Skirting the Ceiling: Femininity and Professional Empowerment

Since starting law school this past fall, my classmates and I have been bombarded with messages trying to instill in us what it means to “think like an attorney” and have found that acting and looking like an attorney also come with the territory. Lost in the middle of 1L year, we’re still attempting to work out what to th ink like an attorney means (and probably will be grappling with that for some time). Yet, there’s one lesson I feel like I’ve learned for certain: While there seems to be agreed upon guidelines as how to act professionally, those lines become blurred when it comes to how to be a professional and a woman.

The existence of this uncertainty first became clear to me at a dress-for-success workshop, co-sponsored by my university and a local, big-law firm for the benefit of the 1L class. Even though the workshop required the all of the 1Ls to report to campus at 8:30 am on a Saturday, the excitement was palatable. We shuffled into a large auditorium and eagerly awaited to be indoctrinated by the How to Look Like an Attorney! spiel.

A professional stylist greeted us and established the importance of her speech by stating that in order for us to act as our best selves, we must dress as our best selves. One of the first topics she addressed was makeup. The stylist informed us that, in the legal field, potential employers expect women to wear
make up to an interview. While this statement and the fact that the stylist spent the next ten minutes detailing what kind of makeup is suitable didn’t faze us much, the next recommendation the stylist made did. She proclaimed that wearing noticeable lipstick is required as studies show that women who do not wear lipstick to an interview give the employer the impression they are arrogant. She added that some employers perceived presenting yourself with bare lips to be as bold as wearing a fire-engine red lip to the interview. This statement stunned my classmates and I and left us wondering if our natural faces are inappropriate for the workplace. 

To top it off, after dropping this mini-bombshell, the stylist apologized to the male students for “boring the guys with too much girl stuff,” before proceeding to spend the rest of the session focusing on men’s professional wear, even though it’s generally more straight-forward than women’s. Thus, leaving the ladies in the lurch by failing to answer the questions we would have genuinely liked answered.

It’s situations like these where you can feel it, feel yourself bumping up against that barrier that is both undeniably strong, yet subtle—The one we usually call The Glass Ceiling.

Experiences like this one inspired me to write this column in to explore how gender affects women professionally. Recently, a young female attorney told me to embrace my identity as a woman attorney and utilize strengths that are often overlooked, those inherently and uniquely possessed by women, to develop my career. I’m on a mission to figure out how women can use both their personal skills and strengths as women to grow professionally. Together we can skirt that ceiling.



This is great and I’m really looking forward to more posts on this!

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