Women Lawyers and the Motherhood Penalty

Are you familiar with the “motherhood penalty?”  Well, you should be. 

According to an article published earlier this week, the “motherhood penalty” is identified in a recent study as one of the reasons why women make 81 cents of every dollar a man makes.  When, in fact, research also shows that having children raises wages for men, even correcting for the number of hours they work.

The gap between what mothers earn and what childless women and males earn is significant, and the gap between mothers and childless women has not narrowed since the 1980’s — even though the share of working mothers with young children has risen from 47% in 1975 to 70% in 2015.  The reasons cited for such slow progress are the lack of both paid parental leave and subsidized childcare.   

Sounds unfair, right?  But, maybe you think that it does not happen that way in the law profession.  Think again.  The example of a law firm was specifically cited in the article. 

 “You’re a female associate. Should you be considered for partnership at the end of your seven years, when you took nine months off?” 

The study came out of the University of Massachusetts and draws on research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.  That research tracked approximately 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families since the study began in 1968. 

And, yes, it is against the law to punish an employee for having family responsibilities.  But, employers know what to say and how to say it to remain within the law.  And although cases alleging discrimination based on family responsibilities have “skyrocketed” in recent years, the total number of cases still remains small, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lacks funds to proactively police the issue.

Sad but true.




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Today, Valentines Day, is a day for celebrating love.  We buy cards with red and pink hearts and poetic verses expressing our love, we share classic red (the color of love) roses with our loved ones, we have intimate candle lit dinners demonstrating our love, and we thank the powers that be for the opportunity to love whomever we wish.

Oh, wait a minute …. you say you are caught in the office and not able to participate in the Day of Love?  You cannot see yourself clear to taking a few hours off in the name of love?  And I say, if that is the case, you are overlooking the most important love of all.  The love of yourself.

Your job is not limited to the office.  It also is your “job” to love yourself, and that begins with a recognition that you must take care of yourself to be helpful and effective and loving to the others in your life.  It all starts with YOU.

Take time out for pleasure.  Take time out for people.  Take time out for just plain doing nothing and staring at a beautiful sunset.  It will help you gain perspective and make the hours spent toiling at your desk seem much less of a burden.  It will give you things to look forward to.  That is essential for healthy living and the balance that we all need.

So, love yourself.   Today is the perfect day to start.  Happy Valentines Day!

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Women Lawyers Beware: Social Media Posts Could Cost You Your Job

From time to time I write about the use of personal social media and the caveats for women lawyers.  In fact, my recommendation consistently has been that you get off personal social media all together.  But, I know how attached some of you are to instant feedback and gratification, so I continue to write about it.  You need to be reminded about the pitfalls of using social media on a regular basis.  Eyes and ears are everywhere.

Here is a scenario and question posed on a website addressing this issue.  The answer to the question may surprise you because many of you view your time away from the office and what you do on that time as completely personal and untouchable by your employer.  Well, think again.

“I posted something on my personal Facebook page that my employer found offensive and I was subsequently fired. It wasn’t about the company and was done during my own time. Isn’t that an infringement on my First Amendment rights? Can they fire me for expressing myself just because they didn’t like my message?”

Here is a summary of the answer provided on that website:

  • The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech in most circumstances, but that does not apply to private employers.
  • In most circumstances, a private employer can fire an employee for what he or she writes and says online and off.  Limited exceptions include protection by whistleblower laws if the employee is exposing unlawful or unethical activities within the employer company.
  • Many employers review the social-media profiles of prospective employees and may make decisions about whether to hire based on those posts.  Employers also can fire someone if the employer concludes that an activity undermines the employee’s role, authority or the company.

Please pay close attention.  As the website post points out, many careers are damaged by social media messages and advancement of those messages.  Beware of these far-reaching effects and post with caution — if you insist on posting.

Better to be safe than sorry.

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A Woman Judge Steps Up to Protect Women

Justice was served today when Larry Nassar, an Olympic Team USA doctor, was sentenced to over 100 years in prison for sexual abuse of young women gymnasts over decades.  If you have not seen the remarks of the sentencing judge in a Michigan court, here is the link.

She was powerful and everything you want a judge to be in facing off against a sexual predator, who at no time fully embraced his wrong-doing and the harm he had caused to young women and their families.  This judge was relentless.

