I was not surprised, but I was saddened to read that the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation found that women make only 80 percent of the salaries their male peers do one year after college, and after 10 years in the workforce earn just 69 percent of their male co-workers’ pay.
In my 30 years in the workforce, despite all the talk, little has changed.
I began my legal career in 1975 as a lowly motion clerk at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany. All seven of the court’s judges were men. Today, a majority of the judges sitting on the New Your State Court of Appeals – four of seven – are women.
After completing a truly educational two-year clerkship, I went to work as an associate attorney for a large New York City law firm. Just as all of the judges of the Court of Appeals were men, so were all of this firm’s partners. The hours were unremittingly grueling, and back then, very little thought was given to work flexibility or alternative work arrangements.
The 2006 national survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers revealed that women represent 45 percent of associates in law firms, but only 16 percent of equity partners. At my own law firm here on Long Island, half of our associate and of-counsel attorneys are women, and 16 percent of our voting shareholders are women – a percentage that compares favorably with the gender composition at other medium and large Island firms.
We have developed several initiatives designed to advance our associate attorneys and provide flexibility where needed, including a mentoring program in which an associate and a partner are paired for a period of one year.
Why should a law firm invest valuable time and energy on these issues? What are the motivating factors from the law firm’s perspective? First, law firms should address these issues because it is the right thing to do; because diversity and gender equity in our profession are in and of themselves laudable and important goals.
Second, from an economic, wholly self-interested perspective, successful law firms need to attract and maintain talented attorneys. There is stiff competition for talent, and the cost of turnover is high.
Firms that pay attention to work/life balance and get it right will become the preferred workplaces for talented lawyers who require flexibility.
And that is a win-win result.
Lois Carter Schlissel is the managing partner of Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, P.C. in Garden City.