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Let's talk pay equity

It's difficult to believe that in 2022 and 2023 the discussion about equal pay and pay equity is ongoing, and that for many women working in the legal industry financial imbalance continues to be a thorny issue.

An important part of progress is accepting where you’ve come from. For legal, this involves acknowledging its male-dominated past in order to forge a more equitable and equal future.

While legal is moving to a better place thanks to the work of many courageous women and supportive men, vestiges of this bygone era remain. In particular, pay inequity.

For the uninitiated, pay equity differs from equal pay in that instead of men and women being paid the same amount for doing the same work, men and women should be paid the same for doing work of equal value.

For Lauren Zajac, former Chief Legal Officer of Workhuman, pay equity is about more than just compensation - she says it's about “equity, fairness and creating true inclusion” - all of which are desirable goals. So why aren’t we closer to them?

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has released data showing that for full-time employees in Legal Services the gender pay gap is 35.6 percent. Which means we can say with confidence that pay equity in Legal Services is similarly misbalanced.

Legal has been historically slow to adapt, but this isn’t the sole reason for these statistics. Zajac says corporate’s unwillingness to change is also a factor. “In the corporate world, there is great hesitation to do the fundamental thing.”

The fundamental thing in this case is auditing and better transparency around pay, which would help greatly to close this gap. Both are becoming requirements in many other industries and something top prospects are looking to as an indication of good culture.

“If you don’t, you’re going to miss the boat," says Zajac. "And if you do, you’re going to attract better employees, create a better culture, and be able to have a better employee brand. That’s better for the bottom line and for the people who work for you.”

Another factor which may help to alleviate pay inequity is visibility. “There is, especially for women leaders, an obligation for us to tell those stories. If you’re a man in corporate America, or in any situation, you hear that kind of story, and it blows you away.”

A story Zajac shared was the acute change she felt when returning to work after parental leave. Nothing was overtly said, but it didn’t need to be. She felt a fundamental shift in her relationship with both her workplace and employer. “I saw that discrepancy myself. I did not think it was going to be as dramatic as it was.”

Making pay inequity more visible through conversation, and most importantly pay auditing, will go a long way to help push the space. It will not only give women evidence to assist this discussion but also ensure that employers cannot avoid them with a dismissive "that doesn't happen here" comment.

If women are courageous, if they speak up and share their stories, it is only fair that men listen and be supportive. Without support from anyone nothing will change. Which is a situation Zajac has faced many times. “There have been multiple opportunities where I've already set the context and blown someone away by sharing an experience, and yet that person has missed opportunities to support, to amplify or to encourage. If that support isn’t there, we aren’t all rowing in the same direction.”

Once again, it is time for women to show courage to attain what should be theirs by right. To not only have the courage to share stories of less than desirable circumstances, but to also stand up and make a case for that promotion or wage increase, to confidently declare their value.

“You want to truly believe in what you are making the case for, and the only way you can do that is to truly believe what you have to offer,” says Zajac.

Her message is clear: Back yourselves, back each other, and help to forge workplaces that are better for everyone.

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