Introductions Matter

Despite the fact that Carolyn Elefant's "My Shingle" is amongst the blawgs I most frequently visit, I somehow missed this post from March 24th highlighting an easily overlooked situation which has a simple enough (I think) solution. The article is in response to a post by Lawyer Mama illustrating how a typical business introduction may be insufficient to combat the assumption that a woman in a law firm is a secretary, not an attorney. Most often the mistake is innocent and inadvertent and therefore it is probably best to take a proactive approach to rectifying the error. I agree with Ms. Elefant's advice to take the matter into your own hands and simply introduce yourself - but I am not sure that I know how best to do this, particularly when the situation arises suddenly and correcting it may be a bit unnatural or awkward. I know that a lot of women, myself included, may brush the error aside and just let it go rather than endure one of those awkward moments, but we aren’t giving ourselves the credit we deserve by convincing ourselves it is no big deal. So my question to all of you is this: How can we politely and appropriately interject an introduction which doesn't create an air of defensiveness or amplify the awkwardness more than it has to? Should we act as if we hadn't noticed the mistaken assumption and casually insert some sort of reference implying the correction? Should we point out the error and correct it or simply reintroduce ourselves as an associate in x department or a partner at x firm? Does it make sense to mention an introduction preference to the individual(s) likely to be introducing us? Because most men are not subject to this misperception and the fact that you are an attorney is clear to them, they are unlikely to foresee any unintended consequence related to the manner of introduction. It isn’t immediately apparent that introducing a female colleague can necessitate a more explicit approach than is necessary to convey the same information about a male colleague. While it may seem as if I am harping on about something insignificant, this attitude ignores the important role that business introductions play when it comes to networking and rainmaking. I hope some of you will share your advice on how to smoothly clarify any such misunderstandings that we are all likely to face at some time or another.



There might be a sliver of hope to be found in the rest of Lawyer Mama’s post: “...Older Gentleman proclaimed that he could use someone like that because he could never “remember how to work that pesky teleconference feature on his phone.” Blink. Blink. Alrighty then. Partner proceeded to explain that I kept him out of trouble with regards to all things legal. I could tell from the look on Partner’s face that he understood that a request to me to figure out his phone would result in my possibly inserting said phone into an extremely uncomfortable area of his anatomy. We quickly beat a path to the door.” At least Partner knew the huge error that was made.  Sure, it would have been better if he had taken steps in the first place to avoid this mistake, but he might have been unaware that his plain introduction was open to misinterpretation, and I think it’s a little unfair to blame him for Older Gentleman’s remarks.  But I’m glad Partner took some steps to correct the problem, especially since he’s the one Lawyer Mama has to work with.

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