Fixing the Gender Gap in Law – And Beyond

by | Nov 9, 2015

Fixing the Gender Gap in Law – And Beyond

Note:  The following is a guest post by Monica Bay.

It’s no secret that our legal profession faces an embarrassing dilemma: There is a 17 percent pay gap between men and women across the profession and an 18 percent gap in Big Law. But take some solace – we’re not alone. In Silicon Valley technology shops, women constitute only 20 percent of employees.

Historically, blame has been placed on child-bearing and caregiving. But as technology has changed workspace options, and workers (yes, even lawyers) are demanding more “work/life” balance, organizations must rethink their approach if they want to attract and retain the best talent.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s new book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family,” (Random House) addresses the issues faced by women and men who raise children while working (and often are “sandwich” caregivers also dealing with elderly relatives.)

Ms. Slaughter, who was a professor at Princeton University and served two years on Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State team, chronicles her own family’s challenges, while simultaneously approaching the book with an academician’s laser. The combination is compelling read. (She now is president and CEO of the New America Foundation.)

Ms. Slaughter provides detailed, thoughtful analysis of the barriers faced by parents (be they solo, couples, people of color or same gender). But she doesn’t just identify the nuanced challenges, she offers concrete agendas on how to move forward.

A key theme is that caregivers are not adequately valued, especially in American culture. That raises a host of issues, perhaps most dramatically, the pay and perception differentials. Ms. Slaughter challenges the concept that traditional work is perceived as more difficult—and important—than child rearing, asking “Is managing money really hard than managing kids?”

She argues that we must shift our concepts about our careers and realize that different stages of life may require different priorities. She urges couples to consider how they both can balance their careers and caregiving over the course of their children’s maturation. That may be result in both parents switching back and forth on who “leads” the caregiving, she notes.

Ms. Slaughter also asserts that we simply must change the labels attached to parents that constrict their success. For example, men who chose to spend time as the primary caregiver may find themselves labeled as a “work-at-home dad,” and devalued by their peers, both males and females.

She outlines “a new vocabulary of real equality,” with numerous examples, such as “When you meet someone, try not to ask, ‘What do you do?” within the first five minutes.”

“Unfinished Business” is a blue print on how we can change perceptions and lives. Of course, it won’t be easy, but it’s a great start.

* * *

Attorney Monica Bay is a Fellow at CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. She also is a special consultant at The Cowen Group, writing about the LexisNexis Federal E-Discovery Think Tank Virtual Workshops.  Read more about “Unfinished Business” at The CodeX Blog.

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Photo credit:  Flickr, personaldemocracy, Anne Marie Slaughter (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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