attempt to find better work-life balance, women will turn to more boutique law firms or in-house roles while men continue their path to partnership.


Growth trajectory is limited when women consider maternity leave


“Only 19 percent of equity partners are women, and women are 29 percent less likely to reach the first level of partnership than are men” (McKinsey’s Women in law firms). There’s a preconceived notion that women will step away from their careers to start a family. This sets the glass ceiling or the ‘maternal wall’ and becomes an issue of logistics where women are held back from progressing to partnership until later. So, ageism plays a part where you are devalued as being inexperienced in those earlier years, yet men remain unaffected in their pursuit for progression.


So, does gender equality stand a chance?


There is a paradigm shift that’s taking place. We are seeing more men looking for the flexibility and predictability of hours that’s sought after in work-life balance. We’re moving towards closing the gap as men look to spend more time with their families; however, inequality with pay is still rampant. It’s not translating, nor is it all-encompassing. It’s limited to the type of work, quality of work, and hours of work.


For further information, please see our blog on “Striving for Gender Balance in the Legal Profession”.


Navreen Grewal, Recruitment Associate


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The Counsel Network specializes in lawyer recruitment and has successfully placed associates, partners, and in-house counsel of all levels across Canada. Reach out to a member of our legal recruitment team to discuss your options in the market.