Speechless–and then a great speech

I have been reeling recently with the latest, almost comical, memo that was sent to female Clifford Chance associates at the end of last month entitled “Presentation Tips for Women.”  While some of the advice could be useful to all associates (rehearse, prep your opening, etc.), the majority of these tips are just offensive, particularly as the memo only went to women.  (don’t giggle, don’t show cleavage, don’t squirm, practice big words, and the list goes on.)  Above the Law rips the memo to shreds here, listing some of the most ridiculous tips along with their commentary: 

“Like” You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You Know,” “OK,” and “Like.”
– Um, Clifford Chance, do you think that women associates are like, uh, valley girls?

Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.
– Because the goal in Biglaw is to sound like an older woman dripping with sex, not a younger one.

Don’t giggle; Don’t squirm; Don’t tilt your head.
– Don’t act like a teenager. Don’t act like a four-year-old. Don’t act like a confused dog. Got it.

Practice hard words.
– Wrap your tiny female brains around this one (or consult with George W. Bush if you’re having difficulties).

Wear a suit, not your party outfit.
– In case you’ve forgotten, there’s no such thing as work/life balance. Their suits are their party outfits.

No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.
– Similarly, no one heard Bill the day he waved his dick around.

We reached out to Clifford Chance for comment on this debacle, and received this statement from the firm:

     The original presentation and associated tips represented a personal perspective, shared with a group of colleagues, some just starting out in their careers. The more than 150 points are based on what this individual has found helpful as a public speaker in a broad range of business environments. While much of what is covered is common sense, we believe that it is important that women as well as men are given access to a range of different viewpoints and approaches; there is no Clifford Chance template on how people should present. The offense caused by a small percentage of the suggestions in the tip sheet was entirely unintentional.

 

We’re sure that the women attorneys at Clifford Chance feel much better now that they know the inadvertent sexism present in this memo wasn’t intentional.

More scatching criticism abounds from many others–see Huff Post, my colleague Lisa Mazzie, and pretty much any other blogger writing about it.

At the same time, TIme Magazine just featured an article called The Last Politicians about the women of the Senate.  Time categorized them as the “only adults left in Washington.”  Clearly positive and flattering, the article highlighted how women get things done, using so many of the dispute resolution techniques we would recognize.  Of course, the article notes that there is still a long way to go for equality.  For example, 25 states have yet to ever elect a woman as Senator.

The New York Times was on the same page last month as well, with a cover story in its Sunday business section on women and leadership, interviewing four women about how they manage the work/life balance and succeed.  As I have written before on politics, and on women lawyering, that balance between likeability and competence remains a difficult one to manage. 

But all is not lost.  At least Hollywood has moved forward even if other venues have not.  I was just sent a clip from the most recent episode of Scandal  (which I don’t watch but I think this clip has just persuaded me to do so!)  Lisa Kudrow takes on the media and her opponent in her run for the Presidency here.  Perhaps the partners at Clifford Chance could learn something about speaking and sexism by watching it!

6 thoughts on “Speechless–and then a great speech”

  1. Professor Schneider-
    I found this post to be extremely interesting and actually a topic that has been on my mind recently. In preparation for the ABA Negotiation Regional my partner and I (an all female team) though a lot about what the judges and other competitors would think of us. We had many discussions about what do we do when we are faced with judges/competitors who think “women can’t negotiate” or on the flip side faced with judges/competitors who are distracted by and pity us. Along these lines we had to think a lot about our dress and presentation in an attempt to tone down our femininity, something our fellow Marquette team (all male) did not have to think about.
    I was happily surprised to find this past weekend that more than half of the competitors were fellow female law students and that we were not the sole all female team.
    Another side note, I do recall a particular professor reminding me after a scrimmage not to use “ums” and “you knows”. . .

  2. I found this post to be extremely interesting and actually a topic that has been on my mind recently. In preparation for the ABA Negotiation Regional my partner and I (an all female team) though a lot about what the judges and other competitors would think of us. We had many discussions about what do we do when we are faced with judges/competitors who think “women can’t negotiate” or on the flip side faced with judges/competitors who are distracted by and pity us. Along these lines we had to think a lot about our dress and presentation in an attempt to tone down our femininity, something our fellow Marquette team (all male) did not have to think about.

    I was happily surprised to find this past weekend that more than half of the competitors were fellow female law students and that we were not the sole all female team.

    Another side note, I do recall a particular professor reminding me after a scrimmage not to use “ums” and “you knows”. . .

  3. It is sad to me that as far as women have come in terms of gaining equality, lists like this set women back 50 years. Gender roles in the workplace is often a topic of conversation between my roommate and I and I believe is a struggle for most 20 somethings women who are really seeing for the first time the male dominated corporate world. The struggle is that women are expected to behave “like men” in the workplace and then are seen as “aggressive, “intense,” or “overbearing.” However, when women show any signs of femininity they are seen as “weak” and “incompetent.” I hope in my lifetime women can simply be women in the workplace.

  4. I will admit I am guilty of occasionally counting the number of times one uses the word “like” during a conversation, which results in a complete disregard for the content just shared. And while I am generally a pretty conservative dresser and become slightly judgmental at the sight of sweatpants in law school (or anywhere outside the home if we’re being honest), the “wear your suit” and “cleavage” comments were slightly reminiscent of a piece that made its way into the Vagina Monologues years ago (i.e. my short skirt is not a green light for…). That said, members of both sexes could benefit from genuinely helpful public speaking advice. It’s an area many people struggle with and this list, beyond its blatant sexism, is not particularly helpful. While it serves little to no purpose in promoting more effective public speakers, it at least started this conversation. Will work/life balance ever be possible? Does that balance mean the same thing for men as for women? At a job interview, would a man ever consider hiding the fact that he would like to start a family soon? When a man enters the room, do other men find it appropriate to comment on their physical stature if they’re below average height? No. The fact is, women have to work harder, they have to be tough without venturing into the B* category, they can’t get emotional (apparently that’s a sign of weakness, but punching a wall isn’t?), and the list goes on. In starting my job search overseas, I was told by a professor (previously at Princeton), “You’re cute, you could work in any retail store.” And so the process of sending CVs began…but not without the required attached photo.

  5. My favorite part of this was AbovetheLaw’s comment: “We’re sure that the women attorneys at Clifford Chance feel much better now that they know the inadvertent sexism present in this memo wasn’t intentional.”

    It’s so incredibly true that people like to use the excuse, “I didn’t mean it in a sexist way.” Inadvertent sexism emphasizes just how deeply engrained these outdated cultural “values” are in our society. I have great appreciation for the anti-street harassment ads put out by HollabackPHILLY (http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1039723), and projects like EverydaySexism.com which seek to document sexism experienced by women on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to imagine our world without sexism, given its prevalence still today, but one can hope!

  6. I find myself having a visceral reaction to the Clifford Chance memo for not just the obvious reasons (demeaning, patronizing), but also because, as a somewhat older woman who is in a career change, it galls me to think that I might prospectively be the recipient of such a memo. It makes me wonder why the firm would hire people in whom it has such little faith. Further, it is frustrating that this memo, while overt, nevertheless uncovers attitudes that are seemingly somewhat prevalent in the legal profession as compared to my prior career. In some ways the legal profession can be such an old boys’ club. In my old career, a man so flagrantly displaying this kind of sexism would be somewhat socially shunned, but in the legal profession (as much as I have seen it thus far), this type of attitude seems to be rampant, accepted, and lauded. Some days I wonder if I have fallen through a time change wormhole.

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