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SOUND BITES FROM THE WISDOM OF VERY SUCCESSFUL WOMEN LAWYERS

A panel of senior (in status) Boomer and Gen X law firm partners and corporate counsel imparted, with both wisdom and humor how they mastered their career trajectories at the Women in Law Empowerment Forum’s (WILEF East) March 19, 2014 program. The women, in several cases, described how their careers evolved in surprising ways, sometimes the opposite of what they thought they wanted until they gave it a shot.

Here is a collection of sound bites (not necessarily in their exact words) from the discussion that I found both appealing and valuable for the lawyers in the audience and even beyond the legal profession/industry.

  • Opportunity favors the prepared.
  • Listen for your boss’ priorities.
  • Have your boss’ back so he/she can trust you.
  • Propose solutions; don’t just do the rote thing with an assignment.
  • Be your authentic self and try to assure that everyone perceives you the same way.
  • Never say “never.”
  • Don’t consider what you at first perceive as failures to be failures.
  • Don’t cover up mistakes. Own up to them and immediately suggest a solution.
  • Show you are constantly thinking beyond what is required.
  • Never confess (especially to a man) what you don’t know. Go find it out.
  • Always look for both mentors and for opportunities to mentor others.
  • Wisdom only comes from an accumulation of experiences.

 On the theme of POWER:

  • People give up power by thinking they don’t have any
  • Men define power as control. Women define power as influence.
  • Assert yourself from the beginning when you negotiate compensation.
  • People perceive power from symbols
  • Project a sense of self-respect to be perceived as powerful.
  • Power is when people more experienced than you respond and do work for you.
  • Act confident and you will attain power.

Which ones resonate with you, whether you are a lawyer or not, a woman or not? Share your thoughts in comments here.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot            www.pdcounsel.com

OBSERVATION: WOMEN GRADUATE, MEN DROP OUT – AND SUCCEED BIG

Observation: Women outnumber men in college and earning graduate degrees. It’s men who drop out and seem to be the ones who start mega-successful companies. It’s not just the obvious (like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – later-half Baby Boomers). Gen Xers and Gen Y/Millennials too.

Is this a gender thing? Do we just hear less about the young female entrepreneurs? Do they, more than the men, think they need MBAs, etc. to succeed? To give them confidence to take risks?  Or is it purely individualistic? Is this changing? Will more Boomer women be successful entrepreneurs in encore careers?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

TRANSITIONING PARENTING ROLES AND WORKPLACE ACCEPTANCE

The articles keep piling on: Just this week the New York Times Sunday Styles section (August 12, 2012) big feature on the changing attitudes about stay-at-home dads; and sports pages in many newspapers and electronic media on professional athletes’ fatherly devotion (e.g., Eli Manning, elite quarterback, said he thinks he’s an “elite dad”). I wrote about this trend in sports several years ago, and I’m delighted to see young fathers in other occupations not only expanding their parenting roles, but also speaking publicly about it.

My big questions are:

1-    How much have attitudes in the workplace (not the sports arena) changed toward part-time worker/dads and stay-at-home dads?

2-    Will elimination of stigmas regarding work/life flexibility for men accelerate acceptance and new flexibility for everyone and help women in the workplace as well?

3-    Are the more open attitudes a generational thing, more prevalent with Gen X and Gen Y/Millennials?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

PERSPECTIVE: CHANGING DEMEANOR & WHY GENERATIONS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY

At my recent presentation a Boomer member of the multi-generational audience expressed frustration (as they often do) that the Gen Y/Millennials don’t act properly in the workplace. Well, most of Gen Yers were educated and brought up in times of much looser standards of behavior than the older generations (Traditionalists and Boomers) were and many were not taught the typical expectations of workplace behavior. In college they could dress pretty much as they pleased, schedules were flexible, and advance clearances and permissions were not commonly required. So that’s what they are accustomed to.

By way of illustrating the differences, the special New York Times Education Life section (July 22, 2012) ran excerpts (courtesy of Catherine M. Allchin) from a Dorm Women’s Handbook from the early 1960s and a Resident Hall Contract from 2012. To quote from the 1961 Women’s Handbook:

Dorm Hours: Freshman are to be tucked into bed by 11p.m., and counselors will count noses at this time – upperclass noses too.

