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September 17, 2008

Shame, shame: Gender gap in paralegal pay.

Pay On our LegalBlogWatch, Bob Ambrogi spotted this report from Chere Estrin, noting that there appears to be a gender gap in paralegal pay (and no, the women are not making more than the men). Here is his commentary:

Pay Inequity for Women Paralegals

Given that women have long outnumbered men among the ranks of paralegals, it would seem safe to assume that here is at least one segment of the legal profession where salaries are blind to gender. Surprisingly, such is not the case. In what Chere Estrin at The Estrin Report calls "the legal field's dirty little secret," it turns out that gender is very much a factor in pay scales for paralegals and legal assistants, with women earning only 93.2 percent of what men earn.

Based on an August report from the U.S. Census Bureau, Estrin writes that women paralegals and legal assistants earned a median salary in 2007 of $42,600. Men earned a median of $45,700. This was not as bad as the gap between female and male lawyers, where women earned a median of $93,600, just 77.8 percent of the median salary for men of $120,400. But still, writes Estrin, this is a field that was originally made up almost entirely of women and where women continue to far outnumber men. "No one can claim ... that men had the upper hand in terms of having a head start in the field."

So, what on earth has happened? Are you telling me that the majority of men do a better job than all women paralegals? So much so, that men will automatically get paid more?  Are you telling me that men are promoted to the manager position faster than women?  Not according to the International Paralegal Management Association whose membership lists approximately 90% of its members as women.

For Estrin, there is only one explanation, and that is that we still face a lack of equality between the genders. While we are less surprised by that in other fields, it is a shock for a field whose genesis is women. As Estrin says, "C'mon, Joe. Say it ain't so."

I think this is outrageous, and I challenge every law firm managing partner, GC, and EDD vendor to drop everything, call HR, check records, and remedy this TODAY.

Update: Turns out, the paralegals and lit support women are in just about the best posture within legal: because the news is far worse about our industry as a whole. The census figures reveal even more grim statistics: across the board, our women are earning 51% of what our men earn. FIFTY ONE PERCENT!!!!! Here's the NLJ report.

Why? Read some of the comments here and on The Common Scold  -- but one big reason appears to be that too many women don't negotiate effectively, and often take the initial salary offered to them without countering.


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The comment that women do a miserable job of negotiating salaries makes my blood boil. As a former exec in the legal staffing biz, I can assure you that is as much a wives tale and stereotype as anything else I have heard.

Does that mean that if a woman wears a short skirt, she's asking to be raped? Employers have an obligation to keep those salaries equal. I can assure you, being involved in thousands of negotiations in my 20 years of staffing, women in the legal field particularly, do not do a bad job of negotiating. In fact, if anything, they frequently overstate the dollars they know they will get in the first negotiation go-around.

Further, that argument of women being incapable of negotiating salaries does not account for the automatic and merit raises women get - that action far outnumbers the number of new hires a firm does. How do you account for those inequities?

When I wrote the blog on this topic, I realized just how serious this situation is and will now turn it into a feature article in KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals and in our new publication for women in litigation. You can be assured, it will be backed by plenty of surveys.

I am not getting off my soapbox on this one.

ABC News' Good Morning America reported on a research study generally related to this issue that was conducted by Prof Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University. The following link is to a video of that news report:

About the video I posted in my comment above, after seeing this, my question would be, should the women in this video be responsible for asking for more? Or, should the people handing out the money be responsible for offering more, especially knowing that the men in this video were in fact asking for more than the women were?

I was disappointed that the video did not show the women who did negotiate or examine the differences between the women who did and the women who didn't. Obviously some of the women did ask for more but the producers reinforced the stereotype by not airing those women.

I also wonder whether the women who are secure enough to negotiate get the jobs. Women who do negotiate may be seen as too aggressive whereas the same behavior in men is seen as secure and self confident.

I think the double standard is alive and well.

Not only is there a double standard, but other studies have shown that regardless of whether the interviewer is a man or woman, the double standard still applies. I tend to think this is unintentional, i.e. based on ingrained expectations / stereotypes. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the interviewers were somehow made blind to the gender of an interviewee.

This URL points to a study such as EAF references in her(?) 9/19 post. It's disheartening, and infuriating (though, of course, one can't show fury for fear of being thought to be "out of control." I don't know whether to follow that with :) or :( -- but it's certainly a sorry state of affairs.

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