Overcoming the Gender Gap in the Legal Profession

Legal Compliance Resource
March 21, 2014 — 1,215 views  

If you are in the legal profession, you are certainly aware that there is a huge gender gap in the profession even today. Women make up almost one-third of lawyers in the US, but there is just a small percentage that has made it to the top.

Years of struggle

According to the National Association of Women Lawyers and The NAWL Foundation’s annual survey on women’s position in the law firms across the United States, 64 percent of women are staff attorneys, occupying the lowest rungs of the hierarchy. Only 17 percent of women are equity partners in law firms, according to the latest 2014 survey which had a sample size of 200 firms.

Disparity in wages: The law clearly states that similar wages must be paid to women and men if they perform similar tasks at the same workplace. However, there is still a gender gap in terms of wages. According to a study, women get 77 cents in comparison to a dollar that men in the profession make. The wage difference is often justified by factors that are not based on gender, such as seniority, incentives, fewer assignments or bonuses that depend on the number of hours put in.

Motherhood or family: Women are often given lesser or fewer assignments. This is because of the stereotype that they can’t handle tough tasks or that they have to handle domestic responsibilities. This comes in the way of their promotions, forcing them to quit owing to a lack of incentives. Sometimes, the presence of a strong old boys’ club harms the ambitions of women who have crossed junior-level hurdles and are just about to become partners.

How can women overcome the gender gap?

The onus is on law firms to create a system of incentives that is driven by the merit of an individual and not on gender. Firms should not hire women merely as tokenism, but also give them assignments that are important. The other important route to bridging the gender gap is to provide work-life balance by way of flexible work hours, and considering women for partner roles once they rejoin work after maternity leave. Mentoring is crucial and law firms should take steps to create an effective program for the same. Women often have to work hard to get clients, and it helps if a woman learns to promote herself. Also, they need to make themselves more visible, show leadership and be team players. 

Legal Compliance Resource