More on Gender Discrimination and How Women Lawyers Address the Issues

In my last blog, I challenged you to answer the question about the responsibility for the Queen Bee Syndrome that too often thwarts the progress toward advancing women in our profession.  I provided you with the thoughts of one commenter on the responsibility for that syndrome, and I told you that I would provide you with my own assessment.

I hope you have given some thought to the issue and to the way that the commenter evaluated the responsibility underlying the Queen Bee Syndrome.  As you might expect, I would not have answered the question in the same way that the commenter did for the following reasons.

When I heard the discussion, I wondered how the commenter would explain jealousy and competition between women in other settings like all-women book clubs, PTAs, and charity volunteer groups, for example, where gender discrimination is mostly irrelevant.  I have seen this competition, and show me the woman who has not.  I think the underlying reasons for the Queen Bees are very different and are derived from women’s inherent competition among their gender, and women are not going to face those issues and improve their behaviors and their effectiveness in advancing other women if they keep blaming the men for everything.

My answer would have focused on the responsibility for women to put their unfortunate experiences behind them and reach out helping hands to the new generation of women.  That is what Best Friends at the Bar is all about, and the women I have hand-picked as book contributors do it very well.  As a pioneer in my field of construction contract litigation (when I had my own hardhat and was one of the first women lawyers to litigate those cases), I understand the temptation to continue to dwell on the past.  I had plenty of challenges, and I had to give up my partnership at one point because I refused to work full-time when my children were young, and then I had to give up the construction contract practice because our clients, the good old boys, had enough trouble accepting a woman for a lawyer and presumably would not have tolerated dealing with a part-time woman lawyer.  (That, incidentally, was proven wrong in the end.)  At one point, I gave up private practice for public service, and it took me years to work myself back up to partnership.

However, I do not dwell on those past and personal challenges in my message, and I only use those examples to help young women put their challenges in perspective and see how far women in the law have come and how much farther they can go.  I always have been a problem solver, and I am no different in carrying out my mission for Best Friends at the Bar.  I concentrate on “personal definitions of success” and finding career satisfaction on individual terms.  I am not nearly as interested in the blame game as I am in finding ways for women to be successful and satisfied professionals.

Don’t misunderstand me.  The challenge of women helping women is a big problem, but we have to assign blame very carefully.  I have met too many powerful women in the law profession, who appear not to want things to be any better for the younger generation of women lawyers than those things were for them.  Many of them gave up family, lasting marriages, etc. for the singular focus that was necessary to reach the view from their high perches.  Their professional successes are noteworthy and admirable, but that is not a reason to refuse to help others.  Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, says it best, “There is a place reserved in hell for women who do not help other women.”

Complaining about past and even present grievances, to the exclusion of all else, can be a distraction and saps us of too much energy that we need to find practical solutions for women in our profession.  We have to stop rehashing the same old problems.  We need to redefine them in contemporary terms and move on.  We also must understand that law is a business, and all of the things that men “do to us” in the business is not because of discrimination but because it is a business.  Rent and overhead and salaries have to be paid, and the doors must remain open to attract clients.  Without a healthy bottom line, there will be no jobs for women or for men.

So the next time you hear harangues about gender discrimination that brush too broadly, remember that this coin has two sides.  Real gender discrimination cannot be tolerated.  But, all of what you hear is not about real gender discrimination.

It is your job to be a discriminating listener not a listener for discrimination.

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