Permissions: To go home, sign out with the housemother and pay her for a 2-cent postcard. She will send it to your parents to let them know you are on your way.

Social Standards:  To improve in poise and social ease, students should observe and practice good manners – for example, by standing when an older person enters the room or approaches to speak.

Personal Appearance: Shorts may not be worn on campus except to and from PE classes, and then only when covered by a long coat.

The rules and expectations were clear back then.

Jump to the 2012 Residence Hall Contract by way of contrast. It deals with weapons and alcohol possession and use, personal safety, fire safety and the Gender Equity Hall. “Residents can choose to room with a student of any gender or gender identity. Restrooms in this hall are gender neutral.”

Whether you laugh at the extraordinary differences or yearn for some of the prior standards (as some parents might), what exists now has shaped a lot of young people. Employers are left with the responsibility and task of clearly articulating expectations from day one to set the standards they want to see. Neglecting attention to this early will enable undesirable habits of demeanor, schedules and boundaries to take hold, which will make them difficult to undo. Like it or not, understanding of where the behavior originated and communicating expectations in orientation training is necessary.

Please share your thoughts here.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

BAD NEWS ON WOMEN’S NETWORKS and generations and gender diversity

The Wall Street Journal reported on a Simmons School of Management survey of 166 female professionals, all of whom had women’s support groups at their workplace. The news was quite disheartening in terms of the overall attitude toward the groups, participation and results.

But first the good news: what worked. The women who said they were actively involved in the women’s networks and thought they were very effective described these characteristics of the groups: They met frequently, had financial support from the company – and they were open to both men and women.

Now the bad news. 29% of the women responding were not involved in any workplace women’s network. Most said they didn’t have the time. Other reasons given were they didn’t share the network’s goals or they didn’t see the value or they weren’t eligible. Another 16% beyond those 29% were a member of a network at their organization but rarely got involved. And of those belonging, more than 75% found their networks only somewhat or not at all effective in meeting the group’s goals. Goals most often included networking, retention and promotion of women and professional development.

What are we to conclude? Perhaps the formation of many women’s networks is still a matter of lip service on the part of senior management, or at least believed to be by many women. Maybe they are getting mixed messages: "We’ll let you form women’s networks, but you’ll be rewarded by other uses of your time." And if the more senior women are not committed to regularly attend, younger women may take their lead from them or feel the value is much reduced without the mentoring possibilities from more experienced professionals.

Going back to the networks that were effective, the reasons are no surprise. For women’s networks to be taken seriously in a still male-dominated culture as far as clout is concerned, there has to be solid and visible support from management, and that includes financial support as well as praising and otherwise recognizing the active members of the networks and their accomplishments. Frequent meetings are needed to establish bonds and trust and build confidence among members.

And, I think, very important (as I have said for many years), men must be part of the process. They need to be welcomed to help and sponsor the women as well as to learn from them. Attending some of the meetings will enable them to better understand how diversity strengthens the organization and what the obstacles are. Gender separation is not a long-term solution. And generationally there are different views on gender separation. To generalize, the Gen Y/Millennials and youngest Gen Xers don’t recognize the gender differences as much as the older generations and have different expectations about how they will be treated.

I hope to see women adjust their approach and attitudes toward women’s networks and get real buy-in from male colleagues so they can be more effective in reaching stated goals and the day when they will no longer be considered necessary because the goals have been achieved.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONS: How to Use the Intersection of Generations and Gender to Raise the Return for Everyone

Lately I find myself engaged in conversations, mostly raised by Boomers and the older half of Gen Xers about what might be called the intersection of gender and generations issues. Several women expressed the strong belief that women have actually made little or no progress in attaining leadership and management positions in the last 10 years except when it’s their own businesses.

At least a few women who talked with me believe that as a society we have adopted the habits of politically correct speech, and that has swept true attitudes under the rug and made it seem like women have reached a greater degree of equality in the corporate environment and media treatment than they actually have. They believe that we as a society have actually regressed. The other “symptom” is that having made some visible strides, men act as if the gap problem is solved, and there is less talk leading to action than there used to be 

On the other hand, my inbox continues to be filled with e-newsletters and updates from politically active groups, industry professional organizations and media watchdogs that persistently and energetically keep these issues in the forefront. Perhaps we are not getting the same mail and attending the same meetings?

