I have just returned from a reunion with 14 of my college girlfriends. We get together as often as possible — traveling from both coasts and points in between — to make sure that our friendships remain kindled and that we provide support to one another as our journeys through life ebb and flow. These times together never disappoint, and we always leave planning the next one.
This is my way of reminding you that I am and always have been an advocate for women, dating back to college when we all needed each other’s support dealing with our new-found independence and all it entailed. However, along my road from law school to law practice, I have encountered women, who have tried hard to undermine me and negatively affect my professional progress. And I am not alone. I have heard similar stories from many of my female colleagues, and I have witnessed this kind of negative behavior among women professionals.
That is why I remind women lawyers as often as possible of the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she said, “There is a place in HELL reserved for women who do not support other women.” I have met Secretary Albright and discussed those words with her in the context of women lawyers. As the mother of women lawyers, she was a quick convert to the cause.
However, recognizing that some women do not treat other women well does not mean that I buy into all of the women bullying women stereotypes. I know too many wonderful and supportive women lawyers to ever go down that road. But others have, and it is a slippery slope.
In a recent blog from my friend Andie Kramer and her husband Al Harris, whose Andie and Al blog series addresses issues like gender bias that affect women in the workplace, it was not at all surprising to find Andie taking on other authors on the subject of women’s bias against other women. Andie is a great supporter of women, and she is a contributor to two of my books in the effort to improve conditions for women lawyers. The fact that she refuses to buy into alleged female stereotypes about women victimizing other women was predictable, and she does it so well.
Rather than rely on negative messages about the societal or evolutionary or internal antagonism behind distinctive female characteristics of hostility by women against women, Andie and Al challenge those assumptions and beliefs by focusing on what they believe is the real cause for negative behaviors in the workplace —- the workplace itself.
Here is a sampling of what you will read in the blog:
Women’s and men’s behaviors depend not on distinctive female or male characteristics but on the situations in which they find themselves: what they are asked to do, the conditions under which they are required to do it, and the expectations of how they will perform while doing it. Women’s difficulties with other women in the workplace have little or nothing to do with women’s evolution, socialization, or internalized misogyny. They have everything to do with the dynamics of the environments within which women are working. In other words, it’s not the women, it’s their workplaces.
Women helping women and eliminating the toxicity of legal work spaces are major themes of the Best Friends at the Bar project. I hope that you will join me in these efforts and that you also will keep up with the Andie and Al on their website to gain perspective on gender bias and related issues. And I am sure that their new book on these subjects will be illuminating for all of us.