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Walk A Mile in My Heels On Equal Pay Day

Today is Equal Pay Day - the day on which we women finally begin to make what the guys have been earning since the first of January. In honor of that day, I'm posting a piece by an anonymous lawyer who would like the guys to honor the day by walking a mile in her heels by simply imagining that the roles were reversed.

Start by picturing a male law graduate looking for his first job. Let’s call him John.

Most of John’s law professors were women, but he realizes he’s seeing an increase in non-tenured clinical posts being filled by men. 50% of his classmates were women and he never gave much thought to gender discrimination. It looks as if all gender barriers are down. The long and acrimonious war of the sexes has been won and both men and women have emerged the winner.


With few exceptions, the lawyers interviewing John are women. The names of the firms are all women’s names. Even when he is interviewed by male attorneys, they are not equity partners, and the few that are clearly do not have the power positions on the Executive or Finance Committees. The senior men are not decision makers. The women are. 

John is often asked, particularly by the most senior women, how well he will be able to work with his women colleagues. Will he, for example, be able to overcome his outsized male ego and work as cooperatively as the women do. 

John has a vague sense that these questions are sexist and quite possibly illegal. But he needs a job and can’t afford to be sensitive to off-hand comments and uncomfortable questions. 

As the interview progresses, John realizes some people are whispering that they don’t like working with men who have a reputation for being “difficult.” Some secretaries refuse to work for men. He's heard staff in casual office banter calling male attorneys assholes, bullies, egotists, and control freaks. He also hears the women making jokes about men’s physical appearance and sexuality. It seems rude not to laugh along with them.

John has always been proud of how pleasant, helpful and cooperative he is. There’s no reason anyone should think he might be particularly difficult to work for. The women, however, appear to have allowed their male stereotypes to completely trump their actual experience of John as an individual. He will have to work extra hard to show he will not behave as the powerful women in the firm believe he will. He’s beginning to feel that the cards were stacked against him before he uttered the first word.

First Job 

John finally gets two job offers. One firm feels like a better fit. It telegraphed its desire to retain and promote more male attorneys by touting its diversity program and men’s initiative. The firm offered to provide men with male mentors and sponsors to help them adjust their behavior to appear more like the firm's women “leaders.” Recently, John heard the term “executive presence” tossed around and the qualities of that “presence” all seem to be behavior that’s characteristically female.

The other firm seemed committed to hiring men and helping them establish a sensible career path as well, but during the interview the women partners made men who like sports the subject of jokes.

John chooses the first firm. He knows it won’t be easy but he didn’t sign up for easy. He’s willing to work harder and longer than his women peers in order to win the firm’s allegiance.

Early Years in Career 

Things go well for a few years. John gets along with the women partners. More male lawyers are hired at the firm. He is ready to demonstrate his leadership ability so he’s happy to face the challenge. 

Joh is still very much a minority at the firm. In fact, he is the minority everywhere. 

In court, the judges are almost all women and the other lawyers are almost always female. Other firms seem to be made up mostly of women attorneys too.  Almost without exception, the shareholders or equity partners in other firms are also women. 

When John goes to seminars, the speakers are almost always all women. In the lawyer magazines he reads, the authors of articles are almost all women, and the photos of are almost all of women attorneys.

References to male lawyers and male judges are usually negative. There are even stories about proper clothing for male attorneys. He’s  heard sexist jokes about the ties (“the better to guide them”) and jock straps (which can’t be reprinted here). 

John feels so isolated, he joins The Male Lawyers organization. It is reassuring to attend the group’s meetings  where he meets male judges and successful male attorneys. This is a place he can go to and feel assured that he too can be successful one day. His firm does not see the value of his membership in the group though, and does not support it financially. It’s not a feather in his cap when he becomes President of The Male Lawyers Association, unlike the women who have become officers in the County Bar or Federal Bar Associations.

Early Client Development

More years pass. John is reaching a point where he needs to bring clients to the firm. 

Some of the women attorneys who are junior to him have been included in client meetings and after-work activities. The women can’t “let their hair down” with a man present so they routinely exclude him, even from the lunches they grab on the fly with their women colleagues.

John’s mentor is not really much help explaining things to him; she just says to keep working hard. He's working harder than the new women in fact because he continues to feel the need to prove himself. He spends a lot of mental energy trying to prove he is cooperative so he will fit in.

