Eminent Women Lawyers Discuss Gender Pay Gap in Corporate Organisations and Law Firms | BW Dialogues

Gender pay gap is estimated at 23 per cent globally. How do women fare when it comes to negotiating salary terms. Are women compromising when it comes to agreeing on a pay package? What kind of factors lead to unequal gender pay? Are exceptional women lawyers being forced to move into alternate career choices due to disparity in pay? Top women lawyers, Shweta Bharti, Senior Partner, Hammurabi & Solomon Partners; Sandhya Vishal, Chief Regional Counsel-South Asia, NielsenIQ; Rachika A. Sahay Partner, HSA Advocates; Amrita Patnaik, Partner, AZB & Partners; Meenal Maheshwari, Lead Legal Counsel, Essar Capital, discuss the existing scenario, challenges women face and the way forward.

Gender pay gap is estimated at 23 per cent globally.

How do women fare when it comes to negotiating salary terms.

Are women compromising when it comes to agreeing on a pay package?

What kind of factors lead to unequal gender pay?

Is there gender pay gap in corporate organisations and law firms?

Are exceptional women lawyers being forced to move into alternate career choices due to disparity in pay?

Top women lawyers discuss the existing scenario, challenges women face and the way forward at the BW Legal World Dialogues.

At the outset, Business Lawyer Meenal Maheshwari shared an insight into this layered and nuanced topic. She highlighted the concepts of the adjusted gender pay gap and unadjusted gender pay gap to start the discussion. 

"When women get paid lesser than men for doing the exact same work, and the gap that is created in the incomes of women, as compared to men, the concept of gender parity kicks in".

Unadjusted gender pay gap vs adjusted gender pay gap 

While unadjusted gender pay calculates the pay difference between men and women working in the same field, it does not take into account the number of women who started working in a particular field and then dropped out. That’s where the more nuanced approach for calculating gender pay parity is adopted.  

The adjusted gender pay gap takes into account the social, economic and societal reasons along with workplace environment for calculating the number of women who could or could not continue working in comparison with the number of men who continue to work in a particular domain. 

Gender pay gap in White Collar Jobs 

Deliberating on the underlying cause of the gender gap in the corporate white-collar jobs in our world, Ms Maheswari pointed out that stats highlight a gender pay gap of 23 %.  Ms Shweta Bharti added that the genesis of the problem lies in the way society has treated women since its evolution.  

When you are not being treated as equal as two genders, then there is no question of, even talking about the pay to be equal, she added. 

She then pointed out to the other reasons for the lack of gender pay parity between men and women. 

  • lack of opportunity in education 
  • lack of opportunity in work 
  • societal barriers 
  • societal challenges  
  • Gender stereotypes 
  • maternity and family requirements for women.  

The challenges faced by women in the profession pulls down their ability to demand and negotiate the pay. For instance, a male colleague will get preference in pay for dedicating the entire time to a 24*7 task on the job over a women colleague who is unavailable for the same. 

I think we are more compromising; we are more adjusting to what is being offered to us and we take what comes our way, Ms Bharti added.  

Shedding some light on the fundamental cause of gender pay gap Ms Sandhya Vishal pointed out a staggering statistic presented in a LinkedIn report. 

37% women felt that they lost out on opportunities but only 20% men felt that women had lost an opportunity so there lies the reason. We don't have decision makers who feel that women are losing out on opportunities so unless you take them on the journey, they're never going to appreciate what's happening.  

Ms Vishal suggested that the pandemic has given us a chance to have accelerated conversations on issues like gender pay as the men are at home and taking part in household chores have given them a ringside view of the issues faced by women. 

 Gender pay parity in law firms 

On being questioned whether law firms have the same culture as corporates when it comes to women getting less pay in comparison to the male employees, Ms Rachika Sahay shared her perspective. Although she never faced the gender pay gap in law firms, she explained that the pressures are very different when it comes to law firm work culture. The probability of women dropping out is more on account of lack of flexibility and strenuous work hours.  