This is yet another chapter in the growing movement against abuse of women by powerful men, who use their power to gain personal pleasure and control over powerless women.  From the #MeToo movement to a courtroom in Michigan, women are finally being believed and given the respect they deserve, and powerful institutions are being forced to ask questions and examine policies and procedures that have been ignored for too long.

It is not just about women.  It also is about men.  Men often are victimized as well, and women need to have empathy and understanding for their plights.  And we hope that making strides toward equity and justice for victimized women will have the effect of also gaining equal and compassionate treatment for men who become victims.

Make no mistake, however.  Today, it is about WOMEN.  Today we celebrate the 150 plus women, who were victims of Dr. Nassar and who had the strength and wisdom to appear in the courtroom and tell their stories and the stories of their families.  They are examples of what all women should aspire to be.  They spoke truth to power, and they have contributed to a lasting difference in our society and in our lives. 

Bravo and thank you to these brave women.  They all deserve Olympic medals.

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Not Just for Women Lawyers —- All Women Must Use Their Power Responsibly

If you have not seen the video of CNN journalist Ashleigh Banfield responding to the accusations from an anonymous source of sexual abuse by comedian/actor Aziz Ansari, you need to.  Here’s the link, as presented by newsweek.com.  The accusations and the response have given rise to a lot of impassioned discussion and controversy, and women across the globe need to sort out the facts.

The point of your inquiry should be not whether the events took place but whether the events amount to the kind of sexual harassment that is the benchmark of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement that followed.  Those movements are founded on a recognition that women have suffered abuse in the workplace because of an imbalance of power where they were powerless to refuse unwanted advances and remained silent because their employment and financial livelihood depended on cooperating with the abuse by powerful men, who controlled their futures and their ability to work.

That is not what the anonymous blogger complained of.  Rather, she complained of a date gone wrong, albeit with raw and unsavory facts, but a situation where she had the POWER to walk out —- as in TO LEAVE a situation that had turned into something she did not want.  She HAD THE POWER and leaving would not have cost her a job or curtailed any of her future employment opportunities.  There are no facts presented to indicate that she was being forced in any way to stay and to continue to experience behavior that she apparently found abhorrent.  In fact, when she finally did leave, the alleged abuser did not stand in her way.  Far from it.

Why is this important, and why am I breaking with tradition by taking it on?

The answer is simple.  Because, as Ashleigh Banfield states in her open letter to the accuser, complaints like those of the accuser diminish the value of legitimate movements, which involve true sexual harassment and abuse of power.  Muddying the water with descriptions of dates gone wrong (rather than workplace abuses) and women who fail to use the power they possess to extricate themselves from objectionable circumstances serve to retard the progress of these legitimate movements rather than advance them.

I have been talking about and writing about women lawyers using their power to control and manage their careers for over a decade.   Now, I want to send that same message to all women.  Although you may encounter an imbalance of power, you must use the POWER YOU HAVE to change your circumstances and protect your futures.

You have VALUE, and you have POWER.  Understand it and use it.  To do anything else is to join the abusers.



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The Best Friends at the Bar Mission For Women Lawyers — A Look Back at 2017

The Best Friends at the Bar year is about to come to a close.  Yes, I know that the entire month of December lies ahead before the Big Ball drops in Times Square and that you still have time for holiday shopping, holiday cards, holiday decorations, attending parties, giving parties, baking and cooking … and the list goes on.  Do not panic, you have plenty of time to accomplish all this and more.  You are young and energetic and incredibly resourceful.  I have complete faith in you.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking the month of December off each year to address my work-life balance.  December is when I concentrate on family and friends and help make memories.  It is when I listen to music, play the piano, read books, take long walks, and watch all the movies that I have missed earlier in the year.  It is when I stick close to home and don’t travel on business.  It renews me and gets me ready to jump into the new year with gusto and enthusiasm to connect once again with you, my readers.

So, this is my last blog of 2017, and it seems appropriate to look back on the year and see where the mission on behalf of women lawyers has taken Best Friends at the Bar.  Here is the retrospective:

  • I have delivered key note addresses at bar associations, including the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Tampa, Florida chapter of the Federal Bar Association;
  • I have spoken at law firms in Washington, DC and New York City and to other industry groups across the country;
  • I have served on panel discussions and written over 50 blogs on subjects from Advocacy to Zero Tolerance;
  • I have written the draft manuscript for a new book for Millennial lawyers; and
  • I have perfected a program on Soft Skills for Lawyers, which will be available in 2018.

