“Always be yourself and have faith in yourself.”
If you never have been bullied in the workplace, you are lucky.
If you never have been bullied in the workplace by another woman, you are very lucky.
It happens much too often, and you need to make sure that you are not the bully. That is the only way we will get this under control.
I, like most women lawyers, have been bullied at one time or another. We are minorities, and that, unfortunately, is how minorities get treated. Many of us were “pioneers” in our fields, and, because of that, the forces were against us in an even more powerful way. The profession was not ready for us in the early years. In those days, most of the bullying was done by male lawyers — because they could do it with impunity and because almost all of the managing lawyers were men.
But, to be bullied by another female is a whole different thing. It is pure betrayal. Any notions that we, as women, are all working toward the same equitable end, flies right out the window. How could she do that to me? How can she allow herself to weaken my position to make it easier for others to throw me under the bus? How can she allow petty jealousies and envies to overcome the concern we all should have for helping each other get ahead on a playing field that is tilted against us?
Those are the kinds of thoughts that cloud your mind and disappoint your soul when another woman bullies you. And, today, most of the bullies seem to come in the female variety. Woman-on-woman bullying is running rampant in our profession. My conversations with male lawyers today lead me to believe that it is as distasteful to them as it is to the women who are being bullied. It is not a pretty picture, any way you look at it.
I hope it never happens to you, but chances are it will. Read this article from the Atlantic to arm yourself against bullying, to recognize it when you see it, and, yes, to understand it. Not to justify it, but to understand it. “There’s hostility among the women who have made it,” states the writer. “It’s like, ‘I gave this [part of my life] up. You’re going to have to give it up too.” You also will read some historical information that sets the stage for this kind of competition between women that is worth knowing. But, hey, it is not the survival of the fittest to the same extent today as when there was only one strong alpha male to protect his “woman” and her offspring. Presumably, we have evolved.
“Tokenism” is also discussed, and it needs to be. It occurs when there are few opportunities for women, as compared to men, and women begin to view their gender as an obstacle, which causes them to avoid joining forces. That is when they turn on each other. Hardly the theme of Best Friends at the Bar.
And, you also will read about “competitive threat,” which takes place when a woman fears that a female newcomer will outshine her. Been there, done that — from the receiving end. Bad, bad.
Although the article is not specific to women attorneys, many of the “tales of female sabotage” reference them, and the article begins with information about a blog post by an anonymous young woman lawyer, who breaks down Female BigLaw Partners into three categories: The “aggressive bitch”; the “passive-aggressive bitch”; and the “tuned-out, indifferent bitch.” The connection between female bullying and our profession is clear to the reader.
I know it may sound like “sins against feminism” to “out” this kind of information, but it is time that we called it what it is. It is time that we started policing our ranks against these abhorrent behaviors and practices. When it becomes “sport,” it has gone too far.
Read the article and find out why.
e. e. cummings
My friend, Caroline Dowd-Higgins, is an excellent career coach, motivational speaker and author of “This is Not the Career I Ordered.” Her recent blog “15 Leadership Lessons to Invigorate Your Career” is worthy of your attention. Caroline and I first met when she was the Career Services Dean at Indiana University Law, and I think it is no accident that her advice rings true for young lawyers.
Here is her list (with a little editorial help from me!);
(Yes, I know there are not 15! I consolidated a few.)
Keep this list handy, and check it from time to time. Ask yourself whether your short-term plan is working and how you can use these leadership lessons to get where you want to go.
And then, enjoy the journey!
It is not just young women lawyers who desperately need mentoring — it is all young lawyers. And, the profession is failing them.
Young lawyers need mentors to help guide them in their professional growth and provide opportunities to discuss their futures as lawyers. Instead, too often, young lawyers flail around doing what they think they should be doing without knowing what it is they should be doing.
And, that leads to a lot of insecurity and loneliness on the job. The profession has evolved in such a way that an associate lawyer can spend eight to ten hours a day in front of a computer screen reviewing documents and having very little interaction with others at the firm. Senior lawyers feel they are too busy to “bother” with newbie lawyers, and some firms don’t even provide much in terms of interaction between associates. Gone are the days of associate meetings, which served two meaningful purposes. Those meeting brought associates together in a semi-social setting so that they did not feel so isolated, and the meetings also helped them develop the interpersonal skills that are critical to success in our profession.
I talk to young lawyers today who rarely, if ever, attend meetings of any kind. They just toil away in their offices, day in and day out, ignored by senior lawyers and managers, and wondering whether the promise of law school was just one big and very expensive lie.
Is this what we really want? Are we content to develop “researchers” instead of “lawyers”? Where, along that path, would these young lawyers develop the “soft skills” that will determine their value as they progress in the firm and interact with clients and develop new work?
Young lawyers do not have to feel that isolated, and law firms should not be content to have them feel that way. Mentoring is not just an investment in a young lawyer’s future; it also is an investment in the law firm. Is it really that difficult to have breakfast or lunch with young associates periodically and bolster their confidence to feel like lawyers instead of like unimportant cogs in a wheel?
If you are a young associate, who is feeling this kind of isolation and loneliness on the job, you will have to get proactive. Seek out a mentor, as uncomfortable as that might be for you. Think of it as taking initiative — a very important trait for a leader. If you have one, let the associate coordinator know your desire to learn more about the profession from people with the experience and the answers so that you can become a valuable asset to the firm.
Young lawyers, whose futures are being ignored, are very justified in seeking out more satisfactory turf. And, I would advise them to — but not until they have tried to find mentors and make the system work as it should.
Every year at this time, I put Best Friends at the Bar on hold to spend time with family and friends. It is a month-long hiatus that I know is enviable but that I feel entitled to after all these years. And I LOVE it. I will be at the Massachusetts shore with friends and at the Maine shore with family, and I can’t wait for the games to begin!
It is not that my work is over or that my desk is clear. That is not the case at all. I am completing the manuscript for a new book, on deadline for a book proposal, developing a new soft skills program for associate lawyers, and writing speeches and developing Power Point slides for presentations in the Fall. I am plenty busy. But, that is not the point.
Vacation does not happen when your desk is clear. Vacation happens when you need it and when your loved ones are available. If you wait for the desk to be clear, vacation never will happen. If you wait until someone at work tells you that the time is right, trust me, the time will never be right.
Understand what you need and what you have a right to expect. You can do the math. If you are on target with billable hours and have not taken your allotted vacation for the year, what are you waiting for? It is time to act. Go dip your toes in the ocean like me or go climb a mountain or take a cruise. August is the perfect month for taking a break and chilling out. September is a time when the law profession springs back into action. After that, you are lucky if you get a break until Christmas Eve.
Go for it. I know I will. And, when September rolls around, I will be ready to go full steam ahead to grab the brass ring!
See you then.