Please give a warm welcome to The Angry Redheaded Lawyer!
Her post in our Confidence Game series raises a very interesting and important question: Is it a good idea for women in the law to self-segregate?
Sure it might be nice to get together and chat about kids and shoes with other women attorneys, but is it a dangerous idea?
I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this one (how’s that for a lawyerly approach?). What do you think?
Without further ado, The Angry Redheaded Lawyer:
I recently got some paperwork asking me to join a women’s bar association. Putting aside my general feelings about bar associations, I considered this and then, as I was cleaning things out yesterday, decided to pass.
To get an idea of my general views on such efforts, read this earlier post on “diversity” efforts in law firms.
Social Groups vs. Professional Groups
I’m not a big fan of doing such professional groups. Being in a sorority or some social group for childfree people is one thing:
Sororities don’t make it a practice to tell members to never talk to men or exclude them from their lives.
Mine has never said “You can’t have a male mentor!” or “You can’t get any useful advice from men.” The type of social group for childfree people that I would associate with would never say “All parents are bad!” or “Hate your child relatives.” Sororities do plan events with fraternities & some are little sisters in frats (I wasn’t). My point is a proper sorority is supposed to bolster the women involved and help them socialize with men.
These groups don’t operate under the idea of self-segregation. They aren’t telling you to shun anyone who doesn’t fit their category. If they are, I leave.
I Don’t See Myself as “Different”
I’ve read tons of stories recently on how there are few women filmmakers, executives, and how women don’t get advancement as attorneys. However, I don’t run around with a mindset of “I’m different” and I think it’s a terrible idea to do that.
Saying “I’m different” tends to lead to thinking you’re inferior or second class compared to men. If you want to be a woman who succeeds, you can’t be thinking that way.
This is my first major problem with self-segregating professional groups. I have never viewed myself as “different” or less entitled to things than someone else. I don’t really notice being a woman doing what I’m doing, or being a redhead, or even being attractive or younger than many people.
I just see it as me, the person who doesn’t take shit & is happy to piss off whiny idiots doing what I want to do. I’ve also found quite a few men who forge ahead & don’t put themselves into special categories. I don’t go out & ask for respect; I simply command it. I’m not called “the enforcer” for being a little wimp, you know?
I Don’t Want to Limit My Sources of Professional Support
My second problem is the idea that ONLY people just like me can give me career advice or mentor me. That’s total crap.
For one thing, if I just look for the natural redheads, then the women doing stuff, I probably wouldn’t have any mentors.
Plus, how do you know that older women are even going to help or support you? Some women are very catty & behave like they never left 7th grade. I’m not of them but I’ve encountered women ahead of me in the game who said they had no mentors & had to deal with catty bitch types who felt that young women should have to suck it up just like they did. I don’t know this for sure but it seems men are less prone to this kind of behavior when it comes to professional women.
If it’s between a woman or a man for a mentor, I’d like to see what each person’s career path is, their mindsets, backgrounds, etc. I’d rather pick the person who gets it & understands what I’m seeking over someone inflicting their own agenda on me or who hasn’t a clue what I’m doing or what it’s like to be in my shoes. Someone who will be supportive vs. a catty bitchy jerk. I can find cattiness easily enough; I’m not going to roll out a red carpet for it.
I Don’t Feel Inferior
Third, having a separate, segregated group is like saying “I’m inferior so I need help to get ahead. I can’t do it alone.” I don’t feel that way about myself.
I don’t need special programs to get ahead & I don’t want to get something because of my sex, or my hair color, or anything else I can’t control. There are many “minorities” who feel the same way. We just want an even playing field & a better environment for everyone, not just our particular group.
Now I do like the camaraderie, support style aspect of such groups. I’m sure people like that & find it useful. Certainly my sorority has that aspect to it.
I Don’t Want to Deal with Enforced GroupThink
However, if it’s not a social group you never know whether it’s just a support-style group where you can have any viewpoints you want & simply talk to people (other women, redheads, whatever) or if you have to start taking on views you don’t agree with for the sake of “group conformity.”
For example, I don’t think you have to stomp on men or anyone else to get ahead. Some women’s groups feel differently. Some women want to discriminate against skinny women & aren’t very nice to them. You don’t see men cutting down more attractive men or shunning THEM. Women, on the other hand, do it all the time. Now I’m not speaking individually, I’m speaking of women as a group so don’t take personal offense. If you’re a woman, you know there are some catty & unpleasant ones among us.
I Value Diverse Perspectives
I also think you lose valuable perspectives and insight if you’re not talking to people who are different from you & have a different philosophy, mindset, experience, whatever. The world is NOT just women or just black people or just Asians or just natural redheads.
You’re going to have to talk to people who aren’t like you sooner or later & it’s better from a learning & maturity standpoint to do it sooner in my book. Plus, you get some great debates & perspectives there.
I’m Not One-Dimensional
Finally, I’m a lot more than just a woman or just this or just that. I think self-segregating professional groups profoundly box you into those categories so when people think of you, they instantly think of a separate bar association or category group.
I don’t want anyone’s first thought about me to be “She’s in that women’s bar association.” Then, I’m just “that woman” not anything else that might be unique or significant & isn’t tied to something I had no control over, or is associated with some past history of oppression or affirmative action.
My sorority feels different since it’s not so tied up in my career or a one-dimensional place where you can’t play devil’s advocate. It’s also more a facet of tradition & men have their fraternities so I think it balances out more.
Where Are the Men’s Bar Associations?
Has anyone seen men’s bar associations? I don’t know of any myself. Could you imagine the outcry if those existed today?
If you’d be pissed about that, ask yourself why any other group should exist. In 2012, can we not just have groups that welcome ALL people & give EVERYONE a voice?
I think having to self-segregate is also a leadership failing in so-called “inclusive” groups that ought to be dealt with to eliminate this need for self-segregation.
See the difference between a social group where you’re just hanging out & talking to people & professional groups like bar associations doing this???
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Thanks, ARL! Readers, what do you think? Are women’s affinity groups useful, or dangerously misguided? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
For more, check out our new series on women in the law: The Confidence Game, and let’s talk about why women aren’t getting ahead in the legal profession, and what can be done about it. My opening manifesto: Why Diversity Matters.
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