Yes, I think we still have a long way to go. And I think the best strategy for achieving more success for everyone is to sincerely and substantively involve men in the solutions. Down with lip service. So here is one of the best opportunities to take advantage of the intersection with generational attitudes. The younger generations are not only accepting but also demanding all kinds of diversity. They see gender as less of an issue than their older colleagues do. 

Here are my reasons for optimism. (Yes, I am a born optimist, but one that doesn’t like being disappointed.) I emphasize that these are general patterns, not absolutes, and we need to recognize individual situation and avoid stereotypes.

  • Gen Y makes smaller gender distinctions as to relationships, capabilities, ambitions, leadership and tenure than older generations do.
  • Collaborative styles, which are comfortable for many women, are favored by the younger generations. Collaboration is necessary for solving ever more complex problems.
  • With more women making purchasing decisions on the client side, more women and other diverse professionals will be designated to lead client teams and business development opportunities. Economic factors are strong attitude influencers.
  • Younger men are about as focused on family (dual-centric) as women are and desirous of restructuring the workplace so it works better for people.
  • Women are gradually learning the importance of rainmaking to their careers, the importance of getting sponsors, not just mentors, helping each other and learning to be more confident in negotiations.
  • While unconscious bias is still common, a desire for rejuvenating professionalism among all generations (as revealed in the findings of the Practice Development Counsel survey soon to be released) will gradually shrink the gap in leadership and increase opportunities for women. Professionalism will increasingly trump gender biases.
  • There is a growing awareness of the value of gender neutrality in producing organizational success.
  • Everyone gets older – we can’t stop it – so more people with gender bias will be transitioning out of the workplace.

This is not occurring, and probably will not happen, fast enough to please women and accelerate the success of many businesses. But I believe it will happen faster if we take the focus off difference and involve stakeholders of all generations and genders in achieving common goals of productivity, client retention, succession planning and professional excellence.

This is a controversial subject, and we need to give it the attention it deserves. I urge you to send your comments, provocative or not.  Let’s keep a lively dialogue going.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com 

NEXT GENERATION CAREERS: WHY THEY CHOOSE TECH

Perhaps it’s no surprise that men and women choose to major in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields for different reasons. A study released this month (September 2011) called “STEM Perceptions: Students and Parents Study” by Harris Interactive for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and Microsoft, has some interesting finding on the differences.

The women’s top reason for choosing a STEM major was intellectual stimulation, while men chose those fields for “a good salary out of school.” A huge gender gap was revealed in what led them to their interest. For 68% of the women in the study it was a particular high school class or teacher that they credited with turning them on to the subject. That was true for only 5% of the men. Their experience with related games, toys, books or clubs was a significant factor for 51% of the men but only 35% of the women.

These findings could influence the teaching of the different genders and suggest the importance of high school teaching to attracting more women to the STEM fields. A combination of intellectual stimulation, role models and a welcoming culture would be likely to attract and retain more women.

It is important that those role models and inspirational teachers be men as well as women. How do we make men more comfortable with “sponsoring” women in their field?

Your thoughts?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com 

 

DO MERITOCRACY POLICIES WORK?

Sloan School of Management at MIT researchers found in The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations study that using a policy of meritocracy might do the opposite of expected results and result in management bias and disparate treatment for women and minorities.

Conventional wisdom suggests that if people perform better than others, they should be rewarded better. Instead, when study participants in what they believed was a meritocracy based company evaluated employees, they gave men an average of $50 more in bonuses than women in a study experiment. Further, women participants were as likely as men to discriminate against women according to the research reported in Human Resources Executive magazine (9/2/11). There was no evidence of bias when meritocracy was not mentioned. The study was co-authored by Emilio J. Castilla, an MIT/Sloan associate professor and Stephen Benard, an assistant professor at Indiana University. Castilla says the unequal treatment that he found in meritocracies could extend to minorities as well.

Despite the results of his survey, Castilla says that businesses should continue meritocracy -- after all, when it's implemented correctly, it's effective. "Although our findings identify the potential side effects of certain meritocratic conditions," he says, "businesses shouldn't abandon efforts to promote workplace fairness and equality [based on merit]."

