The Legal Power & Pay Gap: The Struggle is Real
We are delighted to welcome Harper Grey associate JoAnne Barnum to the Dear LiL blog! In this post, JoAnne provides insight and commentary on Christine Dobby’s article as part of the “Power Gap” series published on February 6, 2021 by The Globe and Mail.
On February 6, 2021, the Globe and Mail published an article written by Christine Dobby about women’s ongoing struggle towards equity in the legal profession. As Dobby notes, equity in law firms isn’t just about how much a lawyer makes – it’s about their trajectory towards partnership, how they are treated when they make partner, whether they are included in important decision-making, and whether they get facetime with important clients, among other things. These factors often play a significant role in the wage gap seen between women and men in the legal profession. As well, Dobby rightly acknowledges that BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of colour) women face additional barriers on top of what their white women counterparts experience, arising from cultural differences and pervasive unconscious bias.
Apparent from this article is a tension between the good intentions many firms may have to increase women’s representation in their respective partnerships and the discomfort most firms have with sharing data about key information that can help tangibly measure these changes, including partnership composition and partner compensation as a percentage of total income of all partners. Understandably, some of this information has historically been viewed by many firms as confidential; however, without transparency on these points, one wonders how the legal community can ever measure the progress women are making towards equity at the partnership level.
As a woman associate at a law firm, I have noticed over the years that many of my women colleagues and friends at other firms are worried about their “place” in the profession and whether they will ever truly “fit in”. It appears these concerns are often not borne out of issues they are facing in their jobs now, but their looming dread of what is to come. Some of the statistics cited by Dobby back up these concerns; they tell us:
we are more likely to leave the profession than our male colleagues
we are less likely to make partner, or if we do it will take longer;
if we do make partner, we may never move from income partner to equity partner; and
we are more likely to move inhouse, even if we love our work, presumably to balance our work and family obligations.
These statistics in turn likely perpetuate our own perception of our role in the profession, making it seem to us that it is inevitable that we will leave, or if we stay, climbing the ladder at our respective firms will be more challenging than it seems to be for our male colleagues.
Though these statistics can of course be discouraging, they can also be our source of inspiration, as they allow us to identify the extent of the problems we face and enable us to exercise our collective creativity to solve them. Data about women’s performance and experience compared to their male colleagues at the partnership, associate, and student level with respect to compensation and other less easily measured perks helps us understand where the actual gender-based gaps are so we can know where to focus our efforts to effect change. Simply put, information is power.
A heartening note we can take from this article is that over time, we are seeing positive changes arising from the profession’s struggle towards equity, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Gowling WLG’s CEO Peter Lukasiewicz posits “what gets measured is what gets done”, reminding us how important it is to keep track of these changes so we can see where we are coming from, where we are, and how far we have to go.
Read the “Power Gap – At Bay Street’s top law firms, pay and power gaps are well-kept secrets – but women are struggling toward equity” article here (a subscription may be necessary to access the article).
What do you think about the data? Do you have similar experiences within your own career? Let’s have a conversation! Send us a DM or drop us a comment on social media, email us or submit a question anonymously to the Dear LiL blog here.
About the Author
JoAnne Barnum is an Associate with Harper Grey LLP and a member of their Health Law and Insurance Law Groups. She assists clients and senior lawyers on a variety of matters. JoAnne is active in the legal community. She works with Access Pro Bono as duty counsel to provide free summary legal advice to low-income individuals and is a supervising lawyer for the Law Students Legal Advice program. In her free time, JoAnne can be found playing soccer or ultimate, or hiking with her dog Charlie.