Think Lauren Bacall, Not Marilyn Monroe – Firm Warns Female Lawyers







Last week, the prestigious international law firm, Clifford Chance, e-mailed a memo to female employees on improving presentation skills.  The 1950’s-esque, women-have-no-idea-how-to-appear-professional tone of the memo has caused it to go viral.  In case you missed it, the memo encouraged women to:

Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.

“Like” You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You Know,” “OK,” and “Like.”

Don’t giggle; Don’t squirm; Don’t tilt your head.

Practice hard words.

Watch out for the urinal position.

Wear a suit, not your party outfit.

No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.

Don’t dress like a mortician. If you’re wearing a black suit , wear something bright.

Make sure you can stand in your heels, not trip.

There are more goodies, but you get the idea.  Condescending remarks which imply women are clueless in the workplace.

What’s most surprising is who created this memo.   Probably some old white male lawyers dictated the list, thinking they were doing something really special for aspiring female partners, right?  Wrong.   The memo came from Clifford Chance’s Women’s Committee.  This is advice from women to other women.  How is that possible?

It’s actually very common for female executives at the top of their game (think Sheryl Sandberg) to think women should be blamed for their own lack of progress at work.  These women have succumbed to what social and organizational psychologists refer to as  “queen bee syndrome.”  Queen bees typically propose that the forces holding women back are not structural, and, instead, are based on women’s lack of skills.  (See blog post for more info on queen bee syndrome).

In order to “help” these poor women who are launching their careers, queen bees write books about how women need to lean in, and e-mail memos suggesting female lawyers shouldn’t show cleavage.  By distancing themselves from other women, and pointing out differences between themselves and other women (e.g. unlike me, other women frequently say “um” and giggle and squirm), they elevate their own status.  Or so they think.

Here’s my memo to senior women who want to help out more junior women.  Think Gloria Steinem, not Benedict Arnold.  Tout the strengths of these junior employees, don’t point out their weaknesses.  Raise awareness of the accomplishments of these women to other senior managers.  Provide information about job opportunities to these women.  And if you can’t do that, then just keep quiet.


Chivalry isn’t dead…. Unfortunately

music class

My ten-year old son was discussing his day at school.  He and his friends were complaining that they had to sit on the floor during music class.  When I asked what happened, it seems that the classroom was short on chairs that day, so boys had to sit on the floor, leaving the chairs for the girls.  I’m sure the teacher thought she was teaching the boys to be chivalrous, but she was really doing a disservice to the girls.   I explained to the boys that girls are just as able to sit on floors as boys.  They’re not more fragile, weaker, or less flexible.  They don’t need to be cared for by boys.

Chivalrous behavior, where men help women solely because of their gender, is a form of benevolent sexism. Benevolent sexism consists of positive feelings toward women, and the belief that men should protect and provide for women.   The problem with this type of sexism is that is accompanied by the belief that women are less competent and need men’s help.  Benevolent sexism is not only endorsed by men, but women express benevolent sexism as well ( a recently published study found that women who felt entitled were more likely to endorse benevolent sexism).

What’s wrong with women wanting to be taken care of by men?  Studies show women who want men to take care of them tend to have less personal ambition, defer to their partners when making career decisions, and feel that the role of women is to help their partners’ career.

In other words, we can’t have it both ways.  We won’t make it to the boardroom if we can’t open our own door.  We won’t be in the C-Suite, if we can’t wait our turn to get off the elevator.  And we won’t be running corporations if we can’t sit on the floor in music class.

Why Are All the Top Hairstylists Men?

IMG_1227I’m getting highlights at the famous Chris McMillan Salon in Beverly Hills.  McMillan, stylist to the stars, is best known for creating Jennifer Aniston’s famous Rachel cut.  He now pockets for $600 for a haircut from those lucky enough to snag an appointment (Just FYI, I’m here to see someone else).   There’s no questioning McMillan’s talent, but I can’t help wonder why the current phenoms of the hair world are all men.  With the exception of a few token female stylists (Sally Hershberger is the only one who comes to mind), lists of the most highly-paid or celebrity stylists are almost exclusively male.  McMillan is joined on these lists with fellow hairstylists like Orlando Pita, Frederic Fekkai, Cristophe, and Jose Eber.  I understand why the top levels of some occupations may be male-dominated, but hairstyling?

