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JUNE 2014 - A Little Levity
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A Little Levity: I Laughed, I Cried, When Can I Burn My Bra?

by Heather E. Stern

Humor is always based on a modicum of truth. Have you ever heard a joke about a father-in-law?” - Dick Clark

 

If you were not able to attend the recent WLALA/LACBA Joint Task Force event featuring the witty and brash legal journalist Vivia Chen, then you really missed out.  I’d ordinarily leave it at that, except what fun would that be?

 

If you are not familiar with Vivia Chen, she is an ex-corporate lawyer who now, among other things, blogs for “The Careerist.”  Her blogs are typically sarcastic and ironic, as well as interesting and insightful, and often use humor to raise issues pertaining to women and minorities in the legal profession.  Her sense of humor was certainly in display at her May 6, 2014 Joint Task Force presentation, “Rules for Success: Ten Things Women Shouldn’t Do.”

The “Rules” that she shared with the Joint Task Force audience are certainly meant as playful, tongue-in-cheek, humorous observations, and not as a serious condemnation of our esteemed profession.  But like all good humor, the reason it’s funny is because it hits a grain of truth.  Perhaps this is why the conversations I was privy to in the post-event socializing included serious and weighty discussions of the challenges women can face, not just shared laughter at Vivia’s “Rules.”  This was good to hear, since the Joint Task Force’s focus is a serious one – the retention and promotion of women in the profession.  Its stated purpose is “to explore real, practical solutions to the ongoing phenomenon of women leaving the profession, most notably from large, prestigious firms.”  The May 6, 2014 event was an excellent display of how laughing at ourselves can sometimes assist that purpose.

Now without further ado, and with 100% credit given to Vivia Chen for everything funny in the below, and taking credit only for what I’ve written that falls flat because I cannot do her justice, here are the “Rules.”

 

Rule #1: Don’t Be A Good Girl.  As Vivia says, there is a trap women can fall into in thinking that if they are a “good girl,” they will be rewarded.  In other words, if you work really, really hard, Prince Charming will come along and propose partnership to you and you will live happily ever after in profit.  This doesn’t work.  So don’t be a good girl. 

Instead, Tap Into Your Inner Newt (Gingrich).  Have a grandiose vision of yourself and believe that anything is possible.  Believe that you can run for President based on a platform that includes family values, when your own marital conduct is hardly a model.  If you think you’re hot stuff, other people will believe it, even while smart, substantive people get left in the dust.  But you need to believe it in your heart.

 

Rule #2: Don’t Ask For Permission.  Think this one doesn’t apply to you?  How many times a day do you use phrases like:  “I’m sorry to disturb you.”  “I was wondering if . . . .”  Stop apologizing! 

Instead, Be A Royal Pain.  Don’t apologize even when you’re wrong.

 

Rule #3: Don’t Be So Loyal.  It’s the first wife syndrome – we tend to stick with our master and law firm out of fear that we won’t find anything better.  We are too grateful for any accommodations our firm might make for us.

Instead, Be Greedy.  Be the younger trophy wife.  Focus more on the money.  Did you know that there is a study that says that men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women?  Another study found that 15% of all new women partners cannot even describe the compensation system at their own firm.

 

Rule #4:  Don’t Talk Like A Valley Girl.  In your mind’s eye, conjure up the high pitched, lilting voice of a valley girl.  You know this is hard to take seriously.

Instead, Be The Voice Of God.  Close your eyes and think: what voice do you hear when you imagine the voice of authority?  Did you know that Margaret Thatcher had voice lessons to lower her voice!  Talk deeply and loudly.

 

Rule #5: Don’t Get Sloppy About Your ‘Do.  Hair is super important.  As Hillary Rodham Clinton once said in a commencement speech to Yale graduates: “The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters. This is a life lesson my family did not teach me, Wellesley and Yale Law School failed to instill: Your hair will send significant messages to those around you. What hopes and dreams you have for the world, but more, what hopes and dreams you have for your hair.  Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.”

Instead, get a snazzy ‘do and color those roots.  Follow Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in Netflix’s “House of Cards.”  Sloppy grooming leads to sloppy professionalism.

 

Rule #6: Don’t Be Dowdy.  As women, if we are at one extreme we are criticized as too frumpy, and if we are at the other extreme, we are criticized as too sexy.

Instead, Be Strategically Sexy.  Cleavage is the new power tie.  As a private equity guy once shared, if a woman is at a meeting and wants to command attention, she should show some cleavage.  Deploy a tasteful amount at the right occasion.

 

Rule #7: Don’t Get Stuck With The Dishes.  Focus on the quality of your work and don’t get stuck doing the meaningless, grunt work that never leads anywhere.

Instead, Be A Nag.  Demand Attention.  Ask to know the criteria for promotion.  Keep track of your achievements on a quarterly basis.  Keep track of what your peers are doing.  Keep reminding people of what you want.  

 

Rule #8:  Don’t Get Bullied.  Maybe it will surprise you, maybe it won’t, but women report that there is a lot of bullying at the partner level about client origination.

Instead, Strike Back!  Nice girls get screwed.  Don’t be shy to say “This is Mine and I brought it in!”

 

Rule #9: Don’t Just Mope With The Girls.  Sure there are lots of affinity groups and ways to find other girls like you.  But beware.  This alone is not likely to get us where we want to go. 

Instead, Enlist The Boys.  Get a male perspective on how women can succeed.  You might be surprised at how willing they are to help.

 

 

Rule #10: Don’t Try To Be Perfect.  Women don’t go after promotions unless they meet 100% of the requirements, while men push the limits and are able to get the promotion with less.  Women also need to resist being an Übermom.

Instead, Go Easy On Yourself!  Get yourself a House Hubby, or embrace the mess!


Any of the above make you laugh, cry, or get angry?  Good.  You're paying attention.  If you'd like to join us in the meaningful work of the Joint Task Force, don't ask for permission, just do it. 


 


Heather E. Stern is the WLALA Communications Officer. Ms. Stern is Partner at Kralik and Jacobs LLP. 

 

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