This issue is not going away.
As of 2017, any company in the UK with more than 250 employees is required to report figures about its gender pay gap to the government and publish the information on the company website. Of course, as of now the United States has no such requirement. But this new development does pose an interesting question for international firms with UK and US offices: how will they justify continued lack of transparency stateside at the same time they are complying with UK requirements?
Firms already have tried to walk this line by releasing statements explaining that the US legal market is different, that pay is highly individual, that rainmakers make more, and that the lack of uniformity in pay is actually a crucial tool for recruitment and retention that the industry relies on. But most lawyers—especially women lawyers who are chronically underpaid—are not going to buy those explanations. Everyone understands that firms are not releasing this information because no one is making them do it. And because if they did they would be expected to do something to remedy the gap.
So what kind of statement would actually earn firms a little public credibility?
· Stop making excuses. Acknowledge that the pay gap exists.
· Acknowledge that your firm’s understanding of this issue has evolved and that old practices are no longer going to fly. (And no, that’s not the same thing as admitting fault.)
· Make a commitment to greater transparency and practices that promote equal pay.
We are living in a moment that demands accountability on issues of access and inclusion more strongly than ever before. Don’t continue to trot out the tired justifications for practices that lead to inequality. Begin to make the changes that address the issue and amend your communications strategy to let people know about those changes. Otherwise, your firm may find itself on the wrong side of history.