COMMENTARY: Black Women's Equal Pay Day


By Zenell Brown

August 3, 2021, is Black Women's Equal Pay Day.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day represents a current-day discrimination that exists at the intersection of race and gender.

Women earn less than men and Equal Pay Days are observed denoting how far into the new year women of various races/ethnicity must work to be paid what men were paid the previous year. Women's Equal Pay Day 2021 was celebrated March 24 as collectively women earned 82 cents for every dollar paid to a man. Specifically, Black women fair worse, earning 63 cents for every dollar White men earn; thus, Black Women's Equal Pay Day is August 3, 2021.

In the legal field, occupational segregation contributes to Black women's pay disparities. Black women are underrepresented in the legal profession. In Michigan, 786 lawyers (3.2%) self-identified as being of African origin out of the 24,509 lawyers who reported their race/ethnicity in the 2020 State Bar Demographic Report. What's not recorded is the number of African American women lawyers who are denied access to partnerships, coveted assignments, and networking opportunities.

There is evidence of improvement. This year two African American women were appointed to the deanship of law schools. We welcome and celebrate Dean Linda S. Green of Michigan State College of Law and Dean Jelani Jefferson-Exum of University Detroit Mercy School of Law. Yet, we still await for days when seeing an African American woman as a lawyer, dean of a law school, a justice on the State or U.S. Supreme Court is common place and normalized.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but we can help speed up the process. Individually, we can look into our firms, law schools, bar associations, and other legal conclaves to ensure that Black women lawyers have access to networks, mentoring, and leadership opportunities.

In observation of Black Women's Equal pay day, you can:

- Let a Black woman lawyer friend or colleague know when her legal contributions make a difference.

- Listen to and provide a platform for Black women lawyers to share their experiences in practicing law. Past Michigan Bar President Jennifer Grieco shares stories like this on Peak Law's Black Law Matters podcast.

- Partner with a Black woman attorney on an upcoming case or project.

- Extend your mentorship to a Black woman attorney.

- Sponsor a Black woman attorney's deserving work that has not yet gotten the attention it deserves.

- Reach out to a Black women lawyers and Black women law student organizations and ask how you can you become an active ally.

- Reach out to Dean Linda S. Green of Michigan State College of Law and Dean Jelani Jefferson-Exum of University Detroit Mercy School of Law to congratulate them and find ways to support them as they educate the next generation of lawyers.

Let Black Women's Pay Day be the starting point of a commitment that will not cease until there is parity, equality, and equity for Black women Lawyers and all lawyers.

For more information on Equal Pay Day:
Zenell B. Brown serves as the executive court administrator of the Third Circuit Court and the administrative leader of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Project Team. She is a member of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, National Association of Women Judges-Michigan Chapter, State Bar of Michigan Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, SBM ADR Section-Diversity and Inclusion Action Team, and Detroit Bar Association.