December 04, 2012

Why aren't women lawyers reaching the top of their firms in pay and respect?

Years ago, the American Bar Association saw cause for concern. There were lots of female lawyers but much fewer female partners. So they set up a commission to look into why.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to Patricia Gillette, a member of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. I was prompted into a discussion with her by a gender discrimination lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in New York against Miami's Greenberg Traurig, one of the 250 largest law firms in the country.

The lawsuit made various bold claims against Greenberg.

FranFormer shareholder Francine Friedman Griesing alleges that Greenberg pays women less, promotes them at lower rates than men and virtually freezes them out from high-level managerial positions. She says women at the firm are denied their fair share of origination credit and internal referrals. Griesing also says although she was a partner, the firm's three tiered equity structure classified her into the lowest level, while less qualified men were put in the higher, more lucrative levels. She is seeking to represent a class of current and former women shareholders at the firm. 


Her claims of gender bias were concerns I've heard before, raised by women at various large law firms including Greenberg Traurig.

So I asked Patricia her thoughts on whether women are making real progress advancing at the country's law firms and whether pervasive gender inequity remains a problem. Patricia mentioned that the current ABA President Laurel Bellows initiated a gender equity task force this year to address bias against and equal pay for women in law.

Patricia said in recent years, the tiered partnership -- equity and non equity -- has been problem for women lawyers. It has been a way for large law firms to claim they have women partners but hide the fact that they are not promoting women into equity positions where they truly share in the profits and management decisions.

In October, the National Association of Women Lawyers came out with an revealing report:

  • It found that law firm structure has important effects on women's career paths and that they have a greater chance of becoming equity partner in one-tiered firms. Meanwhile, women are increasing clustered in positions with little opportunity for advancement in law firm leadership.


  • It also found women's compensation lags men's at all levels with the greatest discrepancy at the equity partner level, where women typically earn only 89% of what men make. The gap between the median compensation of male and female equity partners cannot be explained by differences in billable hours, total hours, or books of business.


Gillette says the ABA gender equity task force wants firms to rethink way they consider compensation, making it less subjective. A goal is to create a model law firm compensation policy to ensure women are paid equally to men.

“This has been sacred ground and firms don’t want anyone messing with compensation, but closed systems like Greenberg lead to mischief. We think putting transparency into compensation systems is imperative going forward,” she said.

Don't expect firms to readily buy in.

At Greenberg, all compensation decisions are made by CEO Richard Rosenbaum, with input from other shareholders.

Greenberg's Hilarie Bass said the firm’s compensation system has always been based on meritocracy that has nothing to do with gender. “We’re compensated based on value to clients and quality of our legal work. We prefer a closed system because it enables a more collegial atmosphere to exist.” Bass also said every year the the number of women who are big originators of new business increases as does the number of women who receive top compensation.

Still, with a closed system, it's difficult for women at the firm to confirm that to be true.

Gillette said this lawsuit may help Greenberg and other firms realize they need to work harder on getting more women into positions of leadership. While she acknowledges that there are some women lawyers who don't want to reach the top tier at their firms, she says many do. “We’ve been talking and begging firms to look at these issues for so long,” Gillette said. “I’m sorry it takes a lawsuit for firms to think about this but lawsuits are the only thing lawyers understand." 

Do you believe gender discrimination is present at big law firms? How much of pay inequity and lack of advancement is from women pulling back, seeking better work life balance, and how much of it is the way law firms are managed and structured?


September 04, 2012

Talking to girls about equal pay

As my daughter heads into her junior year of high school, she's starting to think about what career might interest her. I ask her questions, listen to her answers and try to give her hope that whatever profession she chooses, she will be happy. But will she be paid fairly?

It sickens me to think that one day my daughter may land the same job as one of her brothers, and get paid less to do it. How do you explain that to a young woman?

Today, an article caught my eye that reminded me that the next generation of women will inherit the need to fight for equal pay. What do they need to know to take on that battle?

They need to know who Lilly Ledbetter is and what she accomplished and why her name is associated with equal pay.

LillyLilly Ledbetter became a rare female manager in a man's industry in the 1980s, as a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama. She sued the company for paying her less than her male counterparts and took her lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. She lost because the court ruled that she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first unequal paycheck--despite the fact that she said she had no way of knowing that she was being paid unfairly all those years.

