As promised about two months ago, the ABA has finally provided us with a toolbox- I mean, toolkit (box is too vaguely sexual)- to shatter the glass ceiling. It includes a glass cutter, hammer, and a tile saw, just to give every tool equal opportunity. It does not include protective eye or headgear because if you’re dumb enough to think the contents of the toolkit will generate equal pay, then you probably deserve a shard of glass to the eye (on the plus side, your skull is thick enough to protect you from most serious head trauma).
It may seem like I harp on this issue a lot. And I promise I’ll stop just as soon as the ABA stops being so stupid about it. And so begins today’s installment of Constitutional Daily’s Explanation of How the ABA Has Gotten Yet Another Women’s Issue Wrong. Brought to you by Constitutional Daily’s Token Woman.
Let’s start with what this mysterious toolkit actually includes. The ABA’s Gender Equity Task Force’s Toolkit for Gender Equity in Partner Compensation comes complete with the following:
Program agenda: just over 3 pages; apparently the Task Force is very into double spacing and bullets.
PowerPoint program: 14 slides, including 1 each for introduction, questions, and conclusion. Also includes several handy “insert bar logo here” boxes, so you can add a personal touch to your moronic presentation.
List of program materials: A half page document that includes links to 6 pdfs recommended as “background information for speakers” or handouts at the program.
Marketing information: a 2 page Word document that describes the program and lists “suggestions for attracting decision-makers,” as well as suggested dates, since you’re probably not capable of independently accessing a calendar if you’re actually going to use this thing.
And finally, a four page bibliography: described as an “extensive list of articles that can be referenced for more in-depth understanding of the issues.” It’s suggested that this be distributed to speakers (prior to the program) and to the audience at the program.
You may have noticed how often the word “program” appears in that list. Apparently, the whole “plan” of the Tool Kit is to have a presentation with a guest speaker and a panel discussion, and of course, handouts and PowerPoints. It reminds us of the old Power Point slogan: PowerPoint -- Required for motivational speakers and inspiring accompanying handouts since 1990.
You may have also noticed how many “suggestions” the Task Force included in its Tool Kit materials. Kind of suggests even they think people dumb enough to use the Tool Kit will be too dumb to know how.
To its credit, the Tool Kit is slightly better than the ABA’s other suggestion of women networking with other women to fix the gender pay gap. But that’s largely because the Tool Kit doesn’t include a suggestion to present the program only to other women. In a bold step forward though, the ABA does suggest getting decision-makers to attend your program. This really is ground breaking, because prior ABA advice was to only try to influence the least influential people.
If you read over the material (although I have no earthly idea why you would, unless you’re trying to induce vomiting via eye-rolling-induced vertigo), you’ll probably notice that the ABA proffers no real solution to the gender wage gap problem. The program and all of its materials are essentially just a re-hashing of everything the ABA has already said about the issue.
One the one hand, I don’t know if I blame them too much for that. If you want to fix an issue, you have to identify it, explain why it’s a problem, and present that information to someone capable of addressing it. You also have to convince that person that it is a real problem and that it’s a problem they want to spend energy, time, and money fixing. Uncharacteristically, I’m willing to give the ABA the benefit of the doubt here and say maybe that’s what they were trying to do.
On the other hand, the Tool Kit is still almost entirely useless, as most large firms have lockstep pay, at least for associates. Maybe you get a bigger bonus for having people in the right places throwing more work your way, but the gap for the actual salary is minimal, if existent. Sure, there are bigger gaps at the partner pay level, but being made partner is also another game of who you know, and again, a big part of that pay comes from your bonus (more for bagging clients now than billing hours).
As for government attorneys, it’s pretty similar to associate pay, so far as salary. Again, knowing the right people may get you hired or promoted faster, but for employees on the same level and schedule, they’re typically getting paid the same amount, or within a very narrow range.
It seems like a lot of this involves who you know, and it does. But benefiting from knowing the right people isn’t just a government law job thing or a law job thing; it’s an every job thing.
Assuming there are no real differences between men and women and their lives and professional goals, there’s really only one way to end the gender wage gap: eliminate sexism. And good luck with that. I’m not suggesting in any capacity that sexism is good or right or should stick around, but it’s been a part of this country since its inception; heck, it’s been part of species since we had sexes. And while things have been improving, there’s a long way to go. We might as well suggest that patience will end the wage gap (actually, there’s very good reason to think that time will eventually cure this problem as much as it is curable, though that’s no consolation to a woman who was just relegated to the rank of permanent super-associate).
Of course, another option is to make all compensation even more formulaic than the six minute breakdown in a billable hour. Expanding the lockstep model with bonuses every so-many billable hours to all compensation levels. Surely that will make everyone more efficient and hardworking anyway, right? Of course not. Disregarding how much of my time I’d have to mark down as “bathroom” (I more or less live on coffee and Diet Coke), there’s a lot of work to be done in a law job that doesn’t fit into a formula, but nevertheless benefits the client or the firm. The few minutes of small talk I make with the prosecutor every time I call his office can’t be marked down on a timesheet, but they have helped me build a rapport with the guy so if I ask nicely and the situation is right, he’ll cut my client a break. At bigger firms and among higher ranks, you might not be the partner who bagged the whale client, but you’re the one who fields the GC’s late-night phone calls after the lead partner has gone home. You just can’t create a by-the-numbers compensation scheme that tanks into account all of the soft variables.
In the end, this Tool Kit is just another ABA contribution to the problem-with-women-in-the-law-problem. It’s chockfull of information that people who are interested in the issue already know, provides zero practical input on how to fix the issue, and of course is written in a tone that the speaker is somehow simultaneously writing and shaking her fist, so it’s totally going to change hearts and minds.
And for those of you snarky enough to suggest that fist-shaking sounds a lot like something I do, I’ll have you know that my hands are always open when they shake, and the shaking is induced by a combination of over-caffeination and stressing out about my actual job duties (you know, the shit you’re suppose to be taking care of to get ahead).