October 25, 2013

What not to do when telling women what not to do.

A memo to women lawyers is a good negative example:
Last night, we started receiving reports of a memo entitled “Presentation Tips for Women” that was distributed by a member of the Women’s Committee to all women associates across the U.S. offices of Clifford Chance.
I haven't worked in a law firm since the 80s, so you tell me: Why is there a "Women’s Committee" in the first place?
Our tipster was correct in that the vast majority of these words of wisdom aren’t tips for “women,” but rather, tips for “human beings.”
Yeah, but there's a "Women’s Committee." These are women helping women. Either you like that or you don't. Pick one.
We’ve listed some of the most ridiculous “tips for women” here, along with our commentary...
My link goes to an Above the Law post by Staci Zaretsky, which has the text of "the full memo," but I don't see the title "tips for women." Is that the title, or is the "for women" simply a characterization that arises from the fact that there is a "Women’s Committee" and it communicates with the women? In any event, the demeaning that the recipients experienced came, it seems, from the special effort at mentoring the women.

Anyone might benefit from most of these tips, but some address problems only women have, such as whether a little cleavage is ever okay or even good, whether to leave off the high heels if you're not expert at walking in them, and whether you need to make a point of wearing something with lapels if you're going to have a clip-on microphone, and whether you're doing something that might be termed "the urinal position" (which I'm guessing — Google didn't help — is a hands-around-genitals position that men are more likely to realize looks unprofessional).

How would you like to be an older woman at the firm trying to help the younger women present themselves in a way that won't have clients talking behind their back about their uptalking and creaky voice and so forth? It's not easy! We could reverse-engineer that badly received memo to come up with some Tips for Senior Women Advising Junior Women.

1. Don't affect "girltalk." You have power and authority. Acting like you don't fails to create the sense of warmth and intimacy you want and, ironically, sets a bad example of how to sound professional.

2. Make it gender-neutral. Everyone involved already knows you're women mentoring women. Continually pointing it out creates anxiety about whether it really is a special problem to be female.

3. Don't attempt humor, even when — especially when — you're talking about seemingly lightweight things like vocal quirks, hand gestures, hairstyles, and fashion. Even if you were a gifted comic writer — and you're not — it's best to be utterly dull when conveying advice that will be received as personal criticism. Remember the old punchline: That's not funny.


Moose said...

Humph. We have continual programs to "Celebrate Women in IT". It sorta comes off like: "Celebrate the incompetent in IT".

I guess women need extra help to make it in demanding fields or something...

rhhardin said...

Men's fields hiring qualified women wind up with those women in the Women's Work Issues Committee.

Women follow their interests.

sean said...

Why is there a Women's Committee? Excuse me, but doesn't University of Wisconsin have a whole women's studies department, along with a dozen committees and initiatives focused on women? Talk about the pot and the kettle.

mikee said...

As an introvert and very private person, my favorite job ever was working as an engineer in a semiconductor clean room - everyone wore white outfits that hid everything from toes to fingertips to tops of heads, and only eyes behind safety glasses were exposed.

I went for 5 years without being able to recognize some of the folks I worked with daily if I met them on the street - I never saw their faces.

Women and men all looked like saggy white bags in the outfits, with only diameter and height to distinguish one from another, and oddly enough, it worked wonderfully well.

So based on all that, I say treat 'em all the same - expect the same from 'em all - and give 'em all the same training to perform to standards equal across any given job classification.

It works.

bearing said...

I am a female almost 40 years old, and it never, ever occurred to me that standing with... would it be hands clasped in front, down low? ... would read as "the urinal position."

Does it really? Men?

I guess if so, then you've done me a favor.

Lucien said...

Why "women" associates instead of "female associates"? Is there a feminist/political point to be made? Is using "female" a microaggression, making it offensive, but not important?

carrie said...

It would be nice if Women's Committees worked on changing the workplace to embrace women. Instead, they work on helping women adapt to a work environment that embraces all things male and allows women in that men's club only if they can fit in. Women are their own worst enemies in a law firm because women think that they need to act/be like men to succeed and so they do not champion changes in the workplace that would suit women.

Sam L. said...

bearing, we called that the figleaf position, and in the back, the reverse figleaf, back some years and jobs ago.

David said...

They call themselves women because they know that underneath they are still girls. They even want to be girls but are afraid to.

Guys will refer to themselves as boys with no fear. They will switch back and forth between boys and men.

The trick is to know when it's ok to be a girl, and when it's not. Check out the boys and see how they do it.