Her name has become well known because of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which loosened the time frame in which people could file pay discrimination charges.

Today, I read a interview with Lilly Ledbetter, who now is 74 years old. I wanted to share some of the highlights:



Workforce: How have things changed in the workplace from the '80s and '90s to today regarding pay equality?

Ledbetter: Not enough. We still don't have enough women at the top. They're still being held back—and they've got great education. And we don't have enough women in politics, in Congress, either the House or the Senate in Washington. And the corporate boards don't have enough women or minorities on them to make a difference.

Things are changing. One of the things that makes me the happiest is to get invited to go speak to a group of new hires or a corporation about integrating women into their operations, and to encourage young high school and young college women and minorities to go into engineering, the sciences, mathematics—get those degrees. Companies are learning that the makeup of the workforce is so much stronger when they have both men and women.

The young men get it. I go to a lot of college campuses to talk. I'm almost as popular with the young men, because they talk about their mothers and their sisters—how they've been held back. I've heard so many examples. They understand when they get out of college, if they get married, they need a wife working, and they need her to be paid fairly too.

Workforce: What should employers know about equal pay?

Ledbetter: It's very simple. If you treat people fairly and equitably, you've got nothing to worry about. And it's also a win-win situation, because when employers make it pretty well-known that everybody's being treated equitably and fairly for their work, they have a better team. They have people who are more enthused about coming to work. They don't stay out of work. They can't wait to get there. If it's a service business, when you walk in it's hard to tell who the owner or the manager is because of the other team people working so hard. And if it's a manufacturing environment, they put out a better product—more productive, less scrap. And they don't stay out of work. The absentee and the safety records are almost perfect. It's just a 'win' situation for the families of this nation as well as the corporations and employers.


Over the next few months, we're going to hear political candidates debate on various topics. We will hear talk about women's issues, family issues and unemployment. We will hear candidates try to garner support with stories about how they were raised by single mothers and understand the plight of working mothers. I'd love to hear one of the explain to young women -- our nation's future mothers -- why they will graduate college, work hard, and still get paid less than a man.

My daughter recently asked me if women business owners and female executives pay their female employees the same as they do their male workers. I told her the truth: I don't know the answer. I'd like to confidently answer yes. But I can't.

Should I tell my daughter women are making progress in gaining equal pay? Just this June, the Senate failed get enough votes to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related. It also would have prohibited an employer from  retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.

To be sure, equal pay is gaining traction as a hot button issue. Clearly, Lilly knows we're not there yet and unfortunately my daughter now knows that too. But I told her what I hope other parents are telling their teenage daughters -- pursue on.





March 28, 2012

Men, Women, Money, Power

Richer Sex, Mundy jacket FINALOn Monday, I called Liza Mundy for a chat. I felt like I could have talked on the phone with her for days. She has just finished two years of interviewing men and women about work, family, money, power, marriage and decision making. Her findings are in a newly published book called The Richer Sex.  I LOVE THIS TOPIC!!!

I included some of my interview with Mundy, along with interviews with female business leaders, into my Miami Herald column today on The Richer Sex. Assuming present trends continue, Mundy believes that by the next generation more families will be supported by women than by men.


I asked Liza if she thought women were uncomfortable being called "breadwinners," traditionally used to describe men.

Women who outearn their husbands might feel uncomfortable with the term, she says. But those that earn all the income in their families would be comfortable being called a breadwinner.

I asked her what has changed in the last decade and why she feels the next generation of women will outearn men.

They are outearning men because they are going to college and are better educated, she says. "Guys think they will graduate from high school and get a decent paying industrial or labor job and they are wrong. Single childless women in their 20s have a higher median income than their male peers."

Are women entrepreneurs contributing to The Richer Sex trend?

Women  businesses are doing well. A lot who start their business, do it because they are not getting enough flexibility from their institutional workplace. Sometimes, their businesses do so well that they hire their husbands.

What are the conversations going on in America's households about downshifting and raising kids?

For working parents to reach the highest levels of Corporate America, either the workplace needs to change or someone needs to have flexibility or be the stay at home spouse. Workplaces can only do so much. I know fathers who want to spend more time with kids.

 I asked one of the women I spoke with whether she feels she missed out by being the sole provider. She doesn’t feel that way. Because her husband is such good runner of the household, when she gets home from work she can devote time to family. She is the one with the rich vacation benefits and the long workdays but her husband is supportive and she feels she is an attentive mother.

