Peg

I am well aware of my female-ness

I have an interesting story from my interview experience when I was a 2L looking for a summer associate job. I went on call-backs to many, many large firms in the city I was interested in. About half way through the “season” of callbacks I had a great set of interviews at a mid-sized office of a very large international firm. The day went very well and for the only time in the season, the office chair offered me a job on the spot.

I was impressed. I felt like this was a good indicator that they really wanted me to work there and, given how every large firm seems to look and feel pretty much the same, this was an instant boost for this particular firm in my eyes.

However, he followed up the offer sentence with something that went like this, “You’ve probably noticed that we only have one woman attorney in this office. I want you to know that we are trying to fix that.” Hmmm. Actually, I hadn’t noticed until he said that. I hadn’t yet got to the point where I was carefully examining all of the personnel statistics for my top choices.

I appreciated his candor and I felt like this was an indicator that the firm wasn’t trying to hide anything from me. HOWEVER, I didn’t want to be a token woman in the office. I also didn’t want to be hired just to help the demographics of the office. Truth be known, I was upset that the guy even noticed that I was a woman. I turned down the offer and found a home at a firm that had women at every level of practice and that didn’t mention my female-ness at any point in the interview process.

I have been trying to think of a good time to write about this on Ms. JD and now is as good a time as any. In a way, this is a follow-up to my earlier post about acting like a man. Additionally, I feel like the timing is good given the attention recently paid to Senator Clinton’s gender. Here’s my read on the Clinton “controversy”. First, I don’t think that her mentioning her all-girls-school roots was, in any way, playing the proverbial gender card. I really think the situation has turned out to be more about opening the door.

Her opposition has been waiting for the door to her gender to open so that they could bust it down and seize the opportunity to remind people that she’s a woman. She opened it by mentioning her female-ness and pointing out the obvious all-boys-club nature of presidential politics. I’m sure her opponents are hoping that there are voters/viewers out there that would never vote for a woman and they think that these people just need a little reminding in order to shake up her strong poll numbers.

Here’s the thing … we don’t need to be reminded that she’s a woman. Why? Because it doesn’t make a bit of difference. Likewise, we don’t need to be reminded in interviews. If it matters to us, we’ll notice. If it doesn’t matter to us, we won’t and we don’t need to have a conversation about it. Similarly, I’d rather you, Mr. Hiring Partner, didn’t notice either and, instead, hire me because of my abilities and experiences and not even consider my gender – thank you very much.

4 Comments

Chicana

I too would have been bothered by being considered the token woman.  I was also offered a job in a family law office I worked in after my 1L year where there were four male attorneys.  At the end of summer the lead attorney called me into his office and said we would really like it if you would consider working with us after you graduate…we really need a woman on board.  I was insulted.  In the list of reasons you would like to hire me that should be #10.  I actually think some firms do need to actively recruit women, but women who are completely qualified.  I think I do have something unique that I bring to a law firm and my gender should not be the determinative factor, but it can be a plus factor.  With regards to Clinton, I think it would be ridiculous for her not acknowledge her "female-ness" as she is the first woman to actually have a chance of becoming President.  Now I do not think she is even remotely saying that she should be President <u>because</u> she is a woman.  In the debate the other night she said something to the effect that she is not being attacked becuase she is a woman, but because she is ahead.  She was clearly rejecting the typical "weak woman" commentary and emphasizing how strong and qualified she is to be President.  So while on the whole I would have been upset with the thought of being hired only because I am a woman, I also do not want people to have to ignore my femaleness in order to see my qualifications for the job.

