Friday, September 19, 2008

Female Paralegals Paid Less Than Male Counterparts

There is currently a pretty big kerfluffle over this American Community Survey report released by the U.S. Census Bureau. At the heart of the controversy is the finding that female paralegals receive lower salaries than their male counterparts. The study revealed that the median salary for female paralegals is $42,600, and the median salary for male paralegals is $45,700 -- in other words, female paralegals make 93 cents on the man's dollar.

The knee-jerk reaction is a resounding, "What?" After all, the paralegal field is dominated by women. Are male paralegals really doing a better job than their female couterparts? It's sexism, is the outcry.

In thinking it over, though, I wonder how much of it is women who are unwilling or unable to negotiate their salaries. With the lessons of Debra Condren's amBITCHous ringing in my head, I am certain that we as women are not asking for salaries befitting our worth. Blaming men, the good old boys' structure of the legal field, and firms for not being conscious of the pay gap is easy. What is hard is to ask for the raise that is deserved, the salary that is fitting, and take ownership of your career. Simply put, it is up to women to assert themselves in salary negotiations, no matter how difficult it is. Playing the victim is not going to result in raises; action is.

Furthermore, the survey does not take into account maternity leave or education levels. Male paralegals are deliberate; they typically are not promoted from secretarial positions but have started as paralegals. It truly is a career for them, and they typically have the credentials to back that up, which may explain some, but not all, of the pay gap.

Right now, we as paralegals have much bigger fish to fry than a pay gap. We are fighting to be recognized as professionals, and complaining about a gender pay gap is not going to give us that recognition. What will give us this recognition is mandatory regulation. Not one single state out of 50 in the United States thinks that a paralegal's job is so important that it requires mandatory regulation. Not one.

Complaining about a pay gap isn't going to change that. In fact, it will create discord between male and female paralegals when what we really need is a unified front in our quest for being recognized as professionals. And if male paralegals truly are more valued than female paralegals, alienating the men (inevitable if we resent them for higher salaries) probably isn't the best strategy.

By the way, if you haven't already, read amBITCHous. It's a fascinating and very useful look at how women subconsciously sabotage themselves, and how they can break that pattern.

The study in PDF is below; click to enlarge.

acs-09 - Get more Business Documents

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