January 04, 2021 Practice Points

One Step Closer, Yet Still So Far—Narrowing the Wage Gap

Female partners are seeing a major increase in compensation rates, narrowing the gender divide that has historically swept the profession; and yet in a year of so much societal change, why is there a gap at all?

By Deanna Vellucci

2020 seems to have been the “year that keeps on giving” for most of us (and not in a positive way). However, there is some good news for women lawyers. In a recent article entitled As Partner Compensation Grows, Gender Pay Gap Shrinks, Report Finds, author Andrew Maloney explores the results of a recent report showing that the gender gap in partner compensation is tightening. 

Specifically, in 2019, male partners were averaging about $1.13 million in compensation while female partners were averaging about $784,000. While the divide is still too wide and “needs improvement,” the good news is that from 2017–2019 female partner pay increased by 15 percent while male partners increased by only 7 percent—highlighting the narrowing trend. The article indicates that the increase can likely be attributed to more sensitivity toward gender discrepancies resulting in more women being elevated to positions of power. The author warns, however, that this narrowing trend could potentially be reversed by the fact that women have reportedly been more likely to leave the workforce during the pandemic.

Truth be told, this article gave me mixed feelings. A 15 percent increase in compensation for women lawyers is a win that should be celebrated and certainly gives me hope for the future. The legal profession has come a long way in the recognition of women’s added value in the workplace and overall accomplishments. But the gap remains uncomfortably wide. Why—in 2020—are men in the exact same position with the exact same title and job responsibilities as women still averaging about $350,000 more than their female counterparts? While I do not have the answer to this question, I do know that while any progress is good, things need to change at a faster pace.

When I made the decision to become a lawyer, it became readily apparent to me that this was a male-dominated profession. In fact, while attending a virtual conference this past summer there was an entire seminar dedicated to why women leave the legal profession. And no surprise, one of the many contributing factors was unfair compensation. This was daunting to hear, especially as a new attorney. I felt as though I was entering into a profession where the odds were essentially stacked against me. The fear of having to work twice as hard for potentially less compensation is not an attractive prospect and one that can easily scare women away. Women attorneys who have been in the workforce for longer may be more optimistic about this news—of course, a $350,000 gap is much better than a $500,000+ gap. However, the underlying question is, as aforementioned, why after all of these years does this gap persist?

While the report and this article open the door for this and other related unanswered questions about gender equity in the workplace, for now let us focus on the win—women lawyers have taken a big step toward being compensated equally to their male counterparts for equal work. And while it is so important to remember that change does not occur overnight, these numbers undoubtedly show a step in the right direction down a very long path to equality. The year 2020, for all its downside, has set the stage for a pivotal change in gender gap disparities in the law, and this is, hopefully, just the beginning.

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Deanna Vellucci is an associate at Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C., in Florham Park, New Jersey.


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