Change the narrative that rights and wages are a zero sum game: Greater workforce participation tends to overall expand the opportunities and economy for everyone. We’ve seen this in the US both with immigration as well as with women increasing their participation in the workforce. The same is true of other rights and protections. Women, men, and people of various ethnic origins aren’t in a fight over a limited amount of jobs, payroll dollars, or rights, everyone working together has an exponential effect and everyone can walk away with more.
Aspart of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Shapiro, an attorney and the founder and CEO of Hire an Esquire. Hire an Esquire is a venture-backed legal tech company that enables flexible and permanent hiring for the legal industry leveraging research-backed psychometrics and structured vetting processes. Julia has been a speaker, writer, and panelist on the new economy, diversity in hiring, and “fundraising while female”. Her writing has been published in Bloomberg and various legal industry publications. She was named a Top 10 Legal Innovator as a part of LinkedIn’s Next Wave, a Millennial to Watch in Legal Tech by law.com, and to the FastCase 50.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
I graduated from law school around the time of the “Great Recession”. I saw changes in the way that people worked generally and in the legal industry accelerating with the downturn. Many attorneys were working on a contract or freelance basis for small to major law firms and corporations; contingent talent made up 1/5 of legal payroll spend! Small firms were using Craigslist Legal Jobs to find freelancers and large firms and corporations were using very traditional staffing agencies that were still operating as if it were mid-century. At best, their processes were clunky, inefficient and not user-friendly — at worst they were dehumanizing offering no to skeleton benefits and pushing down attorney wages to the point that it was impossible to pay back student debt, let alone rent.
I assumed someone had developed at least an online marketplace platform to make the process more efficient and transparent and initially went to search for it to recommend it to the law firm where I was working (which had 200+ contract attorneys at any given time). When to my surprise, it didn’t exist, I became determined to build it in a way that would provide more transparency and efficiency to keep more money in the hands of freelancers, less in the hands of agencies, all while providing comprehensive health insurance options.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
The story of bias and privilege. There’s not one major anecdote or incident but a clear story and pattern that emerged as I had the opportunity to meet with countless people between the worlds of “the future of work”, the legal industry (which was seeing rapid and destabilizing shifts), and the startup-venture world.
I found it particularly interesting how much unconscious and structural bias there is around socioeconomic status today — which is frequently left out of the bias and privilege conversations. Socioeconomic status plays a far greater role than anyone in America wants to admit with our “bootstrap” and “meritocracy” narratives. Recent studies have shown that the average US Citizen has far less socioeconomic mobility than they believe and than citizens in the UK and major EU countries.
The realities of how these factors impact paths is on starker display in the venture and startup world which is clubbier and more archaic than the legal industry, contrary to popular belief.
And while of course everyone has some control and choices, I’ve found it interesting how much life paths, options, and access were set by where and to whom you happen to be born. Statistically and anecdotally, people who came of age professionally before 80s era tax policies took hold and became more extreme, had a higher potential for upward mobility. As a country we moved further from the income distribution and class mobility of the mid-century and closer to that of the gilded era.
Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t think there are mistakes so much as lessons; entrepreneurship is a constant series of interesting lessons.
What stands out the most was my initial assumption that if you could manage to build a better mousetrap (still no easy feat in itself) people would buy it if they knew about it. I’ve seen so many amazing tech products fail because of this assumption as well and/or not having the funds to scale sales. This is particularly true in enterprise businesses where it’s harder to change behavior and the buyer decision making process is much more complex than a consumer or a small business owner pulling out their credit card.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?
Unconscious bias, unconscious bias, unconscious bias…If I must list 3 it’s how unconscious bias plays out in:
- Hiring: Research shows that hiring decisions are made in the first 10 seconds of an interview and men are more likely to be hired and viewed as having greater potential. Since worker tenure is shorter today and taking a new role at a new organization is a way to climb the career ladder this impacts career trajectory and compensation.
- Negotiating Compensation and Promotions: One reason previously put forth for the pay gap was noticing that women don’t negotiate as much or as hard at the outset of a job or during their job for raises and promotions. More research found that women were in fact responding to social cues and optimizing for their careers and getting or maintaining a job — while men are rewarded for negotiating, women are punished and people are less inclined to want to work with them.
- Daily Professional Life: Studies published in the Harvard Business Review tracking the performance of women and men at work in terms of time allocation, face-time, and interactions with senior leadership concluded men and women were equal in terms of these interactions, time, and commitment. The study concluded that the difference in promotion rates between men and women was not from their behavior but how they were treated and perceived at work. The Women in the Workplace Study by McKinsey and Leanin.org came to similar conclusions. Another interesting thing to note here is that men are more likely to be hired and to receive higher compensation when they have children whereas women see a pay decrease and are judged more harshly in the workplace once they have children, even as men take on more parental responsibilities. This may be why many are now noting the phenomenon at work where men with children proudly announce that they’re missing a meeting or a deadline for a soccer game or ballet recital and you rarely see women doing this or often don’t even know if they have children.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
At Hire an Esquire, where the majority of roles are for legal professionals requiring 4+ years experience, we’re currently tackling bias at the hiring level and it actually happened accidentally. Our original goal was developing and implementing predictive hiring analytics — based on 85 years of proven Industrial Organizational Psychology research on predicting workplace performance — to increase our placement success rate. This allowed for candidates to be presented with related data on how they would perform and fit within an organization to the people making hiring decisions, who otherwise rely on their own guesses and hunches. And with this approach we exceeded our own expectations — our contractors were twice as likely to be called back and four times more likely to be hired permanently than when our clients had hired through us without this data. Interestingly, when we looked through our reports after this we noticed more diverse and female names on the list than before. We previously didn’t track race or gender so our recruiters went back through all of our many placements to obtain and add this information. When we ran the number we saw a 15% increase in women and/or minority hires. This showed us that not only were women and/or minorities being discounted during the initial hiring process but that this bias was causing worse outcomes. The funny thing is that you hear leaders in notoriously undiverse industries claiming that their lack of diversity is because they refuse to lower their standards when the truth is their bias has likely has lowered their standards.
