Walk a Mile in My Heels on Equal Pay Day
by Victoria Pynchon
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 has 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 decisions, on the Executive or Finance Committees. The senior men are not decision makers. The women are.
He is often asked, particularly by the most senior women, how well he will be able to work with his women colleagues. Will be able to overcome his outsized male ego and work cooperatively as the women do.
He 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 who he hears in casual office banter being described as 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 him 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
John finally gets two job offers. One firm feels like a better fit. It’s telegraphed its desire to retain and promote more male attorneys through its diversity program and men’s initiative. They’ve offered to provide men with male mentors and sponsors to help them adjust their behavior to appear more like “leaders.” Recently, he’s 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, 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 lawyers are hired at the firm who are junior to him. He is ready to demonstrate his leadership ability so he’s happy to face the challenge.
He 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 he 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 stories. 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 organization, unlike the women who have become officers in the County Bar or Federal Bar Associations.