 Family support crucial for women 

Citing her own example, Ms Sahay also spoke on the importance of family support in overcoming the hurdles women face in the law firm ecosystem. While women may leave the law firm environment at the early stage of their career owing to lack of family support, it becomes easier if you have a family that supports you in your career goals.  

I have a huge support at home which leads me into spend my many hours in office rather than at home. I had a baby last year, but within two months of having the baby I was sitting in office and working even during COVID, she added. 

Ms Sahay also shared her two cents on the aspect of networking for women. Women deal with a certain amount of inhibition when it comes to networking with men considering that men occupy senior positions in most cases. A lot depends on whether men give a comfortable vibe or not. However, she also acknowledged that things are becoming professional in today's times. 

It is much easier to walk into somebody's office and network and talk about work and discuss work and get work. But, there were times when it wasn't as easy now it's easier to approach. But, yes, it's taken a while and there is still miles to go, she said. 

On being asked whether women face any discouragement in terms of moving to senior positions in law firms, Ms Sahay replied in the affirmative. 

Women drop out at the early stages, only because of the fact that there is that stress of meeting targets or competing with your other peers, maybe men or maybe women, aggressive women in the profession, but that is certainly there. I have so many friends who are fantastic lawyers, but they chose to not pursue active practice profiles, she said.

 Ms Maheshwari then steered the conversation towards finding the right course to narrow down the gender pay gap in corporates and law firms.  

 Ms Vishal joined the conversation and suggested the following measures 

  • Companies must conduct studies on gender pay
  • Managers should check their own biases 
  • Ensure transparency. 
  • Commit to the board on your actions and if there is a gap remedy it. 
  • Make flexible policies.
  • Do a deep dive in terms of hiring.

Ms Patnaik also shared her pointers to close the gender pay gap in law firms and corporates.

  • Having consistent and gender-neutral policies.
  • setup facilities for childcare.
  • Have measurable criteria when it comes to compensation.
  • Have support groups within your organisation.

Whether the gender pay gap is a global phenomenon 

Speaking from experience, Ms Bharti said that gender pay is a worldwide problem and not something peculiar to India. However, the socio-economic factors make it a  unique proposition in the Indian context. While talking about the reasons, Ms Bharti stressed on the social and structural oppression prevailing in Indian society. Women also handle a lot of complex issues ranging from access to education and social stigma she said. 

Ms Patnaik added an observation on whether developed countries or other countries like US are better off than us.  She said that while she has seen women being part of commercial deals in international law firms, she has never seen women leading teams. 

Gender pay parity 10 years from now

The panel also discussed how the future of gender pay gap looks like. 

While Ms Patnaik acknowledged that currently, people are not conscious and aware about the issue, she expressed hope that the situation will change 10 years down the line.

"I think we will definitely make progress because we will demand for it, there is no option. We have to go ahead, you can look back now, so hopefully 10 years later we will have a very different conversation, she said.

Reiterating the view that the current time is the best one to accelerate the conversations around women issues and talks on gender pay parity, Ms Vishal emphasised on organisational commitment and self-commitment moving forward. While organisational commitment must be focused on building a transparent and bias-free inclusive culture, the value of sensitisation, support groups and male allies increase two-fold.

Through self-commitment, one can be assertive about what she really wants and that comes with putting together leadership coaching and developing negotiation skills. Women will be greatly benefitted by putting together a platform where women can hear other stories, sometimes just helping them address their own guilt, like self- limiting beliefs. 

So, there are a couple of interventions you can do to support the women, and there are a couple of interventions which the organization can do at an organizational level so I would say that is probably the path ahead, added Ms Vishal.

The panel also discussed issues around legislation when it comes to ensuring parity in gender pay, the amendment to the law made to increase the period of maternity leave and its potential impact on hiring decisions and much more. 

To watch the exclusive panel discussion, click on the link below.

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