You mentioned more households are being supported by women. How will this affect women's salaries?

I would hope that ultimately it would put pressure on employers to understand that women are breadwinners and not look at their income as supplementary. As men become more aware of their wives' earning potential and are more willing to move for them, I hope it will help women's negotiating ability. Still, there is a danger of women supporting households on less than a man would make.

Do you think there's a dollar threshold that a spouse reaches which causes the other to quit their job?

Not really. It can depend on whether you live in D.C. or New York or Detroit. Every city is so different.

Is the notion of a stay at home parent outdated? It seems everyone has some type of side job today, even if it's blogging or selling things on the Internet.

It can work out well if a husband stays home or the wive could turn around and say this is not guy thought I was marrying. Stay-at-home dads numbers are rising, but some still feel stigmatized. I found wives would inflate the prestige of their husbands' hobbies. If they were blogging, the wive would refer to it as a  potential book project. I think women were brought up to brag about their husband’s job or salary. The former definition of success was to marry well. 

Is there a lot of arguing over who stays home with the kids?

I found there's more arguing over who had to be one with the steady paycheck and who got to be the entrepreneur. Men are seeing the benefits of a wive with a steady paycheck.

How is the fact that women are becoming more educated affecting marriages?

Women have never had this level of education greater than men. They are looking out at a pool of young men and they will have to ask, "Will I marry guy who didn’t’ go to college?" Some will say yes. I interviewed a carpenter who is putting his wife through law school. I also interviewed a women who wants to marry man who did go to college and is going to great efforts to meet one. She lives in  Miami travels to New York where she thinks there's a bigger pool of mates. Someone who wants to marry guy on her level will use resources to find them. Some will marry down and accept early on that they are the primary earner and find a guy who will invest in their career.

Why aren't men getting college educations?

Women were told they needed more education to earn as much as men so they acted accordingly. Girls are hearing have to go to college and support yourself. You may be a single mom. Boys aren’t hearing the same message. Boys think they have to be the provider, so they leave after high school to get any job.

 Click here to read the Time Magazine articleby Mundy on how women are overtaking men as breadwinners and why that's good for everyone.

Mundy author photo - credit Sam Kittner

Liza Mundy



 Here's another interesting take on Mundy's book: Daily Mail: Next generation of women to outearn men 

According to the TIME magazine cover story, 40% of working women out-earn their mate and within 25 years women will make more than men across the board.

Readers, how do you think this will affect marriage, family, workplaces and buying decisions?

January 20, 2012

Do you have time to be a rainmaker?



How do you become a rainmaker? I found out the answer.

I spent the last few weeks interviewing women at law firms for a big Miami Herald article I wrote on women in law. I asked lawyers why more women aren't making it to the top at big firms-- a status known as equity partner. Being an equity partner means you have ownership in the firm and a say in how it's managed. That's a prestigious and important role for men and women.

The response to my question of why only 16 percent of partners at the country's big firms are women was that not enough women are rainmakers.

Rainmaking is a skill. It requires making strong relationships with the right people and being bold enough to ask them for business. To be a rainmaker on a scale big enough to convince law firms to make you a firm owner, you must pull in huge dollar volumes of business.

What I repeatedly heard was that rainmaking is a HUGE time commitment. First, it takes time to learn the skills from someone willing to teach you. Then, it could take travel, attending social events, inviting key players on golf outings or to sports events at nights and on weekends. This is all on top of being good at your day job -- in this case, practicing law.

As I probe further, I uncovered numbers from studies that show most male law partners have stay at home wives. Most female law partners have spouses who work. Most female partners who have climbed and reached equity partner status either don't have kids or they have spouses who work VERY flexible jobs and do most of the caregiving at home.

So in the end, reaching the top takes learning rainmaking skills and having time to put them into practice while still mastering your day job. It makes me wonder whether enough women are willing to devote the HUGE amount of time it takes to make significant change in the stats. Plenty of men aren't willing to make the time commitment! But even as more women have gone into the practice of law, the number of those at the top hasn't changed in two decades. 

Are women being excluded or are they choosing not to become rainmakers? Is rainmaking on a grand scale too time consuming for women trying to do it all?


