Working (and Making Money) in a “Man’s World”

I read this piece the other morning in the New York Times, and this paragraph really hit home for me:

“Dow Jones female employees in New York — hardly a cheap place to live — made $10,000 less than their male counterparts, and $13,000 less in Washington. Multiply that difference over the span of a career and that’s the home you can never buy, or several children’s college educations.”

Argh! Why? Why? Why? 

What upsets me the most about the gender pay gap is: If women are also mothers, then they actually need MORE to live on to afford childcare, not less, as I have previously blogged about. It feels like a conspiracy to keep us barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I would love to know, as the only female lawyer at my firm for a very long time, how much less I was paid than my male counterparts. LOVE. TO. KNOW. I am sure I was, because I really cannot imagine a married man with children working for the peanuts I was working for.

Why did I accept such a low salary?

That’s a long story. A very, very long story. I could probably relate it all on here, if you really wanted to hear it. We’ll leave it at: “It’s complicated.” As most things generally are.

And now, almost 15 years later, I’m still working at a newbie-newcomer-millennial’s wages — for the sake of my sanity and my kids. This was clearly a deliberate choice, as opposed to discrimination. I could have passed over the job when they told me the salary. In fact, before I came in for the interview, they told me what the salary was, because I’m pretty sure they assumed a J.D. with 14+ years experience would laugh and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Am I forever doomed to earn far, far less than my degree and experience warrant?

I remain cautiously optimistic, with my foot still in the litigation door, that I could always go back to banging my head against a brick wall for a living (being a litigator) when the kids are older (i.e., in college) and advance my career then. This is not possible in many industries, but it is possible in law. The more gray hair, the more experienced you are, the more people think you know what you are doing.

Regardless of my own personal choices, systemic economic disparities between men and women clearly contribute to the gender-based cultural norms that play out in real life; e.g., stay-at-home-moms versus SAM-dads; mothers taking on the “mental load” of domestic labor, etc.

Econ-mom and I have regularly talked about how: If the husband makes more than the wife, and if someone needs to take care of the children (and SOMEONE needs to take care of the children, be it Mom, or Dad, or Nanny) then it only makes economic sense for the person earning the most money to keep going full-throttle in their career, with the second place bread winner taking a back seat. (Unless, of course, you can afford a nanny. But then, you have to want to have a nanny, too; and that is filled with pitfalls and peril, as well, if you ask me.)

The above paradigm was my paradigm: The Hub made more than I did, so it only made economic sense for him to keep working and for me to cut back.

But — I also wanted to be at home with my kids. At least for a while.

But would I have wanted to, if I had seen something different modeled?

Would I have wanted to, if I had been actually been earning a bona fide lawyer’s salary?

And would I have been able to, if I had? Would it have made more economic sense, in that situation, for me to keep going strong in my career and let The Hub raise the girls? Or hire a nanny to do it?

Also, pray tell how I would have litigated for 60-70 hours a week when SC2 would not take a bottle to save her or my life! (Econ-mom, we should write a whole blog post on breastfeeding and pumping in an office. I know there have been countless articles written on this topic, but it’s a good one.)

On a slightly different note, this article also got me thinking about the slights of working as a woman in a “man’s world.” Some of my favorite examples I experienced are as follows:

  1. Arriving at depositions and being told by the receptionist, “The court reporter is already here.” I realize as I type this, this sounds innocent and benign. But it was always in response to: “I’m here for the ____ deposition.” And they would look at me like: “Are you crazy, lady? There’s already someone here with your job.” This happened more times than I bothered to keep track of.
  2. Getting winked at by an arbitration panelist while giving my opening statement.
  3. Being referred to as a “the girl” by the doctor deponent. I still wish I had responded to that one: “Um, excuse me, but if you are going to continue to refer to me as a ‘the girl’ I am going to refer to you as ‘the boy.'” Like most affronts, however, I am usually too stunned in the moment to think of any good retorts.

These are really minor slights, I realize, as compared to what many women go through. But they still offer a window into the minds of others and reflect what our culture expects and projects about its expectations of women.

Econ-mom: Law-mom, I can’t believe someone referred to you as “the girl” at work, ugh!! I have to say, in my previous life as an engineer, I hardly recall any experiences like that, which is probably due largely to random luck of being on teams with nice people. (And, sorry for stereotyping here, but perhaps engineers are a little less aggressive than a lot of lawyers. Or Economists.)  The only thing I remember was one time I was traveling with a co-worker, and he wouldn’t have dinner with me (because essentially he had a “Pence rule”). I didn’t think this was a huge deal at the time, but I do think there is something subtly offensive about that type of rule.

But your question of “Would I have wanted to [stay home with my kids]” is such an interesting and important question that to me is really at the crux of so much of the gender inequality we’re still dealing with. In my experience, men seem to be way more comfortable leaving their children in the care of others than women do. And why is that? Is it biological? Is it societal? I don’t know that it’s possible to say how much is nature versus nurture, but some of it has to be nurture. There is already clear evidence in the social science literature that role models can make a huge difference to various outcomes. I just saw a talk about this actually – in a recent experiment some introductory economics classes had two female professionals (who had bachelor’s degrees in economics) come in and give 15 minute presentations about their career trajectories. And just with that tiny intervention (30 minutes of total time!), the women in those classes were significantly more likely to go on to major in economics.

Law-mom, you and I both had moms who stayed home or worked part-time for much of our childhoods. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure that I would have felt more comfortable sending my son to daycare full-time if I myself had gone through that experience. And as for the men – well, how many men our age grew up with a stay-at-home dad? I’d venture to say only a very few. So, no men our age are running around out there comparing their parenting to their fathers who were home every day after school, baking cookies, etc. No, they’re comparing themselves to their fathers who probably weren’t very involved parents and their grandfathers who probably weren’t even in the delivery room! And they’re patting themselves on the backs for being great dads.

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