Women lawyers here still lagging in pay
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The legal profession, whose members day in and day out argue matters of justice and equality, appears to be no place for women seeking fair workplace treatment.
Graphic: Female lawyers pay gap: 2005
Online: Results of the survey are available at the bar association Web site.
In fact, nothing occurred in a 15-year span to narrow the pay gap between male and female lawyers locally, according to a new Allegheny County Bar Association survey released yesterday. Issues of lack of pay and respect that arose in a 1990 survey persist even though far more women are employed in law offices today. Whatever breakthroughs have been achieved by the number of women climbing in law firms' ranks seemingly failed to have broader meaning for lawyers answering the September 2005 survey.
The survey included responses from 1,250 bar members, about one of every five members of the county association. Separating out data for those working full time, 20 percent of the men said they were earning at least $250,000 a year, compared to just 5 percent of women. More than 20 percent of women working full time were earning less than $50,000, compared to 8 percent of men.
The report noted that men in the profession are older on average, with more years out of law school. That could be a factor in more men rising through the seniority ranks to positions of higher pay, but disparities also showed up when looking at groups of men and women in the profession for similar periods. The pay differential showed up although men and women reported working similar hours, about 48 per week.
Dissatisfaction with their employment situation was twice as common among women as among men. That was another factor spurring the bar association to create a Gender Equality Task Force last month to analyze the findings and look for ways to elevate women's status and pay in the profession.
"The results of this survey commissioned by our Women in the Law Division are very disappointing," said Kim Berkeley Clark, Allegheny County Family Court administrative judge and president of the county bar. "Obviously, the bar was set low 15 years ago and it looks like it hasn't risen. ... We understand this will not be a quick-fix issue, but we fully understand that this is an issue that cannot be ignored."
Although the lack of progress on the issue was striking to some in the field, officials involved in the survey noted the disparities were similar to what has been found in surveys of lawyers in other cities, and also among other professions such as realtors and accountants.
Among the findings of the survey, conducted by professors from Westminster College:
Twenty percent of women felt discriminatory conduct played a large role in inhibiting their professional development, and almost 40 percent more believed it was sometimes a factor.
Men are twice as likely as women to have achieved the high status of equity partner in a firm. Females are twice as likely as men to be associates in law firms, which is tied to the shorter number of years on average that they've been out of law school.
In breaking lawyers into income groups, a greater percentage of males was found in all income categories $150,000 and above, and women were far more likely to earn less than $100,000. Male respondents were eight times more likely to be at the top tier, above $350,000.
Gary P. Hunt, managing shareholder of the Tucker Arensburg firm and co-chairman of the new task force with U.S. Magistrate Lisa Pupo Lenihan, said that while the survey covered many topics, the pay issue garners attention because it is one with hard data behind it.
"I suppose that's the most obvious and direct impact of gender bias," he said of salary differentials. "And if there's one conclusion I've come to, [gender bias] is not a simple issue. There's lots of overlapping aspects, some of them within the ability of the legal profession to control, some not."
Bar association officials say that while the findings aren't much different from 1990, the followup to try to address them will be. The task force, made up of both female and male attorneys and judges, has formed committees to work on different aspects of the issue and report back before the end of the year. That includes looking at the workplaces with the best reputations for treating women well, and trying to spread their practices.
"On the one hand I am surprised we haven't had more progress, but it's not surprising considering what you hear from other parts of the country or other professions," said Gretchen Kelly, a 22-year attorney who is chief real estate counsel for PNC Financial Corp.
"I believe there may not be as much overt conversation as there was before, but the culture hasn't really changed."
Ms. Kelly, 51, a member of the task force, said she's felt treated fairly in the profession but knows peers who have not.
An "old boys network" may still limit the ability of women to reach and excel in the "rainmaker" positions drawing clients and pay at the top of the profession, she said.
While she wasn't part of any discussions on how to seek equality in the field in the early 1990s, she hopes to help achieve progress to avoid seeing another survey 15 years from now with women just as far behind.
"I'll be sobbing if that happens," she said.
First Published September 14, 2006 12:00 am