By Susan Smith Blakely • April 08, 2014•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
Today, April 8, is Equal Pay Day – the day each year that we bring special attention to the mandate for women to catch up to what men earn for equal work. Help make this the last time that we need to commemorate Equal Pay Day by making it the last one ever. Contact your representatives in Congress to urge them to pass the best version of the Paycheck Fairness Act now, without delay. There is no longer any justifiable excuse to ignore this inequity, and I do not consider this to be a political issue. It is a fairness issue, and it is our job as women lawyers to fight unfairness wherever we find it.
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 77 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.
Why has it taken so long for women to receive this equal treatment? Some people will tell you that it is an evolutionary process, but, even if that is true, the time has come. 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 64 cents and Latina women only earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a non-Hispanic white man.
Most of all, you should not make the mistake of thinking that the equal pay issue will not affect you as women lawyers. It does, and it will continue to. Although you may start out being paid the same as the males in your associate class, this is likely to change over time. If it does not change in terms of equal pay for equal work per se, it will change if you do not get your fair share of quality work that can enhance your career. Watch out for work assignments, which favor the male lawyers and which have very positive and long-reaching effects on their abilities to attract work and develop relationships with important institutional clients. This is a kind of latent discrimination that is still a great problem for women in our profession.
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.
The most recent NAWL Survey, released February 25, 2014, finds that not only are women clustered in non-firm leadership positions, such as staff attorneys and fixed income equity partners, but women lawyers also lag in compensation compared to male counterparts at all levels. For example, the gap between the median compensation of male and female equity partners does not correlate with male/female differences in billable hours, total hours or books of business.
Women lawyers are not immune from the equal pay issue, and you will be doing all women lawyers a favor by forwarding this blog to your colleagues. Being a part of Best Friends at the Bar includes advocating for equal treatment for women lawyers and for all women.
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a 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. 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.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches. She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.