The War on Wages: The Issue of the Gender Wage Gap

The War on Wages: The Issue of the Gender Wage Gap

This article was written in collaboration with Clancy PC and has been cross-posted on their blog.

You have probably heard of the stubborn and widespread phenomenon known as the “gender wage gap”. It varies between countries and professions; however, one thing remains constant: on average globally, women earn less money than men.

What is the Gender Wage Gap?

The gender wage gap is a prevalent indicator of women’s economic equality. It refers to a metric that describes the average difference in earnings between men and women, typically calculated by dividing women’s wages by men’s wages. Even when all compensable factors (i.e., experience, education, etc.) are controlled, women are still being paid less than men for no other reason than gender.

Why Does the Gender Wage Gap Exist?

The gender wage gap is complex and results from multiple factors, such as:

  1. Gender Discrimination: Women are overlooked by employers who believe that their male counterparts are more competent. Ironically, studies have found that women rank higher than men in top leadership qualities, such as problem solving and initiative.

  2. Occupational Segregation: Social norms and discrimination from employers result in an over-representation of women in lower paid industries with fewer benefits.

  3. Work-Life Balance: Women are expected to take time off to raise children. However, when they return, they face the “motherhood penalty.” Many high-paying workplaces do not offer flexibility to mothers, so women are often forced to take less demanding, lower-paying jobs.

The Gender Wage Gap in the Canadian Legal Profession

Despite Canada having more women lawyers than men (53% women vs. 47% men), the legal profession sees some of the highest gender wage gaps. Ironically, lawyers, who are perceived to be flag bearers of social justice and equality, have failed to make significant progress towards closing the gender wage gap in their own profession.

Men and women start out in the legal industry in nearly equal numbers; however, the number of women slowly dwindles as you move up the legal career ladder. For example, there are fewer women equity partners in Canadian law firms than men. Even still, women equity partners make 25% less (estimated $200,000 a year) than men despite their equal work and billing hours.

Moreover, in-house women lawyers in Canada outnumber men in the legal corporate profession by 2%, yet still make 11% less. Additionally, male in-house lawyers take home performance bonuses nearly double that of women in-house lawyers. Furthermore, Crown Corporations, Government entities, in-house counsel corporations, and not-for-profit companies employ the highest number of women employees, yet women in these organizations face even greater disparities than in private practice.

Typically, in the legal profession, compensation is evaluated based on factors that indicate productivity and collections; however, the gender wage gap is bound to widen if women do not receive the opportunity to work on higher-paying files simply due to gender discrimination or being overlooked by their superiors because of the “motherhood penalty.”

Women leave the legal profession for a myriad of reasons; however, the most significant reasons all stem from the gender wage gap: the lack of monetary appreciation for their work of equal value, lack of an inclusive environment in the workplace, and lack of transparency in the pay scales policies.

Comparing the Gender Wage Gap in Other Jurisdictions

Similar disparities are evident in gender wage gap statistics in the legal professions of other jurisdictions.

In the United Kingdom, 78% of law firms pay men more than women. The numbers reflect the fact that men are more often considered for higher paid roles and are awarded with higher bonuses. On average, men are paid approximately 20% more than women in every law firm.

In the United States, the average yearly income of a male partner in a top-tier law firm is nearly one million dollars, whereas women partners make a third as much. A major barrier is ‘old boy’ networking tactics and business development techniques, which, whether unconsciously or consciously, usually exclude women. Another reason for this disparity is the unequal hourly billing rates of partners ($650 for women and $736 for men).

Data shows that regardless of the jurisdiction, women in the legal profession are, regrettably, on average, being paid 20-30% less than men.

Strategies for Reducing the Gender Wage Gap

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 report has predicted that, at our current rate of progression, it will take an astounding 257 years to close the global gender wage gap! So, what strategies can we implement to accelerate this process?

At a general level, the report has identified four helpful strategies:

  1. Fully integrating women in the labour force and not subjecting them to part-time work or women-oriented jobs with low pay and low productivity.

  2. Setting targets for women in leadership. Enhancing social safety nets, especially relating to childcare support.

  3. Enhancing work quality and pay standards across low-paid women-driven work.

  4. Re-skilling women to be ready for re-employment in high growth sectors

More specifically, in the legal profession, some effective strategies to narrow the gap are as follows:

  1. Encouraging law firms of all sizes to share gender wage gap data for all roles. This holds firms accountable to salary transparency.

  2. Intertwining gender diversity within every stage of the hiring process.

  3. Eliminating discussions about pay history to avoid subconscious contributions to the wage gap.

  4. Mentoring young lawyers to create a future of confident women lawyers with the necessary leadership skills to rise through the ranks.

When women are recognized for the work they do and are compensated equally to their counterparts in return, everyone stands to gain. Gender equality is a matter of justice and fairness. There is no more compelling reason to accelerate progress toward gender parity than that.

This article was co-written by Trish Sawhney, Articling Student at Clancy PC, and Aishwerya Kansal, IPilogue Contributor and IP Innovation Clinic Fellow. 

Trish completed her law degree at the University of Birmingham in England. She also pursued a Bachelor of Music with an Honours in Music History, and a Bachelor of Arts with a specialization in Business Administrative Studies from Western University.

Aishwerya has a Master’s in Law in International Business Laws from Osgoode Hall Law School and is an Internationally Trained Lawyer with experience in Intellectual Property and Brand Protection.