John is also trying to develop clients but it is difficult because all of the clients are overwhelmingly women and they seem to want only women partners working on their matters. His male attorney friends at other firms joke about how they need to take a grey haired woman with them to client pitch meetings because all clients want assurances that experienced women attorneys will work on their matters. The new client he did recruit was credited to one of the women. He doesn’t complain. If he fights for credit, he’ll be conforming to hostile male stereotypes, further eroding his chances for promotion.


John grows isolated. As the years go by, most of the firm’s male lawyers leave the firm for other jobs. Many men leave legal practice altogether. They usually find jobs where they believe they have more potential for advancement. He is one of the few men attorneys to stay with the firm. He tries to mentor younger men attorneys but they seem to instinctively know he is not a power at the firm.They’d prefer their mentors to be women.

At lunchtime, the women attorneys all have things to talk about that he isn’t necessarily interested in or knowledgeable about. They talk about the male lawyers and judges who they think are “assholes”. He likes to talk about sports but they are not into sports at all. The women like to meet at a frozen yogurt shop across the street after work but he can’t stand frozen yogurt. Sometimes he tags along anyway, and buys a bottle of water. 

The women attorneys all seem to go together for lunch, too. They never ask him to come. He wants to be part of the group but becoming part of the group seems impossible. When he tries to join conversations, the women attorneys exchange knowing glances about what an idiot he is, and their comments feel like mockery. 

When John goes to other offices for meetings, he's often mistaken for a security officer. People seem to jump to conclusions that he is a blue collar worker of some type. He often has to explain that he is actually an attorney.

He doesn’t tend to get assignments that will advance his skills. He doesn’t understand why he is not chosen to work on high profile cases – the women associates always are, although there’s at least one man in the firm who’s been put up for an early partnership decision. It’s rumored that he’s sleeping with the senior named partner.

Jon has done some great work and has a winning trial, arbitration and appellate record. He’s clearly a skilled and talented lawyer, but the women partners just don’t want to give him credit. He once went to a seminar and brought his golf clubs thinking he would put together a foursome with some of the other attorneys or firm clients who attended. All of the women stared at him as if he were a freak. He felt so out of place.

John is evaluated every year by the women partners. It is always a very trying time. When outlines his contributions, he is told he thinks too highly of himself.  When he doesn’t outline his contributions, he is minimized.  He can’t win.  He feels he can never completely live up to the expectations of the women partners.  When he tries to mimic the qualities of the women associates, he is criticized. 

He is not sure what he needs to do in order to be considered an equal.  The partners cut him less slack then the women attorneys. They judge him more harshly. They remember his mistakes forever. While the women attorneys are heralded for having potential, he has trouble getting credit for the actual revenue he brings to the firm.

Advanced Client Development

He is trying to bring in even more clients because he feels if he can just bring in more business, then the partners will finally appreciate his worth, but getting more clients is hard. Potential clients don’t seem to view him as someone who is knowledgeable even though he does all of the work on cases. So he tries to do even more. 

He joins more groups, writes articles, speaks at seminars, and markets intensely. This does little good. The women partners actually tell him they would prefer it if he spent his time just working on cases. They seem to want him to do nothing but work and to have no aspirations for more. He becomes a partner eventually because he has a client base and a good solid book of business but he earns far less then all of the women partners. He is not sure but suspects he makes at least 40% less than female partners with similar contributions. Their lives are so different.

 Income Differences

He makes a good living. The women partners, though drive nicer cars, have multiple vacation homes, send their children to private school and colleges, and take vacations in Europe.  He bought a nice home a few years ago when he thought he was on his way up. He was wrong, and he has not continued to advance even though his contributions seem to justify further advancement. As a result, he is in poor financial shape.  He doesn’t understand why . . .  He might not be able to help his kids through college, and he expects he will have to work to at least the age of 70 before he can retire.

Opting Out 

After more than a decade with his firm, he realizes that quite possibly wasted his time all these years.  Maybe he should have left the firm years ago.  He cannot make the women partners see him as anything more than a worker bee.  Even though they started as 50/50, now the Commission on Men is reporting that men are only 31% of the practicing profession, and even less are partners.  He knows now why so many men give up on private practice.  Maybe he should have also.  The unfairness of the situation is so depressing, so intolerable.  Although he loves his job, the jokes and criticism, and the lack of appreciation sap his strength every day.  But he stays, and continues the struggle. He does not know what else he can do.

What Would Men Do? 