How can managers avoid being too subjective in their evaluation decisions? Will using hard numbers solve the problem? Will hard numbers present the complete picture of factors that need to be evaluated? In addition to training for managers, giving a voice to employees being evaluated should help to bridge the gap and lead to better results. Please share your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com   

 

DON’T REWARD DISAGREEABLE, UNPROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOR

“Rude People Earn More” was a grabbing headline in the Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2011 among many articles referring to a new study actually titled “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? "by professors from Cornell University, University of Notre Dame and the University of Western Ontario.

The big news, (or is it confirming what we suspected?) is that men who self-report that they are below average in agreeableness earned about 18% more than nicer ones in the research sample of over 10,000 people in a wide range of professions from 3 surveys over nearly 20 years plus a separate study by the three professors of 400 business students. “Disagreeable” women earned on average 5% more than “agreeable” ones.

The several articles I saw about the study didn’t define “agreeableness,” so I asked Assistant Professor at the Cornell Industrial & Labor Relations School Beth Livingston, who has been widely quoted in the articles, for the definitions. The study team defined agreeableness as “trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness. Disagreeableness is seen as the opposite, though variance suggests that it's rarely that straightforward,” said Dr. Livingston.

Previous findings by other researchers cited by the study authors concluded that:

  • Agreeable people place greater value on their interpersonal relationships.
  • Those individuals are more motivated to maintain relationships.
  • They are more “prosocial.”
  • They are more helpful and cooperative.
  • As a result of all of the above, they are better liked by their peers than are disagreeable people.

Take-aways from the research:

  • Agreeable people may be reluctant to be assertive in salary negotiations and leave money on the table.
  • Males may think agreeableness doesn’t conform to societal and workplace expectations of masculine behavior.
  • An organization’s compensation system may reward disagreeableness though managers may not realize it or the downside of doing so.

Distinctions to consider made by other professors and executives are between disagreeableness, incivility and disrespect. They may overlap on occasions but are not the same things. All of these may be perceived as unprofessional behavior.

I hope that the findings in this new study are considered beyond the catchy headlines, and that unprofessional and disagreeable behaviors are perceived as unacceptable and no longer rewarded. However, too much compliant behavior and modesty could be a detriment to the organization as well as an individual's positive leadership. It will be interesting to see if the younger generations make this culture change.

(This is my blog, so I can say I am especially pleased to see all the attention Beth Livingston, the youngest faculty member, teacher, scholar and collaborator, is getting. I recruited her a year ago to work with me on my consulting for the Cornell “generations initiative” for faculty and staff recruitment and retention, a project of the University’s Human Resources Department, and am thrilled with her contributions and commitment.)

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

CROSS-GENERATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH THE ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM

A few days ago I was thinking about stories to tell at a conference where our panel is discussing the issues and solutions at the intersection of generations and gender. Most of the attendees are women partners in law firms or senior in-house counsel.. My perspective is not as a player in the midst of management and internal politics of the issues, but as a problem-solver seeing the bigger issues 

Immediately coming to mind was another conference months off at which I was asked to moderate a panel on relationship skills relating to the value equation of inside/outside counsel collaborations. Interestingly, surprising to me, the panel selected by the organizers is all women as are almost all the speakers besides the male conference co-chair.

Next racing through my mind my mind was a fundraising message I had received again this morning from a not-for-profit organization with a mission to enhance the lives, personally and professionally, of women over age 50, which restricts membership to that demographic.

What these three events have in common as I see it is that the focus, intentionally or not, will turn out to be Boomer and older half of Gen X cohort women talking primarily to themselves, preaching to the choir.

I’ve pointed out in each case the need to have all the stakeholders in the room, all with a voice, and all talking freely with each other. Where are the male leaders with the clout to lead change? Where are the younger people who need to be engaged, not only for their career development, but also to sustain the success of organizations? Are the more senior women, many of whom consider themselves a minority demographic – as they are in leadership roles – making assumptions without inviting the voice of others whose support they are only likely to have when the conversation feels comfortable for all genders and generations and other aspects of diversity, including diversity of thought?

I truly believe we need cross-generational conversation and cross-gender, cross-race and other diverse elements as the beginning of the solutions to many problems and to sustainable success for our businesses and our institutions.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot      www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

 

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