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Women in Law Still Suffering the 'Motherhood Penalty': Report  

Female lawyers with children are facing a disproportionately uphill battle compared to male lawyers who have kids, according to a newly published report from the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Women in the Profession.

ABAThe report, entitled “Legal Careers of Parents and Child Caregivers: Results and Best Practices from a National Study of the Legal Profession,” indicates many parents in the legal profession said they believe having children has been detrimental to their careers. The impacts, though, appear to be greater on women than men, said ABA President Mary Smith.

“The legal profession is not immune to the ‘motherhood penalty,’” Smith said in a statement. “Research consistently shows it impacts career opportunities, compensation and advancement in this male-dominated field that demands long hours and constant availability. Our profession should be—and can be—the gold standard for achieving workplace equity and equality for the betterment of our families, businesses and society in general.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, across all jobs, women had an average median weekly salary of $899 in Q2 2021, compared to $1,094 for men, meaning women earned about 82% of what men did during the period measured.

The ABA survey was conducted between Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, and Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, and included 8,613 respondents from a wide range of regional, affinity and local bar associations. It includes lawyers working in both law firms and for corporations.

Per the survey, 60% of the working mothers included said they felt they were “perceived as less committed to their career by their employers.” Respondents also reported they believe “women are overwhelmingly responsible for what’s happening at home” with respect to childcare, which was said to be the mother’s responsibility 65% of the time compared to the father’s responsibility 7% of the time, scheduling doctor’s visits, which falls to the mother 71% of the time compared to 9% of the time for the father and assisting with homework, which was reported to be the mother’s responsibility 41% of the time compared to 12% for the father.

“Women who are single and caregivers of dependent children experience more disadvantages than any other group, no matter what sector of the legal industry they work in,” it adds.

From X (formerly Twitter)

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Additionally, a far greater percentage of mothers in the legal profession reported experiencing “demeaning comments” at work compared to fathers, notes the report.

In response to these disparities, the report calls for more flexible working arrangements, more generous leave policies and a reduction in “billable hour requirements.”

“Both mothers and fathers struggle to attain full and satisfying legal careers while at the same time trying to achieve work-life balance, but this struggle is particularly difficult for women with children,” added researchers Roberta Liebenberg, Stephanie Scharf and former ABA President Paulette Brown.

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