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Mike Pence, Lust and Big Law

Vivia Chen

April 6, 2017

1024px-Mike_Pence_&_Karen_Pence_by_Gage_SkidmoreWho knew Mike Pence is such a lustful rascal?

I'm referring, of course, to the recent profile of Pence's wife Karen in which Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker notes: "In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either."

Wow, what an animal Pence must be! The implication is that he can barely control himself alone in a restaurant with a woman or even in a cocktail party packed with people, unless someone (preferably his wife) is holding him by the leash. Gosh, it must be awfully hard to get work done in a place like Washington where women are lurking at every corner.

As you'd expect, the backlash to Pence's policy was immediate. In Vox, SMU law professor Joanna Grossman condemns Pence's practice as "clearly illegal when practiced by a boss in an employment setting, and deeply damaging to women’s employment opportunities."

And in Cosmopolitan (yo, Cosmo is a feminist pub?), former law firm associate Jill Filipovic writes: "If men like Pence won’t engage with women one-on-one in informal settings, it’s the women who miss out—because it’s still men who run the show," adding that there's only so much a woman can do at those "ladies-only" networking events.
 
So true. But here's what puzzles me about all the outrage directed at Pence: Is his cautionary policy toward women really that different from what goes on in law firms and the rest of Corporate America?

From what I've observed, many male partners practice some version of Pence's policy. They might be okay about lunching alone with a female associate, but dining with her at night? No, no, no. They're essentially Mike Pence Lite.

Bosses treat men and women differently, and that inequality is ingrained in the culture. Recalling her own experience in a law firm, Filipovic writes that male associates enjoyed certain privileges not accorded to women:
 
I noticed they would mention weekends golfing at a partner’s club, or afternoons at a baseball game with their boss and a prospective client. Sometimes, these same young men who were at the same stage of their professional lives as I was, would mention the advice they got from partners during these informal outings—tips on how to bring in business or how to position themselves to make partner someday.
 
Any woman who's worked in a law firm or corporate setting is probably familiar with those scenarios. How many times have we seen one of our male colleagues trot off with a senior partner for after work drinks while we stayed behind at the office? (Yes, I've experienced this in the world of journalism too.)
 
All that male bonding might seem natural, but I think it also speaks of a primal fear of women in the workplace. A woman might be an ace litigator or dealmaker but she's always judged as a potential sex object who can ruin a man's career.
 
You might remember that consultant Sylvia Ann Hewitt found in her 2012 study that 64 percent of senior men would not sponsor a woman precisely because it entails spending one-on-one time together that might spark rumors of an inappropriate relationship.
 
And let's not forget that the marriage structure of male bosses influences their views about working with women too. According to a 2012 study by the University of North Carolina, Harvard University, New York University and the University of Utah, married men with stay-at-home wives or wives who work part-time tend to have more negative attitudes about working women. And guess what? Law firm partners and corporate executives tend to have traditional marriages.
 

Maybe all of these antiquated attitudes will change when the next generation take over, especially since women make up 50 percent of the junior associates at some big firms. At some point, something has got to give, right?

In the meantime, Mike Pence and his prudishness (though some might call it prudence) live on.

vchen@alm.com

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Pence is a born again Christian, a "religion" which clearly makes the man the head of the family. Pence's behaviors somehow strike me as emphasizing his dominant roll.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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