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This article was originally published in June 2018 with updates made on March 9, 2023.
Our legal heroes exist in a world that suffers from gender inequality.
The super world of superheroes has a not-so-super problem: gender. Despite the box-office success of Avengers: Infinity War, much as been written about the series’ female mainstay, Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson). In 2015, Pop Matters wrote about Black Widow's burden of being “the” female Avenger:
Whatever hopes and aspirations anyone has for what a superhero who is also female should be, Black Widow has been the only figure to represent those qualities. .... All too often, when you have a token female in a story, that character's primary super power -- her defining trait -- is simply that she's a girl.
Three years later, gender is still an issue in the superhero universe. Refinery 29 recently questioned the expandability of women in the most recent Avengers movie:
When the movie [Avengers: Infinity War] was all said and done, fans of Marvel's female superheroes might have been disappointed since it felt as if the women of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] were completely misused throughout the film. They were treated as non-factors and when women were onscreen they were often literally mistreated, their bodies battered and broken to push the story forward.
But this isn’t just The Avengers. In a study from 2016, the top 10 grossing films were analyzed for female dialogue. Of these, 4 were superhero movies:
The study found that not one of the top 10 movies of 2016 had a 50% speaking, female cast. The study also found that women only said 27% of the words in these movies.
Like the superheroes of today’s mega-movies, lawyers are superheroes too. Like Spider Man or Iron Man, they do battle—not on the battlefield—but in the courtroom. And like the heroes of legend (e.g, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), many lawyers have established their own legends, as heroes of individual rights and as heroes of the law.
But the hero comparison isn’t without its stain. With the good, comes the bad. Like our cinematic heroes, our legal heroes exist in a world that suffers from gender inequality. But unlike the fictional world of superheroes, gender inequality is a non-fictional villain.
Recently, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law settled a gender discrimination lawsuit for $2.6 million. In filing the lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the mean salary of female professors was nearly $20,000 lower than male professors. But this pay-gap problem isn’t just a law-school thing; it’s also a legal-profession thing.
A recent article in Law Practice Today underscored the wide-spread issue in very blunt terms:
One continually frustrating aspect of being a woman in law (there are several) is the persistent gap in what women lawyers are paid compared to their male counterparts. The numbers do not lie. Women are not valued financially to the same degree as men for the same work and achievements.
And this wage gap is definitely a gap and not some minor rift. Citing a study from PayScale, The Balance Careers reports that the legal profession suffers some of the highest wage gaps not controlled by education or experience, some as high as 38.6 percent.
Sadly, experienced female lawyers are now bailing on the law. Three reasons for the exodus are work/life balance, unconscious bias, and the pay gap. But there’s a new and recent light at the end of the tunnel. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, female lawyers are now gaining the collective strength to battle (and hopefully eradicate) gender bias in the legal profession. On the legal front, this is already happening as more and more law firms are facing gender-discrimination class actions.
Nobody likes litigation, especially when it pits lawyers against lawyers, but until this matter is settled, employment lawyers will have to step up and be the litigation heroes. To navigate the legal issues, the gender issues, and the growing body of discrimination case law, employment lawyers need Practical Guidance by LexisNexis. Practical Guidance offers expert analysis written by attorneys for their practice areas that is unsurpassed in its authority. You can trust that the knowledge they bring to their guidance is based on real-world experience and reflects the current state of their practice area. Contact us today to learn more or click below to try it out.
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