Since many legal professionals use our platform and contract work particularly at the more advanced level to broaden the types of organizations that they have experience in and/ or to get their foot in the door for a potential permanent role we think that weeding out bias at the hiring level is an important step. We’ve also been building out hourly rate and salary data to present to candidates and hiring agents that will assist and guide the setting of rates in a way that is more equal and less subject to negotiations and biases.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.
- Policy: Well-crafted, enforceable equal pay policies are shown to strengthen the economy and society. Also parental leaves need to be equal for parents. Not only are many families dependent on two incomes with fathers taking on increasing parental responsibilities, parental leave policies that aren’t equal prove further detrimental to women in their career trajectory.
- Use of structured hiring processes: These have been proven to decrease bias and improve outcomes. I’m encouraged by the developments I see here. These changes are performance-driven to get the best talent and outcomes in an increasingly transient and competitive talent market, reducing bias is a side effect.
- Rethinking the early narratives we have about boys and girls: Letting children develop who they are as people and being careful not to provide unconscious nudges towards gender stereotypes. Personality traits are shown to be evenly distributed across populations and children begin to become “gendered” based on social cues and this actually has an impact on career choices and earning potential. One small example is that children show no preference for gendered toys before gender is reinforced. Girls receive toys such as dolls that promote skills like empathy. Boys receive blocks and building toysthat promote spatial, logic, and problem solving skills, which are conducive to success in STEM careers and standardized tests.
- Change the narrative that rights and wages are a zero sum game: Greater workforce participation tends to overall expand the opportunities and economy for everyone. We’ve seen this in the US both with immigration as well as with women increasing their participation in the workforce. The same is true of other rights and protections. Women, men, and people of various ethnic origins aren’t in a fight over a limited amount of jobs, payroll dollars, or rights, everyone working together has an exponential effect and everyone can walk away with more.
- Stop the narrative that women need more “flexibility” and balance: This implies women are giving their work less gravitas than their male colleagues and as studies discussed above show, this isn’t true. Instead the false expectation that women are less committed is what’s hurting their advancement. We need to stop using this as a cop out on why women make less money and are less represented in leadership since it is not only false but further contributes to this false narrative and resulting unconscious bias.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I don’t think we need a new movement but to remember to apply an updated version of an ancient movement: Representative democracy.
And we need less looking to others for leadership or inspiration and more discipline to “do the things” of democracy like staying aware of what’s going on in our government, calling our reps and heading to the polls (and not just during presidential elections). There are a lot of podcasts and valid news sources that will summarize the top stories of the day in 5 minutes.
It’s as these systems break down and society feels less equal that people begin to look to “strong men” (yes, it’s generally men) and charismatic but volatile leaders for easy answers and leadership. As we’ve seen with Uber, WeWork, and in our own politics, this generally produces a bigger messes to cleanup rather than some grand Utopic solution.
In the past few centuries, the stablest most transparent, fairest, representative democracies overall provide the best quality of life for their citizens. Also the less wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, the better the quality of life. Even in the best examples, none are close to perfect, 100% fair, or transparent — and over the years they’ve obviously left a lot of people out. But if we look at these as a minimum viable product (MVP) they are the best starting point.
In some political U.S. narratives, the midcentury is seen as a golden era. It is not lost on me that women and minority groups were excluded at this time. Still, what is lost in the fondness for this time was this was the period in America where we had the greatest income equality and invested in our society. The US made major investments in infrastructure and education — we built highway systems and educated the scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who would take us to the moon and virtually eradicate diseases like Polio. Capitalism and innovation were alive and well — companies were just expected to pay for all of the public resources they leveraged from infrastructure like roads, the FAA, and security to an educated workforce. While in mid-century the vaccine for Polio was created at a Public University, by the 1980s when the AIDS crisis emerged the NIH had been so badly defunded we didn’t have a powerful enough microscope to see the virus and the initial drug breakthroughs came from France’s Public Health System. I think Silicon Valley and tech libertarians need to remember the basis of their wealth and careers is a government funded military project.
Again, these democracies are only as good as their active, informed citizens. A wise man once reminded us that the most important job is citizen.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everyone has chinks in their armor”. It’s just generally a good reminder when handling people and particularly with the sheer volume of interactions that you have and people that you meet while building a company from customers, users,and investors to building and managing a team. Everyone shows up with their own experiences, stories and potential that have shaped them. Understanding this can help increase your patience and compassion on the craziest, most sleep-deprived days and can help you to better support people to their fullest potential.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
RBG — needs no explanation.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.