Male partners are paid more than female partners – significantly more

Women lawyers and lawyers of color are not paid the same as white male lawyers, and the gap is not small.

Earnings for female partners are 44% lower than for men, according to 2020 data: $784,000 versus $1,130,000. Partners of color earn 20% less than their white counterparts: $869,000 vs. $1,046,000. (In many companies, associate compensation is fixed, which controls gender-based pay differentials to some extent.)

Note that comparing women to men and whites to people of color likely underestimates both the gender gap and the racial gap. This is because there are black men earning less with white men earning more, and clusters in white women earning less with white men earning more.

The most telling statistic would be to compare the average earnings of white men with those of all other groups. When we did this for our 2018 study of the legal profession, only about a third of white men said they were paid less than their colleagues with similar qualifications and experience, compared to more than two-thirds of women of color. , 60% white women and 44% men of color.

The internal gender pay gap is much smaller: $351,000 for men versus $340,000 for women. That $10,000 gap explodes to $50,000 in the gender pay gap for general counsel, however: $550,000 for men versus $502,000 for women. Most of this variance stemmed not from differences in base compensation, but from differences in bonuses and long-term incentive plan compensation.

Illustration: Jonathan Hurtarte/Bloomberg Law

Pay differentials reflect various biases

These pay gaps reflect several different types of bias, starting with evidence bias again. Only about a quarter of white men in our 2018 study, but two-thirds of women of color and about half of white women and men of color, said they needed to prove themselves more to gain the same level of respect and recognition. recognition than their colleagues. .

Women and people of color were much more likely to report being held to higher standards and to have their contributions attributed to someone other than white men – exactly the kind of evidence-again dynamic that fuels lower premiums.

The heavy reliance of many law firms on original credit plays a role in the yawning gap between compensation for male and female law firm partners. One study found that female partners earned less even when they originated similar levels of activity as men, a classic pattern of evidence again.

Another pattern of evidence again is in-group favoritism. In-groups tend to be judged on their potential, while out-groups usually need money on the barrel: “The sky’s the limit for him and we have to keep him happy or he’ll go” vs. “It’s true that she had a great year this year, but who knows if it will continue?

When profits fall, we hear persistent reports that female partners’ pay drops sharply, while men get more leeway.

Origination credit and high-level assignments

Favoritism within the group also feeds the bias stemming from credit of origination. If origination credit is given informally, under the radar screen, it is predictable that tomorrow’s rainmakers will be selected by today’s rainmakers.

Today’s rainmakers, who are predominantly white males, will likely turn to people in their social networks. Like likes like, so they will mainly turn to other white men.

Another effect within the group relates to who is selected for large-scale transactions. Of the top 100 M&As by monetary value between 2014 and 2020, women were named senior advisers only 24 times out of 243.

The same study found that women made up only about 10.5% of lead attorneys for buyers in larger M&A deals, despite the fact that 20% of equity partners in law firms elite are women.

This model is generalizable to other areas of practice. The 2018 study found that 81% of white men, but only 53% of women of color, said they had equal opportunity for high-quality assignments, with white women and men of color in between, but closer to women of color than to white men.

A similar disparity emerged for who had equal access to business development opportunities. The Old Boys’ Network provides an invisible escalator for white men and a built-in headwind for women and people of color.

Another powerful effect is the “tightrope” bias, which stems from the fact that ambition and authority are more easily accepted by white men than by any other group. The good woman is considered modest, self-effacing and kind. You have to reckon with a man. He is competitive, ambitious, direct and assertive.

One result we hear over and over again is that when women become partners, their male sponsors expect them to continue as a service partner for their sponsor’s clients, whereas “a man has his dignity” , so men have the time and space they need to build their own clientele.

We also often hear that when women start businesses, male partners feel entitled to share the original credit, whereas when male partners start businesses, the same expectation evaporates – women are such good team players, after all, when a man needs to support his family.

God forbids women not to get the message: they are seen as selfish prima donnas if they refuse to share the credit, with some even being threatened by male partners who say they will refuse to work with them in the future. Previous research by my team found that 32% of white female income partners and 36% of female partners of color said they had been bullied, threatened, or bullied into getting home credit — over 80% of female partners said they had been denied their fair share of origination credit in the previous three years.

How companies can create a fair compensation system

Our 2018 report details concrete steps law firms can take to ensure their compensation package doesn’t systematically disadvantage women and people of color. Some highlights:

  • Keep metrics to check for pattern differences between majority men, majority women, men of color, and women of color in partner compensation. Also check whether parents are disadvantaged if they take parental leave.
  • Establish clear public rules governing the granting and splitting of origination and other valuable forms of credit.
  • Introduce a low-risk way for partners to receive assistance with original credit disputes.

The report also details concrete steps that all legal employers can take to level the playing field in terms of who has access to career enhancement assignments. It is clear that they are still sorely needed.

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Joan C. Williams is director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings Law and author of “Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and For Good.” In 2018, she co-authored an influential report, “You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Gender and Racial Bias in the Legal Profession.”

Raafiya Ali Khan, research and policy fellow at the Center for WorkLife Law, contributed to this article.

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