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Is there a gender pay disparity among Zambian lawyers?

ZAMBIA must actualise its commitment to gender equality. However, both in Zambia and the worldover, it is widely agreed that there is a massive disparity in income between men and women even in honourable professions such as law. My article today aims to start a conversation, and I hope that a student or two can pick up on this issue and study how gender is impacting pay or pay disparity in the legal profession.

At the call to the bar ceremonies in April 2019, Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Eddie Mwitwa recognised how that this year more women than men had been called to the bar – a significant feat. While our enthusiasm for numbers is exciting, this excitement may lead to more in-depth questions once we ask whether these new women lawyers will receive equal pay for equal work in the industry.

According to Leiper (1997), women lawyers bring to the practice of law unique experiences. Rather than approaching the legal profession as a “linear career” (p. 115), women in the legal jobs may face the legal profession in a very creative fashion of spurts of discontinuity and “creative alternatives” (p.116). This is true for Zambia as well as other Commonwealth countries. Despite the growth of the number of women lawyers in Zambia, the question still remains regarding the pay gap between them and their male counterparts. While my article today cannot make a detailed analysis of the specific discrepancy, I hope to ignite a conversation regarding the disparities existing in professions between men and women.

Blau and Kahn (1999) concluded that the inequality in gender pay gap is mainly due to what they termed as “wage structure” which they define as “the array of prices set for labour market skills and the rewards received for employment in favoured sectors” (p. 625). Women then are disadvantaged in general because there is a perception that women tend to have “lower skills or to be located in lower-paying sectors of the economy” (Blau and Kahn, 1999, p.626).

According to Hagan and Kay (2007, p. 51), women “are more likely to privatise than publicise their professional troubles.” The question, therefore, becomes, how does influence their perception of gender pay gaps in the profession? For a profession like law where “talking” and “speaking your mind” is at the centre of the profession, it is essential to make inquiries into how this impacts on the gender pay gap.

Morgan (2008) conducted a study which compared within-major gender pay gap across college majors for early-career graduates. The study was aimed at the address if there was any links between college majors and early-career gender pay differentials. Building on the empirical studies that have concluded that “women are uniformly disadvantaged compared to men regardless of field of study and, thus, field of study explains little or none of the gender gap in pay” (p.625), Morgan recommended that bridging pay gap should be focussed on how graduates are supplied to the professions in the first place. Morgan’s perspective, when applied to the Zambian legal profession, seems to suggest that addressing pay gaps in the legal profession should be focussed on law schools. I agree. Good professional manners and best practices must be inculcated from law schools themselves.

Noonan, Corcoran, and Courant (2005) conducted a study which they entitled “Pay Differences Among the Highly Trained: Cohort Differences in the Sex Gap in Lawyers’Earnings” In this study, they used detailed information on graduates from a local law school. The research goal was to “investigate whether the earnings gap between women and men lawyers has declined as women have increasingly entered law” (p.853). Among their findings was that women have been paid less on average because women have taken time off work to have children and take care of their homes. For a traditional society like Zambia, this is even truer. Noonan, Corcoran, and Courant (2005, p.868) drew the following conclusion: “even with differences in labour supply and work history accounted for, men enjoy a considerable earnings advantage. This suggests to us that the legal labour market, on average, treats men and women differently – that there is discrimination by sex”.

Gender equality is not just about what governments can do. It is also about how self-governing professions ensure that there is little to no pay gaps between men and women. I leave it to those smarter than I am, to look into this issue more deeply.

The author can be reached at elias@munshyalaw.com. Specific works referred to in this article may be obtained from the author.

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