lawblogger

This is a hard issue because of course interviewers <i>notice</i> that you're a woman.  To me, the salient point is: do they give you a +1 because of it.  There are a lot of physical features that interviewers notice about any applicant: hair color, manner of dress, eye color, racial background, etc.  The problem is that only certain features play into you either getting or not getting an offer, usually because of some past prejudice.  Firms are unlikely to put "brown hair" as a plus or minus when deciding whether to offer you a job, but "woman" or "minority" might help your chances (or hurt your chances) because they are traits that carry baggage.  People are unlikley to make any kind of assumption about what kind of worker a person with brown hair is, but they can conjure up all sorts of gender and racial stereotypes if they notice your sex or skin color.  Maybe it's offensive because mentioning it is like the interviewer telling you that he or she is trying to get past some unspoken prejudice, which though true isn't exactly affirming.  We'd probably all like to work places where diversity is valued but not because the people who work there still notice right off the bat whether your most salient feature is on the outside instead of in your brain.  If women weren't discriminated against in general, if there weren't these hidden assumptions about qualities that "women lawyers" have, then there would be no need to consciously diversify the workplace—it would just happen because women are now about 50% of the people who graduate from law school and seek jobs (retaining women is a different story—that has to be a more gender-conscious problem because women still bear most of the child-raising responsibilities in our society).  So, it's almost like a firm that is thinking too much about your gender is doing so because of the stereotypes, like they don't trust themselves to just let nature take its course without reminding themselves that they need women for their numbers.  The sad truth is that nature really hasn't taken its course, despite the number of women graduating from law school, so maybe the best we can hope for is to have the +1 be less obvious.  I don't like that idea though because part of the problem, in my opinion, with gender discrimination all around these days is that it is mostly underground and therefore harder to identify and fight.  Perhaps in some ways it can be an advantage that we're aware of the +1 differential.

jessie

Just yesterday I was telling someone how, when I was a senior in high school, I decided against applying to a college because their recruiter, when talking to my all-girls prep school, emphasized that the science requirement could be fulfilled with something like "Physics for Poets."
I was insulted that she thought we wouldn't be interested in hard sciences because of our gender. 
Then I read this post and felt a little bad for the recruiter, because in that position it's hard to know how to act on this issue I think.  Gender issues can be an elephant in the room.  I think it's perfectly reasonable to be concerned that your gender will be an issue in a majority-male environment.  If you were a recruiting partner with a firm that had no women and you were trying to hire a woman, how would you assure a candidate that they would be supported, respected, and valued just like any other employee? 
I think the enthusiastic offer is probably a good bet, but it's easy to imagine many candidates would be uneasy to take the job and need some reassurance.
I think it's too much to ask prospective employees to bring up the subject, because if their fear is that their gender will be an issue, then asking if that's the case is pretty difficult. If the candidate won't bring it up then it's left to the recruiter to assuage concerns.
So I've been in Peg's shoes, and feel her frustration, but at the same time if the recruiter hadn't said anything I probably wouldn't have taken the job because of the gender disparity anyway.  So the recruiter is between a rock and a hard place from my view.

nunyabiz

Well, to me, recruiters shouldn't be attempting to assuage concerns when they don't even know what the concerns are. I think this is part of Peg's point, but just because someone is a woman doesn't mean they are worried about how they will fit into a law firm or any other environment based on that. A lot of people who have any sort of "difference" care more about fitting in than people pointing out that they are different to begin with, regardless of why they are pointing out the difference. That's what makes situations like this hard…because you don't know whether or not you're dealing with that kind of person, or with a person who is like me—always thinking about his/her differences regardless, worrying how they affect him/her and wants to be reassured.
From my own experiences, I think that the majority of [male/white/hetero/other more powerful] people in the US prefer individuals who come across as not having any concerns or much awareness based on identity differences, and this is going to trickle down into every industry, including law. So if you even ask a question based on race or gender or sexuality, you've sent a message to those kind of people that you might not fit in or even confirming that you're not going to fit in, if they were already thinking that simply because you're a woman, a racial minority or LGBT. Frankly, I think that this has contributed to my not getting callbacks in several instances. After school and grades, "fit" is the most important thing to firms, and if they suspect you're going to make a big deal out of some way in which you differ from everyone else there or make the environment change/more awkward (i.e. can't talk about sports or make certain kinds of jokes, etc, without the "touchy" or "sensitive" <i>identity-conscious</i> woman/negro having something to say) because of it, they won't want you there. In addition, they also want to make it appear that our society has evolved to the point where we really don't notice/care about identity differences. So if you don't bring identity up in interviews, they usually won't.
In Peg's case, the hiring partner had the difference in his head, just in a way that he saw as positive (vs. it being a situation in which he was being prejudiced against her), and mentioned it because the firm was probably receiving pressure to hire more women, but she wasn't concerned with it and that probably made her look at least a little more attractive to the firm (vs. look like a troublemaker). He probably still doesn't understand why she didn't take the job offer.

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