Women have so much more experience with hair than men.  Obsession with hair starts at a young age for girls.   Little sisters of the boys on my son’s hockey team fix each other’s hair while their brothers slam into one another on the ice.  As a teenager, I spent hours with curling irons, hot rollers and blow dryers.  In fact, when it comes to hair, I have certainly exceeded the 10,000 hours rule.  No doubt, most of my female friends have as well (In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that after roughly 10,000 hours of practice you will achieve mastery in a field.) It’s not that women aren’t entering the profession,   The Bureau of Labor Statistics  reports that 85% of employees in “personal appearance” occupations are female.  What’s keeping these women from reaching  the top?

I asked world-famous Cristophe why so few women made it to the very top of his profession.  Cristophe told me that women are the primary consumers of expensive haircuts, and they’re not just paying for a good cut.  They want to feel beautiful, and a man is more naturally able to provide this experience to women.

That makes sense, but I can’t help think there’s more to it.  After all, men beating women at their own game isn’t limited to hairstyling.  Men outearn women in other female-dominated areas as well.   Look at secretaries and nurses, two of the most female-dominated professions.  Female secretaries earn only 90.6% as much as male secretaries, and female nurses earn just 86.5% as much as male nurses.   In other words, for every dollar earned, male secretaries earn about ten cents more than female secretaries, and male nurses earn almost 14 cents more than female nurses.

Perhaps it’s the ol’ boy network in action.  Maybe male hairstylists have more access to funds to open their own salons, networks to promote their business, and contacts to get them that celebrity client who will put them on the map.  At least that’s the theory as to why male nurses get ahead.  They’re able to befriend the male-dominated senior management, and use these connections for promotions and pay raises.

In the case of hairstylists, I get that women (myself included) perpetuate this problem by laying out big bucks for beauty – but why women do that is a subject for a future blog post.   This one’s about why men are beating women in professions that should be a slam-dunk for women.

Gender-neutral O Canada

Canadian flag


A group called Restore Our Anthem has launched a campaign to make the lyrics to the Canadian national anthem, O Canada,  gender neutral.   Although, I live in Star Spangled Banner territory, I was intrigued by the Canadian effort. The campaign is backed by some of Canada’s most influential women, including former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood.  They just want to change  two words.

True patriot love in all thy sons command

True patriot love in all of us command.

A recent on-the-street poll of Canadian attitudes toward the change revealed mixed results.  Some thought it was about time, while others weren’t so sure.  One woman suggested, “Some things should just be left as is.”  Perhaps she was referring to the centuries of male dominance.   We wouldn’t want to touch that type of tradition.

Male dominance is so widely accepted, that sometimes overt sexism doesn’t seem so bad – even to a feminist.  One easy way to perceive the sexism in a situation is to substitute racism.   If the anthem lyrics included, “True patriot love in all thy white people command, “  would the reaction be the same?   Some things should just be left as is?  It would obviously be deemed too racist.

So why is it so difficult to understand that the term “sons” is sexist?  Male dominance is so embedded in our culture that often it’s tough to notice even when it’s right in front of us.  If the race example didn’t convince you, imagine explaining to a four-year-old girl just learning the anthem, why the lyrics contain the word “sons” instead of “daughters.”    Your explanation might go something like this – “They say sons, but they mean sons and daughters.”  Or, “People use boy words to mean both genders.”    And what message do you think that sends to the four-year-old girl?  It sends the message that boys are more important to Canada than girls.

Still hanging on to the tradition argument?  According to a youtube video posted by Retore Our Anthem, the original lyrics to O Canada were gender neutral, and “in all of us” was changed to “in all thy sons” in 1913.

And what about the line in question in the French version of the anthem?  That line translates to “Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.”  Not even close to the words in the English version of the anthem.

The campaign for change is encouraging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Canadian government to act on this issue.  Canadians, they claim,  “sing [O Canada] proudly without pause.  But perhaps a pause is exactly what we need.  A pause to consider the power of words.”   I’m happy our neighbors to the north are pointing out this injustice.  Starting a dialog is the first step toward change.