By Ava Lee • April 18, 2018•Ms. JD, Conference, Ms. JD Book Reviews, Ms. JD Weekly Roundup, Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, •Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Mentoring and Networking, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination, Women and Law in the Media, •Features, Guest Bloggers and Profiles of Women in the Law, Myths & Truths, First Women, Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
For a man, the common mantra is “seize the day.” For a woman, the common mantra is “act accordingly.” Women are conditioned to believe their self-worth is based on being good. The ideal woman projects grace, cooperation, and compliance. She tailors herself to be pleasant and acceptable. She accommodates and sidesteps her wants for the greater good. Unfortunately, this approach can leave one professionally stagnant. Being assertive, firm, and steadfast are required to achieve personal and professional objectives. But these traits are downplayed for fear of being rejected or worse, unlikeable.
When women behave contrary to expectation, hostility surfaces in interesting ways. The unconscious narrative usually plays out like this: "You're supposed to be agreeable. I certainly didn't expect that from You. Therefore, you must be wrong." I remember my first day as a law clerk. It was standard protocol to listen and take notes during meetings. No one wanted to extend meetings longer than necessary. It was often the case that male colleagues would offer personal anecdotes to showcase their intellectual capabilities. Reciting case law and legal trivia which was insignificant but the meeting would naturally resume. Once in a while when a female colleague would chime in, there would be a clearing of throats followed up with a rebuttal. There would be an exception tacked on to her argument, a need to qualify her thoughts, when moments ago the male colleague spoke at great length about something completely irrelevant. This happened consistently as if she had crossed an invisible threshold.
Other times, male colleagues would be invited into partner’s office to discuss a case. Although female colleagues were assigned to that identical case, the women were never asked for their opinion or invited to discuss. In an effort to appear equitable, they would distribute the workload but usually delegate more important tasks to their male colleagues and keep interaction with women to an absolute minimum. The same pack of men would usually go to lunch or play golf on weekends. It became evident that an exclusive club was emerging - in which the male group would vouch for one another in conflict and discount concerns contrary to the pack.
As women, we are keen to subtleties. However, we are often times penalized for being too sensitive. When confronted with such inequity or more accurately implicit bias, a reliable litmus test is to compare treatment to a similarly situated person. “What about the guy who started at the same time as I did or how about the other guy who has the same title yet got assigned a more significant role."
The purpose is to be more conscious, self-aware, and negotiate the given situation.
The rhetorical question arises: how do we accomplish this?
Ms. JD which does an incredible job bringing together women lawyers to share ideas and personal experiences. Through its existing partnership with NWLSO, Ms. JD can further its mission by providing workshops and programs to young budding lawyers. These programs can train women how to navigate, negotiate, and market themselves, placing special emphasis on developing a professional persona. Skill sets such as public speaking, networking, role-playing, salary negotiating, and other soft power skills should be encouraged. Programs would be held in conjunction with their clerkship to allow students to apply what they have learned to real world settings.
In addition, a mentorship can be established to form relationships between young and seasoned female attorneys. The program can serve as a guidepost for young women lawyers seeking advice and support. Mentors can expound on personal experiences and counsel on career choice, professional advancement, and familiar workplace situations.
By creating interactive workshops, programs can advance opportunities for women on a micro-level. It is common knowledge that law schools do not adequately prepare students for the real world. Legal theory rarely translates into practical competence. However with the right strategy and programs in place, young female lawyers can challenge existing standards and set a path toward a New Normal.