“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”
This is where I tell you to do what I say and not what I do. I am not a good example of what I am about to tell you.
I was raised in a family of golfers. My grandfather was a par golfer plus and designed a few courses. He taught my mom to play golf when she was a teenager — long before there were many women on the links. My mom was a good golfer, better than my dad, if truth be told. She loved the game and played at least three days a week during the summer.
I learned to golf when I was in grade school, and I got pretty good at it during high school. I played a little after I went to college and then less after I got married (to someone who did not appreciate golf) and even less during law school and after I started to practice law. After all, golf takes time.
That was my rationale for belonging to a golf club but never playing the game. Stupid. Even more stupid was not playing in the annual law firm/client golf tournament because my game was a little rusty by then.
So, when I read the article by Vivia Chen in The American Lawyer about why women lawyers should play golf to improve business opportunities, all I could do was sigh. For all the bad golf decisions of my past.
In my defense, however, I do recall having at least one lucid moment on the subject of women and golf. In Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need To Know about a Career in the Law, I included information about playing golf as a good business development tool in the chapter titled “Find a Comfort Zone for Promoting Work.”
However, I took heat from some of my readers for embracing a “male-oriented” makeover for women that does not capitalize on typical “women’s strengths.” That book was published in 2009, and it is now 2019. What I tolerated as justifiable criticism then, has little relevance now. I think we have moved on from “typical” gender stereotypes in the last decade.
So, consider golf. Or, better yet, take up the game. A lot of business is done on the golf course. And, presumably, you want a piece of that action.
And, according to the article, this is why you should:
- Because so few golfers are women (24%), any woman who plays gets special attention;
- Golfing is a great place to network for business;
- Men don’t worry about how well they play so why should women; and
- It is not about whether you enjoy it. It is all about doing what’s effective to enhance business opportunities.
So, as stated at the end of the article, “Are we dumb?” I was. But you can be smarter.
For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers. The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers — men and women alike — in What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with “the right thing to do” (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags). Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern. You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects. The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here. It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of “The Pond.” But … you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects. Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention — like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements — because doing that might impact client retention. In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else. And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients. Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top. The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned. Current leadership won’t be around to care.
The New York Times article that I discussed in last week’s blog is worthy of your attention. The examples used are of husband and wife lawyers, who are struggling to raise young children. The upshot is that one parent — typically the female — has to make sacrifices such as cutting back to part-time status, giving up promotion opportunities, and making far less in salary to make these situations work. This is the current reality despite the fact that American women of working age are the most educated than ever before.
The statistics are all there to make you feel really depressed — and they will have that effect. In the past, we have focused on causes like discrimination and lack of family-friendly policies in examining the effect on the careers of women lawyers, but this article cites evidence that we should not be looking at gender alone. The culprit, according to the author, has nothing to do with who has a Y chromosome.
The culprit is corporate greed. Greed that manifests in long, inflexible hours and winner-take-all attitudes that more often than not “flatline” the careers of one member of a couple — more often than not the women. Add to that the fact that working 50% more hours often results in 100% more salary. As the article points out, it is not a linear comparison, and the extra money is very important to a young family.
Although it is not just the law profession that is guilty of short-circuiting talent in this way, it becomes clear that the law profession is a leader in the shift from a reasonably-oriented service industry mentality to a culture of money, power and greed. The important question is not who is to blame but, rather, what can be done about it. As you will see in the article, the answer lies in worker demand and significant challenges to management. More predictable hours and flexibility in when and where the work gets done are good places to start.
But, the goal is not to create ways to allow women to work the same long, inflexible hours as men. As expressed by one on-line comment to the article, “No one should be doing this. A father working constantly is not a good father or partner. Or person, for that matter. Probably not healthy either. . . No wonder this country is a mess. We’re working ourselves to a literal and existential death.”
Hear, hear. It is a “systems problem” and, as I have written in What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, law employers have great incentive to change the workaholic cultures they have created. It is a total sea change that is called for not a temporary fix. And it needs to come as soon as possible before we lose more talent than our profession can afford.
Here is my favorite quote from the article:
There is a lot to think about there.
The greed will consume our profession. I first called the law profession “greedy” in an article that I wrote for Corporate Counsel magazine in the Fall of 2016. My comments at the time were part of a discussion about women lawyers “having it all” — or not — and the impact of the values of money, power and greed on the well-being of law practitioners.
Since that time, I have seen more commenters willing to call our profession what it is — a well intentioned endeavor overcome by negative values. This kind of candor is necessary if we are going to make any progress in changing the culture of our profession and of law firms, in particular. Taking on the culture of money, power and greed is gaining more popularity as the millennial generation of lawyers is exhibiting radically different values than those of immediately prior generations of practitioners, and many non-millennials also are feeling more comfortable criticizing the status quo.
A recent article in the New York Times centers on the theme that women did everything right in the workplace until the workplace changed the rules and got greedy. In other words, as women rose within the ranks of big business, married men with similar educations and business commitments, and, as couples, started having children, the obsession with long hours widened the gender gap without targeting “gender” specifically. The need to be “on call” at work at all times meant that someone had to be “on call” at home at all times. It could not work any other way as technology increased and time zones blended and rendered dedicated employees reachable 24/7. As a result, couples with equal potential in the workplace took on unequal roles.
Got your attention? Read more in next week’s blog.
Thought For The Week: The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. BENJAMIN DISRAELI
Earlier today I was the presenter on a webinar for Thompson Reuters/West on “What Millennial Lawyers Want.” It was a 65-minute program and contained a lot of good information on millennial lawyers, how their behaviors and expectations have developed, the responsibility that parent generations and society have in influencing that development, the values that are common to millennial lawyers and Greatest Generation lawyers, and the roles of millennial lawyers and law firm leaders in a shared solution to the Generational Divide.
Admittedly, that is a lot of content, but it was a long program! That is how CLE works — you put in the time, and you get the credit. Unless you are trying to get CLE credit in NY, and then you need a special code — because it is NY, right? — and I made sure I repeated that code twice! Only in NY!
The makeup of the audience is not information that is shared with presenters prior to the program, so I have no way of knowing if any of you were listening. But, if you were, I hope you enjoyed it.
Here is a sampling of program content on the topic of what millennial lawyers can do as their part of the shared solution:
- Be realistic in your expectations and less sensitive to criticism;
- Overcome your need for constant attention;
- Get off social media and concentrate on becoming the best lawyer you can be;
- Become more confident about your choices and decision-making — in other words, don’t take a vote before you take action;
- Get out of your comfort zones and take on challenges and risks to advance your career and your team;
- Understand that you do not have all the answers and LISTEN to the wisdom of lawyers who have been in the trenches for more than your lifetime;
- Dialogue with respect at all times; and
- Have PATIENCE. The profession of law is inherently deliberative and slow moving most of the time. It is no place for expectations of instant gratification.
This list may have you feeling like you are being singled out for bad behavior. Not so! You should see the TO DO list that I presented to law firm leaders to become responsive to the values of Millennial Lawyers and safeguard talent.
If true leaders emerge, it will result in a remodeling of law firm cultures. And it is about time for that!
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.