Five Steps to Closing Your Own Gender Pay Gap


Tracy Clark

Tracy Clark has been in the legal industry since 1998, with the most recent role as Director of Legal Recruitment with SCI, a service offering of Special Counsel.

Prior to that she served in a multitude of roles, including Chief Operating Officer for two law firms, CEO of a Law Firm turnaround consulting firm, Office Administration roles (local and regional), Human Resources, and Legal Technology.

Tracy received her MBA from Suffolk University in Boston, and earned the coveted Certified Legal Manager (CLM) designation in 2011 demonstrating extensive knowledge and experience in legal management.
She has written two cover stories for Legal Management Magazine and over 30 articles and columns for the Lonestar Administrator Magazine. In addition, Tracy has served as a Regional Officer for the international Association of Legal Administrators and Chapter President for the Dallas Chapter Association of Legal Administrators.

I was recently asked to be part of a panel of professional women discussing the topic Salary Negotiation: Closing the Pay Gap. Despite decades of study and discussion surrounding the gender pay gap, research indicates that progress has been slow since 1979 when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started calculating the gender wage gap. In that first ’79 report, a full-time wage-earning woman earned an average of 62% of what men earned. Since 2004, the female-to-male earnings ratio has remained in the 80 to 83 percent range. But progress has been flat in recent years. In 2012 women earned approximately 81% of what their male counterparts earned and the BLS figures for 2018 indicate women still only earn 81.1% compared to men.

The most troublesome statistics indicate women continue to have “lower median weekly earnings than men in most of the occupations for which [the BLS] have earnings data for both women and men.” Resolution will require that every woman, man and employer take responsibility for eliminating the pay gap for current and future generations.

The effort to gain pay equality starts with you. You must be armed with the right information and then use it properly to negotiate your compensation and win the pay gap challenge. Below are five steps you can take to narrow (or eliminate) your personal gender pay gap.

Step 1: Find Your Salary Resources

Do you know the salary range numbers for your position? Nearly every industry has a salary guide or salary survey specific to the jobs available in your industry. Start by finding a reliable resource for accurate salary information by doing your research. Reach out to hiring managers, HR professionals and recruiters in your industry to find out what they use as a salary reference. I’m using the 2019 Salary Guide for Legal Professionals for this example. Note that national salary guides have multipliers by location, so check the instructions on the guide to find out how to determine accurate information for your location. Guides and surveys often include other factors such as company size, position, experience, etc. to narrow the pay range, so make sure you understand how the data is “sliced and diced” in each resource you use. If you are just starting to gather resources, websites like PayScale and are good places to start for a very general overview of compensation for your market.

Step 2: Identify Your Qualifications

If you have been in your industry for a while you are likely familiar with the qualifications for your current position and similar positions. When taking an entry-level job or changing industries, however, you may need to familiarize yourself with the qualifications for your position that differentiate it from other roles. Researching job descriptions online can assist you in identifying your role qualifications beyond just the title.  Titles may be the same, but the tasks they perform may be quite different. 

During Step 2 you should also take stock of your education level, supplemental training, years in the role and skills you possess.

Step 3: Understand Your Industry

Let’s use the legal industry, for example. Some firms may refer to a paraprofessional as a Paralegal or a Legal Assistant. Others use the title Legal Assistant and Legal Secretary interchangeably. The legal industry refers to different areas of law as practice areas or groups. A position as a personal injury paralegal at a small firm has a different skill set than an intellectual property paralegal at a global law firm. They have different assigned work, qualifications, experience and skill expectations. The pay range for each of these positions is different. 

Salary guides can only differentiate compensation ranges within a reasonable number of factors. Understanding titles, tasks, nuances in office type (main versus branch offices), norms for various practice areas and other factors within the industry is critical to determining an accurate salary range. Understanding and embracing the uniqueness of your industry can help you determine your pay basis.

Step 4: Know Your Own Numbers

After compiling the information from Steps 1, 2 and 3 you are now ready to determine your actual pay range. Using the salary resource you located in Step 1, find the position you identified in Step 2 in the salary guide, ensuring you identify the correct parameters specific to the type of firm or legal department that employs you and your specific role.

Identify your target salary range. The more experience you have in the role, the higher your target salary will fall within that range. It may be helpful to confer with an industry recruiter to confirm the identified range is accurate for you, your location and your situation.

Step 5: Your Compensation Conversation

Armed with your target salary number, schedule an appointment with the person responsible for determining your salary. Arrive prepared with a copy of your materials for that person to review:

  • Your job description with a list of additional tasks you are currently performing in addition to the job description
  • A resume containing your internal positions and tasks, your previous work history, your education and any special training you completed that is applicable to your role
  • Your most recent performance appraisal(s)
  • The salary guide/resource you used to prepare
  • Your talking points and target salary you are requesting

Approach the conversation from a business objective and have your data in order. Keep in mind, the intention is not to compare yourself to others, but to demonstrate why you deserve the salary range you are seeking based on the data you are presenting and the value you provide.

Tracy Clark is a Director of Legal Recruitment with SCI, the legal talent recruiting division of Special Counsel. Connect with Tracy on LinkedIn or email her directly to learn more about industry trends or closing your own pay gap.

Attract & Retain Top Talent

With a rapidly changing industry, it's vital to offer the right compensation and set the right expectation. With our Salary Guide, get detailed job descriptions, industry insights and local salary data to equip your managers with hiring confidence and expertise.

Get your copy »

Get email updates about more content like this.


| Next articles in The Column blog |

Get the foundation you need to hire the best legal talent.

Request your copy of our 2021 Salary Guide »