Written by Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts. This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, as part of a series produced by Havas Media (@HavasMediaUSA), in conjunction with The Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum.
I started playing basketball when I was seven. I was short (still am) and my shot barely hit the rim. But I loved basketball.
Growing up in a small town, I was often out there with my four younger brothers and sisters, working on my ball handling and shooting drills. I loved it and I’m glad I stayed with it.
It got me through high school and my parents’ difficult divorce. It got me a tryout for the national team (I was cut right away). And it got me into college where I played. When I graduated, I wanted to keep playing. So I moved to Europe, played in a professional women’s league, saw the world, made lasting friendships and grew perspective.
I experienced new freedoms and new opportunities, things I had taken for granted – the right to speak your mind and the right to make your own decisions.
That experience led me to become an advocate for those same rights, so I applied to law school. In the 20 years since then, I’ve had the uncertainty many times that comes from starting down a new path.
I loved being a lawyer at a large law firm, but I took a risk to become a civil rights lawyer for the attorney general’s office and argued cases in court that people said we couldn’t win.
In 2009, Massachusetts sued the federal government, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which told married same-sex couples that their marriages weren’t valid. I was proud to take on the case at a time when only two states allowed same-sex couples to marry. Most Americans were still opposed to that.
But we took a risk. We built a case about our values as a society. And we won. Our case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. And we won there too. We won a victory for equality in Massachusetts and across the country.
Running for Attorney General was the scariest and most uncertain thing I’ve done in my entire life. But I knew running was the right choice. And here I am today.
Now more than ever, women are taking risks, and following their hearts. They know their personal power in creating change, see the benefits of leaning into uncertainty, and aren’t ashamed to leave their filter behind. Women are louder, bolder, and less patient about closing the gender gap. Women are true leaders – and one will soon become our next President of the United States.
But we need to keep pushing. Here in Massachusetts, we’re taking on the skyrocketing cost of higher education and the crushing weight of student debt. We’re fighting to reform our criminal justice system and keep guns off our streets. We’re tackling the heroin and prescription drug epidemic.
We also need to level the playing field – which is why supporting policies like paid family leave and raising the minimum wage are important. It’s also why we need to ensure equal pay for equal work.
In Massachusetts, our simple vision of equal pay has proved hard to achieve. Despite the Equal Pay Act that was passed 71 years ago, wage disparities persist and they are significant. In Massachusetts, women still only earn 80 percent of what men earn for doing the same job. The gap is even wider for mothers and women of color. When women’s pay falls behind, families fall behind.
Today, we are working to make the first real update to our Equal Pay Act. We have the power to change these laws. If we don’t do it, no one will.
As women, as leaders, we have learned to start telling it like it is. There are big fights we need to take on, but many of them will be waged in State Houses and boardrooms and courthouses across the country. And we need a seat at the table.
That’s why from the steps of our health clinics to the halls of the Supreme Court, we’re fighting for reproductive freedom, to make sure that every woman in this state has access to birth control if she wants it – and health care when she needs it.
The simplest and most important thing we can do is support other women – whether that’s mentoring younger women, encouraging our female colleagues, or having honest conversations about the challenges we all face.
In the end, it all comes down to taking risks. When I decided to run for office, I had never been on a ballot, never raised a dollar, never asked for a vote.
People said it wasn’t my turn, but I guess they were wrong.
Now it’s OUR turn.
Follow Maura Healey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MassAGO