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Women lawyers still hit glass ceiling

A statue of Themis, the Goddess of Justice.

Women make up about 16 percent of equity partners at big law firms -- a number that has barely budged in a decade. This despite the fact women graduate from law school in almost the same numbers as men. Women partners also earn on average just under $500,000 a year, while men earn $734,000, according to a recent survey of lawyers' compensation. Some female lawyers have had enough of these discrepancies, and they're pushing for change.

Women lawyers at top firms hate drawing attention to their gender. "We've been told for decades that if we talk about women's issues we're whining," says Victoria Pynchon, a litigator for 25 years and co-founder of a consultancy called She Negotiates. She says a new generation of women is realizing they can't get to the top just by working hard and following the rules.

"Women lawyers in these major law firms are saying good bye to all of that, and they are exercising power without being given the authority to do so," she says. "And this is something that men do without even thinking about it."

For example, she says at one large firm, when they vote for a new equity partner, women partners now come together to support the best female candidate.

That may sound like a small thing, but by bloc voting, they improve that candidate's chance of getting elected. Women at that firm didn't want to talk on the record because what they're doing is not official firm policy.

Some men within firms are also trying to change the status quo. Beth Kaufman heads the National Association of Women Lawyers. She says in-house attorneys at client companies are on the case as well.

"One general counsel raised her hand and said I'm just going to call up my law firms and say I want you to have 30% of your equity partners women within some reasonable amount of time," Kaufman says.

But even if you become a partner, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll become a top moneymaker. Marla Persky is currently general counsel for a global pharmaceutical firm. Next year she's starting a company to teach female lawyers how to be financially savvy -- knowledge she says many sorely lack.

"With everything, you've got to follow the money," says Persky. "At the heart of power and influence within firms is the ability to make rain. You've got to be able to bring in clients."

When women do more of that, she says, both their compensation and status within firms will increase.

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What about women in low-wage , low-skill jobs?

What about women in low-wage , low-skill jobs?

"Women partners also earn on average just under $500,000 a year, while men earn $734,000, ..."
Well, here's the problem: they are all overpaid!

Women are generally bigger sticklers for meritocracy and playing by the "rules," and we value our work and abilities less than men. There's no reason to think the legal profession should be any different. I've come to a point in my career where I'm finally starting to ask myself, "what would a man ask for in this situation?" and "what would a man get in this situation?" Despite making a conscious effort at this, it's still really hard! I recently had to renegotiate my salary, and my boyfriend, my dad, and a male colleague kept telling me I should ask for $10K more than I could bring myself to. I just kept thinking, "no, my boss won't take me seriously and I'll blow the whole thing." After the fact I realized I should have asked for more and I probably would have gotten it. 13 years into my career and I'm also just starting to realize that I am actually an expert in my field, I know what I'm talking about, and I produce excellent work-- I don't have to always bow to someone else's opinion or expertise. Most men I've worked with seemed to have realized this in their 20s. The American workplace is designed and built around these more male characteristics, which is unfortunate, but I wish I come to understand this difference and started figuring out ways to integrate myself into it much sooner. This message seems to be in the media a lot recently, and I hope young women just graduating college really take it to heart. It's hard to come out of academia-- where I think the "female" way of thinking holds a bit more weight-- and realize the workplace is not the same, but the earlier you do the better.

You, LLB, and the thousands, tens of thousands like you are the reason we created She Negotiates Consulting and Training. As you know, you're not alone. Stating your true market value, loud and proud, is something we work with women professionals, business people, and entrepreneurs every day. We've consulted with people who make as much as three quarters of a million dollars have a hard time saying "a million" and with women who are making minimum wage who have a hard time asking for 30% more. It is extremely rare for our students and the women with whom we consult, to fail. We average increases between 20 and 30% because that's the wage gap. You're not even asking for a raise, you're asking for wage parity. You're asking for your true market value. Schedule a mid-year review and take a look at the free resources at the She Negotiates site. This isn't just a business for us (though we, like you, deserve to be paid our true market value). This is our mission.

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