What would men do in this situation?  Working an entire career in an environment that sends you subtle messages every day that success does not look like you, or talk like you, or think like you would make any normal person lose their spirit entirely. Perhaps most men would begin to opt out of practicing law.  Maybe they would decide that their families were more important than the potential of succeeding in such a biased and difficult environment.  Maybe they would decide it wasn’t worth the effort  to aim high.  Maybe they would share their experience with other men and influence them to opt out of law school altogether.  It would be understandable, wouldn’t it???

Walk a Mile in My Heels 

I am every woman attorney you work with or for. I am leaning in all the way, and have been for years. I put on my heels every day and with as much boldness as I can muster, I face a profession which, though great strides have been made, still does not view me as an equal to my male partners. I’ve put my heels on every day for years, in the face of both outright harassment and subtle discrimination, which has deprived me of the same opportunity my male colleagues have enjoyed. 

I put on my heels every day and keep going even though I did not receive the same mentoring my male colleagues received, and even though I seem to work twice as hard to bring in half as much revenue for half as much compensation as my male counterparts.  It is not easy to keep putting my heels on every day and to keep striving to do more and more so that one day, perhaps, I might be considered an equal of my male partners. 

It’s hard to keep putting on my heels when I see that my mistakes are remembered longer, my accomplishments are minimized, and there seems to be a belief that I am not serious about my career since I also have a family.  When I’ve asked for fair compensation, I’ve been reminded how grateful I should be that I’ve been able to have a family and a career – as if that somehow renders me less entitled to fair compensation. When I think I have struggles, though, I remember my sister lawyers who are also women of color.  My isolation and my battles are nothing compared to theirs.

The Sorry Statistics

 According to the Department of Labor, on average, women earn less than men, but this effect grows over time for women.  As men gain experience in the labor force their wage gains typically exceed those experienced by women.

Taking the wage gaps by age in 2010, if these were the gaps that all cohorts of women faced at each age, then by age 25 a woman working full-time, full-year will have earned $6000 less than a man working full-time full-year. By age 35, a woman who experiences the typical gap at each age in 2010 has earned $28,000 less than a man earning median earnings at every age. By age 65 the earnings gap has ballooned to $379,000. 

These facts portray better than any woman can describe the every day actions which build into the tremendous pay gap between men and women, and it is these every day events that are holding women back from achieving their full potential. It is understandable that many women make decisions to not “lean in” to the work force.  The challenges are significant, and it is hard to keep putting those heels on every day when we know the struggle will continue, and that magical day when we are viewed as equals still seems so far away. 

How Do We Keep Putting Our Heels On? 

So how do we do it?  For some of us, we are the main wage earners for our families and we simply must keep going.  For others, we are doggedly determined to overcome these obstacles.  For me, it is the right thing to do.  “ [I]n the nineteenth century a woman was not encouraged . . .On the contrary, she was snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted.  Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that. . . Among your  grandmothers and great grandmothers, there were many who wept their eyes out [because girls who tried to use their intellectual gifts were thwarted].”  (From A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, 1929.) 

Each generation of women has had its challenges, and we are higher up on the ladder because we stand on the shoulders of many brave women whose sufferings were far greater than our own. We need to stay in the game so that those who come after us will move even further up the ladder. And we do it by joining women’s organizations for support, mentoring other women, learning about our businesses so that there is no mystery and no magic about what is needed to advance, by working hard and working smart, and by taking our women friends and colleagues along with us as we advance in our careers. It is too easy to get discouraged, and therefore it is mandatory to have friends who will serve as sounding boards and to give inspiration.  These are the ways women keep putting those heels on!

Close the Pay Gap 

If we can close the pay gap, we can change the world.  If a pay gap existed for men, we would see immediate legislation and severe penalties. Walk a mile in my heels and you should see that a pay gap in the United States of America in the year 2012 is not right.  

It is time for immediate and effective change for the spouses, daughters, sisters, women friends, nieces, granddaughters, and the little girls and teen girls in our lives. 

Equal Pay Day is April 9, 2013.  Raise your voice.  Close the gap.  And tell us what it is like to walk a mile in your heels, or your boots, tennis shoes, sandals, or loafers. Let’s make our stories go viral! Like Anne Marie Houghtailing of the Millionaire Girls Movement said once, “You know that small voice that tells you that you are made for greatness and something bigger? It’s true. It doesn’t lie. 

Be very still, listen, and TAKE ACTION!

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