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Is Lust a Problem in Big Law Too?

Vivia Chen

July 10, 2017



I must be way, way out of line. Or stupid. That's because I have no qualms about having drinks or eating alone with a male source or colleague. In fact, I often propose such meetings.

I thought I was doing my job. As it turns out, I've been behaving wantonly.

According to a new poll, many American do not approve of men and women being alone with each other in the workplace, particularly when it comes to food and drink. (Morning Consult surveyed over 5,000  registered voters.)  Reports The New York Times:

Around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

The real stunner is that women are even more disapproving about being alone with a member of the opposite sex than men in various situations:

Having drinks: 60 percent of women v. 48 percent of men deem it inappropriate.

Dinner: 53 percent of women v. 45 percent of men say it should be avoided.

        Driving in a car: 38 percent of women v. 29 percent of men disapprove.

No drinks, no meals, no traveling? You might as well have a segregated work force. Since when did the workplace become such a danger zone?

I get how evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence might shudder at the thought of being alone with a woman (remember, Pence has a policy of never dining alone with a woman or attending events with alcohol unless his wife is by his side), but why are women self-censoring themselves?

The short answer, it seems, is that many women believe (or know) that the workplace is full of wolves, temptation and vicious rumors. The implication is that women don't want to find themselves in a position where they might get propositioned or have their reputations tarnished.
Women seem ridiculously prudish, deeming one-on-one interactions between the sexes as "inappropriate"—more in line with "Republicans, people who lived in rural areas, people who lived in the South or Midwest, people with less than a college education and people who were very religious, particularly evangelical Christians," writes the Times.
So where does this leave us? I'd say somewhere in high school, circa 1958, when nice girls avoided risky situations. That might work as a way to avoid trouble (and preserve one's virginity), but it's lousy career strategy.
Luckily, the lawyer class seems much more evolved on these points. Women lawyers that I know wouldn't dream of forgoing a juicy assignment just because she might be traveling alone with a male partner.
"I agree that women 'need to protect ourselves' as someone said in the article," says a female lawyer in a big firm. "However, that does not mean protecting ourselves from interactions with men!" Because men hold power in most job situations, she adds, "our careers depend not on avoiding but rather on embracing such Mano-a-(Wo)Mano interactions."
And do women in those situations with men still experience sexual harassment? Yes.
"Those who have been harassed are the ones who express concern and caution," says Ellen Ostrow, a career coach for lawyers. That said, Ostrow adds that women's "bigger concern" is being excluded by "the senior guy who is more comfortable with men" and mentors them instead of the women on the team. Women, she explains, are "grateful" for opportunities to have these one-on-one meetings, meals and trips.
So there you have it: Even in the face of harassment, rumors and other inconveniences, female lawyers are forging ahead.
It would be nice if they didn't have to deal with the nonsense, but at least they have right attitude.
photo: Mad Men, AMC.


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Totally agree with you! Women should just go ahead and pay no mind to the surveys. I have a grand time at work and for 30 years have traveled, dined, gone on trips with men, and never once did I ever feel like I was not in control. I never viewed the experiences as anything other than work and never thought of any of my colleagues, adversaries, etc. as anything other than lawyers.

Geez. I've been an attorney for over 30 years and have regularly eaten meals and have had drinks with men - some co-workers and others within the same industry. Nothing I couldn't handle (and I live in the Midwest so we aren't all "prudes"). I'm not sure who they surveyed but the results are dismaying.

Women need to forge ahead with caution. In my opinion, lunch and happy hour are fair game to spend time with male colleagues one-on-one. Generally, I can detect the difference between a collegial invitation and a date invitation. After happy hour, I don't think there's a need to have one-on-one interaction, unless you're on a business trip or were working late and the meal is on the client. Dinner without a necessity can blur the lines, in my opinion. That said I have kids now. So, my availability for dinners is limited anyway.

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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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