August 26, 2011

Court Ruling Against Working Moms Brings Attention to Work-Life Balance

Mom blogs heated up this week after a shocking court ruling.

A group of women at Bloomberg Media claimed they were passed over for promotions after having children. The sued, and lost.

The judge says they were not discriminated against and that the law does not require companies to provide a balance between work and home life. The judge found that “even if there were several isolated instances of individual discrimination,” the commission had insufficient evidence to prove that discrimination was the company’s “standard operating procedure.” 

 Judge Loretta Preska:

 Absent evidence of a pattern of discriminatory conduct . . . the EEOC's pattern or practice claim does not demonstrate a policy of discrimination at Bloomberg. It amounts to a judgment that Bloomberg, as a company policy, does not provide work/life balance.


The editorial director of Working Mother magazine calls that a step backwards. "The best and most productive companies are those who have workers who are satisfied and feel engaged at home and at work," says Jennifer Owens.

While that's true, is it realistic to believe companies should care about our work life balance? Most of us working moms know that to succeed at high levels, you have to make some tough choices. I hate admit that high level female managers often lack balance in their personal lives. It takes long days to get ahead and many of us choose not to make those sacrifices. But I do get angry when I hear about a working mom who works her buns off and gets passed over for a promotion.

What do you think? Are women with kids discriminated against at most big companies? Should companies be required to provide a balance between work and home life?


July 05, 2011

Can you sue a workplace bully?

One of my friends has been complaining to me that she is miserable at work. Her boss has been bullying her. A single mom, she’s in no position to quit her job without finding another and we all know the job market stinks right now.

Last week, I wrote my Miami Herald column on workplace bullying. I received tons of response. It seems on-the-job bullying is every bit the epidemic that workplace experts were telling me it is -- and it's making people miserable. So, I decided to have an employment lawyer weigh in. I wanted to hear some of the questions a lawyer is asked and share the responses.

Here’s my Q & A with Jezabel Llorente of  Miami-based  Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman: 


Jezabel Photo-PR

Q.  Do people who are bullied contact attorneys?

A. Yes, they don’t understand what actionable harassment is. They say “my boss is harassing me’ but when we start chatting, I learn that the boss is a nasty person to work with, but there’s nothing discriminatory or actionable to sue for.

Q. So someone who is bullied doesn’t have a  legal case?

 A. Job dissatisfaction is not actionable.

Q. How often to you hear the bullying complaint?

A. Pretty often. However, about half of the people who come for a consultation don’t have a case. I have to explain the distinction -- being treated distastefully by a bad manager is not enough. You have got to more prove more, that there’s some type of discrimination or sexual harassment for it to be actionable. Courts don’t want to manage business disputes and personality clashes. That’s not what courts are there to do. It’s always smart to consult an attorney. I am happy to speak on phone to anyone and give them an honest evaluation. If you feel something is wrong, make the call.

Q. Do you tell people who don’t have a legal case to file at complaint at work?

A. In this market, if people have a job they want to keep it. I tell them there’s no downside to going to HR and registering their concern. But I don’t tell them this person has to legally stop being the way they are. They don’t’ have to treat you sweetly.

Q. What’s the distinction between bullying and gender discrimination?

A. If a woman or a man is doing a job and the boss wants him or her to act in a certain way that has no impact on the job, that’s a problem. If the boss is telling everyone to be more aggressive, then that’s fine. If he’s saying you’re not tough enough because you are a woman, that’s a problem. Also, if you’re making your sales numbers and he’s still telling you to be more aggressive and you’re receiving some type of adverse impact, not getting a bonus, that also becomes problem.

Q. When someone comes to you with that type of case, is it easy to determine whether there’s a legitimate case for gender discrimination?

A. Sometimes it’s borderline. In the cases I have been seeing 50 percent are not actionable. There are cases that are harder and I tell the client it could go either way. To me it could be interrupted as discrimination or just as being a tough boss or bully. Still, it’s always good to get a legal opinion.




March 21, 2011

The Boss's Daughter and your work life balance

Dad_daughter(3) Most of us working mothers still hold out hope that our boss will be understanding of the pull between work and family and that they will pay us as well as our male counterparts. If you have a male boss, you are going to want to check out the family photos in his office, notes blogger Vivia Chen.

A new study found men's attitudes about working women are affected by the gender of their kids.

