Don’t get me wrong about men. I like them. I have many very close male friends—among them my wonderful husband and son—and I enjoy their company and companionship. The Best Friends at the Bar project has never been a male-bashing forum, and I encourage men to join the discussions and become a part of the solutions to the problems that still exist for women in the workplace. The Best Friends at the Bar advisory board has a mix of male and female members for that very reason.
However, I have a threshold requirement for the men in my life. It is not that they be good-looking or have a golf handicap lower than mine—if I had one. It is that they honestly acknowledge the issues facing women that hold women back from the same degree of professional success and career satisfaction that men experience, on average. That should be an easy standard to attain.
So, when I recently attended a conference for pre-law advisors, I was shocked by a verbal exchange with one such male advisor. I don’t shock easily, because I have been at this game for a long time and figure I have had just about everything hurled my way, and I try not to take these things personally. However, when the bad actor threatens the young women that I am trying to prepare for success in the law, it is a different story. That is when the Mama Bear comes out in me. Here’s how it happened.
A male pre-law advisor approached my book display at the conference, gave a cursory review of the books and marketing materials and then inquired whether I really thought that any of this was still relevant in the workplace. By “any of this”, I presumed that he meant the effects of the work-life struggle for women with family responsibilities and the gender issues. As it turned out, my interpretation of his question was correct, which he acknowledged by his behavior when I responded very politely that, yes, gender issues are still alive and well in the workplace and manifest themselves in ways that are very harmful to women and then provided him with one very good example. I knew that he and I were talking about the same issues when he scoffed at me in a way that was both disrespectful and condescending. When I offered him a business card so that he could share my information with the young women at his college, he scoffed at that also. The scoffing was so apparent and in such bad taste, that it drew comments later from some of those who observed it.
Why is this important enough to take up blog space? Did I get my feelings hurt and want some sympathy from those of you who support the Best Friends at the Bar mission? No, not at all. It is important because this man has a trust relationship with the young women he advises and helps send out into the world to be successful. If I told you what college he represents, you would understand the impact of his influence to a greater degree. But, I am a professional, and I would not disparage the college because of one bad actor. However, I will tell you that it is one of the most prestigious undergraduate colleges in the nation, and it sends a lot of young women off to law school and other professional pursuits. Some of my very good friends graduated from there, and I know that the young women students at that college deserve more. Those young women, unfortunately, are not getting the “leg up” on their futures and the realities of the challenges to those futures from a mentor like this one. And, that, to me, is travesty in this day and age.
So, I urge all of you to beware of who is talking to the young women at your colleges and universities and at your law schools. Make sure that they are providing these young women with realistic views of their futures so that they can prepare themselves and succeed in the ways that I—and I believe you—want them to. Do not let academic dinosaurs—-be they males or females—have these important trust relationships with the young women professionals of our future.