This has kept me very busy, and I have enjoyed it all.  Best Friends at the Bar is a gratifying project that positively affects the lives of so many women lawyers, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to carry out this mission.   I hear from many of you, and your comments make it all worth while …

Like the young woman standing in the back of a ballroom at one of my speaking engagements earlier this year.  She was holding a baby and doing the “mommy rock” as she listened intently to my remarks.  I met her later and she told me that she has a two-year-old at home and this new baby.  She said that she doubted whether she could continue in law practice until she heard me speak about the many faces of success.  She smiled broadly and said that she had called her husband and told him, “I just heard this woman speak, and I know I’m going to make it now.”

That says it all …. except Happy Holidays to all of you.  See you next year!



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Women Lawyers in America Should Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  I hope that you are surrounded by friends and family and celebrating all of the blessings in your lives.  I am sure there are many.

One of those blessings is that you are women in America and, to boot, women lawyers in America.  We take so much for granted here, and we complain about unfair treatment and lost opportunities, but the truth is that we are the luckiest women on earth.

We are working our way toward full equality in the workplace, and I have real hope that it will happen in my lifetime.  We live in a society protected by free speech and a Bill of Rights unparalleled in the world, and we have a judicial system to back it up and make those freedoms matter.  We can be anything we want to be here in America, within reason, as long as we make the right choices and respect people along the way.

While it is true that women are feeling very violated as a group in the shadow of today’s headlines disclosing more and more shocking details of sexual abuse and harassment, it also is true that women finally are feeling the force to call out the wrongdoers and speak truth to power.  That is huge, and even if men do not change their behaviors, women are changing their own.  We are learning to become the tribe we need to be to advance our causes and protect our futures.

So rejoice in your blessings and make this a day to remember.  This is the day you take even greater control of your lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Advice for Women Lawyers — A Variety of Perspectives

Today I am speaking at Gibson Dunn in New York City, in the heart of BigLaw.  (OK, so I am not writing this blog as I prepare to take the stage to keynote the luncheon, but my preparation of this blog coincided with my preparation for my remarks at Gibson Dunn.  Close enough.)

As I prepared my remarks for “Owning Your Career” for the Gibson Dunn Women’s Mentoring Circle, I recalled  an article that I recently read titled “Advice (I wish I had been given) for Women Starting Careers in BigLaw.”  The author has been practicing for eight years in Big Law, and she claims to have had an “overwhelmingly positive experience.”  I always am happy to hear that.  I also am happy to hear that she appreciates the unique challenges to women lawyers that can make or break a career.  Certainly she is likely to encounter a lot of them along the road to partnership if that is what her goal is in Big Law.  Here are the highlights of the article:

  • Don’t let yourself get siloed into ministerial tasks;
  • Learn to delegate and don’t feel guilty about it;
  • Make your voice heard; and
  • If there is an issue, speak up for yourself.

The advice is good, and I especially like the author’s treatment of the last bullet where she states,

If you feel you are not getting the opportunities to which you are entitled, you have two options:  (i) you can sulk, blame the firm, complain incessantly over snacks in the associate lounge, anonymously post on ATL and/or quit the firm; or (ii) you can speak up about it.

I compared this to the advice that I gave in this article for Huffington Post a number of years ago.  A fundamental difference between the two articles is that I write for all young women lawyers — not just those in Big Law — so my advice is more about career planning and execution that is common to the experience of most women lawyers.

Here is the advice that I offered in that article and that I would offer today — to all women lawyers:

  • Embrace the novelty of being a woman lawyer in a field full of men but do it right;
  • Recognize that male lawyers and female lawyers think and interact differently;
  • Support other women lawyers;
  • Create a life balance that includes paying attention to personal needs and health — even while being an excellent lawyer; and
  • Craft your own definition of success in the law.

Here also is an interview that I gave to The Muse years ago about why women leave the law.  That is looking backwards to see where it all went wrong — something that is helpful to know as well.

And for those of you thinking about a career in the law, here is another advice piece that I did for Girl’s Guide to Law School.

I believe that there is a lot of room for advice from seasoned veterans of the profession, and I also believe that you need all the good advice you can get.  So, go ahead and help yourself!





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