A report by the Columbia Business School (hat tip: The Juggle at The Wall Street Journal), about a study that looked at the salaries of over 700,000 workers at 6,230 firms in Denmark. It found  male CEOs with daughters tend to treat female employees more fairly. (The research was conducted by David Gaddis Ross of Columbia, Michael Dahl of Aalborg University in Denmark, and Cristian Dezsö of the University of Maryland.) Denmark is a gold mine for this type of study, because it maintains detailed demographic statistics about its workforce.

The study found a short time after male CEOs had daughters, women’s wages rose relative to men’s, shrinking the gender wage gap at their firms. The birth of a son, in contrast, had no effect on the wage gap. Researcher Ross says: "It follows that CEOs may be more apt to see their more educated women employees as resembling a possible future incarnation of their daughters."

Chen, whose blog, The Careerist ,runs on the site, says several women lawyers she spoke with aren't convinced that men with daughters are more sympathetic to female employees. "It should be true in theory, but I don't see it in my experience,"  one New York associate told her, adding that partners who have adult daughters in the workforce might be a bit more sensitive toward female employees.

Another associate told Chen the real focus should be on the wives, not the daughters. "[Male partners] whose wives work [outside the home] make better supervisors than men whose wives don't," she says.

Personally, I've had male boss's with kids, without kids and I had a male boss with four daughters. I'm not convinced the daughter thing made a difference. But I do think the most fair and understanding male bosses are those whose wives work in demanding jobs.  

Readers, do you find that male bosses with daughters treat women more equitably? What's your experience?

September 23, 2010

Why women are asking for pre-nups

We've come a long way, baby. Women are finally at a point in time when they have some assets to protect and some income to brag about.  

A news release issued today says an overwhelming 73% of divorce attorneys cited an increase in prenuptial agreements during the past five years in a recent poll of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer (AAML) members.  In addition, 52% have noted an increase in women initiating the requests.

That comes on the heels of this announcement from the BLS: The earnings gap between men and women has shrunk to a record low, partly because many women are prospering in the new economy and partly because men have been hit hard by the recession. Men are losing their jobs at a faster rate than women in the recession. They are staying unemployed for long periods of time and they're taking jobs that pay less than their previous salaries. I think that's been a wake up call for women.We finally realize that we increasingly are becoming the breadwinners. 

Is that what's driving this new interest from women in pre-nups. You bet it is. Pre-nups have long been a controversial topic as women debated whether or not to sign them. But now it's reversed. We are working hard for the bacon. We finally realize we want to hold on to it. The big question is: how will men react?



April 19, 2010

A horrifying look at the wage gap in Florida

Not long ago, employment attorney Richard Tuschman of EpsteinBeckerGreen came to visit me at The Miami Herald building. He wanted to enlighten me about the wage gap between what men and women earn. He insisted it isn't as bad as the numbers indicate because women tend to take jobs in lower paying professions, which is why as a group, they earn less than men.

That may be true. However, the National Partnership for Women & Families issued a new report today with some pretty horrifying numbers.

The report, broken down state by state, says that without the gender-based wage gap, Florida’s women and their families could afford food for another 1.4 years, mortgage and utility payments for five more months, or family health insurance premiums for 1.8 more years.  That’s because full-time employed women in the state are paid $32,506 per year, compared to $40,672 for men. 


The report was issued in conjunction with Equal Pay Day which is April 20 this year.  It is designed to shine a spotlight on the fact that women must work for nearly four extra months in 2010 for wages equal to what men were paid in 2009 alone.


National Partnership President Debra L. Ness is urging the Senate to use this report's findings as the catalyst to push through the The Paycheck Fairness Act. She believes the Act would make it harder for employers to justify wage discrimination; prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages; authorize the government to collect wage data so civil rights enforcement agencies can target their resources; and offer employers technical assistance to help them analyze their pay data and make sure they are not discriminating.  


I do believe Tuschman's argument carries weight. I do think women tend to choose professions that pay less. But  why can't those professions pay more? I also believe there are many workplaces where men are paid more for doing the same job as women and frankly, those women may even be doing the job better. In some cases, it may be an oversight by the employer. Let's make it okay for companies to get help analyzing their pay data. Let's make it against the law to discriminate based on gender.


What do we have to lose by paying women equal salaries? If entire households benefit, it looks like all of us have a lot to gain.