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.