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Law Firm to Female Employees: Stop Giggling, Saying ‘Um,’ Showing Cleavage


What’s worse than getting a sexist memo from management at your corporate law firm? Getting a sexist memo … from the Women’s Committee at your corporate law firm.

boys and girls sign 

(Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral/Flickr)

An associate at international law firm Clifford Chance forwarded a memo, sent from the Women’s Committee to the female employees of the firm, to the blog Above the Law. As the associate said, “[F]emale associates are very upset by not only the elementary nature of the tips themselves, but the suggestion that these would only apply to women. We have never been a very female friendly firm, but this is beyond the pale.”

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How bad is it? Well, here are a few low-lights:

You’re a friendly professional, not a professional friend.

“Like” you’ve got to lose “um” and “uh,” “you know,” “OK,” and “like.”

Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.

Don’t raise your pitch at the end of a statement if it’s not a question.

Don’t giggle.

Don’t squirm.

Don’t tilt your head.

Work through your nerves.

Don’t take your purse up to the podium.

Practice hard words.

Above the Law has a hilarious (and occasionally NSFW) point-by-point takedown of the memo, but we can break down the problems in this sort of communique into three easy points:

1. Some of this advice is good, but it’s for everyone, not just women.

Everyone should practice hard words before a presentation, learn to make eye contact when delivering a speech, and avoid reading their PowerPoints word for word. These are not woman problems; these are working-person problems.

2. Some of this advice would be good, if all women were cartoon versions of femininity, a la Bugs Bunny dressed up as Pretty Girl Rabbit.

Don’t you just hate it when you get up to give a presentation, and you forget to leave your purse behind, and then your knees knock together, and everyone can see it, because you chose the wrong podium? It’s, like, the wooorst.

Almost as bad as when you forget you’re not “in a high school cafeteria” and lean too hard on those “quirky mannerisms” that your friends find so charming. Who wants a raise or a promotion? You just want to be liked.

No. Listen, we’re not saying that this isn’t a problem for some people, or that none of those people are female. We’re just saying that putting all these cliches together in one document is the opposite of accurate or helpful. All women are not the same woman.

3. Some of this advice equates “behavior a woman might conceivably exhibit” with “unprofessional behavior.”

No one should come to work dressed for a party, and everyone should try to embrace pausing instead of saying “um” and “uh.” But advising women to pitch their voices lower than their natural speaking voices seems at best unnecessary and at worst potentially harmful to the vocal cords.

And before we advise women not to use their hands while speaking publicly, let’s think about some of the more boring political speeches we’ve heard. Is it worse to use your hands too much, or to stand there like a robot that’s running low on batteries?

Finally, if companies want to issue a dress code, there’s no need to emphasize that women have cleavage. After all, it’s not exactly professional for men to run around the office with their shirts unbuttoned to the navel, looking like Disco Stu. Just specify that everyone must be covered, wearing clean and pressed clothes, and dressed for the office, not for a nightclub.

If you go farther than that, it starts to look like you’re less worried about supporting women than you are about pointing out that women are different from men. In which case, the female employees at your office are justified in wondering if you’re really trying to help.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think this memo is helpful or sexist? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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