Susan Smith Blakely

Equal Pay Day—- An Important Day for All Women Lawyers

Today is Equal Pay Day, national recognition of the mandate for women to catch up to what men earn for equal work.  It is an important day for women and for their families, so help spread the word.  We all need to keep the pressure on our lawmakers to put teeth in the laws that will create the equality that we need.

As a woman, mother, professional and small business owner, I am passionate about ensuring everyone is paid fairly for his or her work.  Women’s issues are everyone’s issues; they impact our daily lives. They also are economic issues and quality of life issues.

It seems simple, right?  When a woman does the same job as a man, she deserves the same pay.  But, nothing is simple these days

Women still are not paid the same when they do the same work as men in many jobs across America, and the situation with women lawyers is no exception.  Yes, we have come a long way in the law profession, but there still are disparities that need to be addressed. And the issues do not stop with the equal pay checks.  Other disparities lend to unequal pay.

For instance, if women lawyers do not have equal access to valued firm clients and quality work, they will be negatively impacted in how they are able to advance in the firm and get to higher pay levels.  If women lawyers are assigned to meaningless committees that have nothing to do with hard-core law practice and business strategies, they are less likely to be able to demonstrate value to the firm and be paid for that value.   It is all related.

A disparity in pay for equal work hurts all women — single women, mothers and the families of those women, especially those families that are being supported by women as single parents.  Righting this wrong is long overdue.  President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963, at a time when women were earning an average of 59 cents on the dollar compared to men. More than fifty years later, women on average only earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to men.  Women earn a median income in the range of  $10,784 to $36,931 less than men with similar experience, and this costs women and their families hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

The gender wage gap makes families less secure, slows economic growth, and is critical to middle-class security.  The pay gap is even greater for women of color, with African American women earning approximately 64 cents and Latina women only earning approximately 56 cents for every dollar earned by a non-Hispanic white man.

I support equal pay for women.  Equal pay for equal work, that is.  It is an important distinction, and one that you need to remember.  If you expect to get paid equally for doing less work or even having the opportunity to work flexible hours, you may be setting the cause for equal pay back rather than advancing it.  Make sure that it is equal pay for equal work.

For more on equal pay and equal opportunities for women in the law, see the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) web site to access the most recent  NAWL Annual Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms.  The NAWL Survey is an important resource to quantify the disparity in pay, promotion and advancement of women in the legal profession.


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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