I get in trouble every time I write about tensions in the sisterhood--the stuff about how women lawyers don't always get along, or the sniping that goes on between working lawyer-moms and stay-at-home ones. Often, I'm accused of perpetuating negative female stereotypes.
Like it or not, I think those tensions are real. But I also think the sisterhood has made enormous strides. In law firms and corporations, women seem much more united. Maybe there's finally critical mass, so professional women feel less self-conscious. Maybe it's a generational shift. Who knows.
There's more unity among professional women, but what about the women who work for them? Here's the startling news: Female secretaries can't stand lawyers who are women. According to a survey of 142 secretaries at big firms, Chicago-Kent law professor Felice Batlan found that not even one preferred working for a female partner. Reports the ABA Blog:
Asked whether they preferred to work for male or female partners or associates, 35 percent preferred working for male partners, 15 percent preferred working for male associates, 3 percent preferred working for female associates, none preferred working for female partners, and 47 percent had no opinion.
Why this apparent disdain for female lawyers by their secretaries (or the preferred term, "administrative assistants")? In Forbes's She Negotiates blog, Victoria Pynchon reports on what some of the participants have to say:
1. Female attorneys have a tendency to downgrade a legal secretary;
2. Females are . . . passive-aggressive, where a guy will just tell you the task and not get emotionally involved and make it personal;
3. I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass! They are too emotional and demeaning;
4. [Women attorneys] made life hell . . . bossed secretaries around [and] had an air about them.
Reading this list of complaints surprised and sadden me. What's all this stuff about female bosses being "emotional and demeaning"? Are we back in 1985?
Before we go on, let's be honest: Working as a nonlawyer in a firm is a thankless, dead-end job. Need I remind you that lawyers are under a lot of pressure, which means they tend to be abrupt and nasty? And let's not forget law is a very snobby profession, so if you're a secretary, the assumption is that your education is limited and that you are just not that smart.
It's no joyride to serve any lawyer, but are female lawyers worse? I tend to doubt it. Personally, I was a total softy in my dealings with my secretary when I was a lawyer. For one thing, I was always afraid that if I weren't sweet and nice, I'd never get my documents done. And I was always a generous gift-giver on holidays. Most of the men at my office barely scraped together a gift certificate to Macy's for their secretaries on Christmas Eve.
But perhaps I was an exception because I was a wimp. Is it possible that women who have attained partnership are scary and tortorous? Or is this the same gap between female lawyers and female secretaries that just won't go away?
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