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In Her Shoes: Female Attorneys on Golf and Stilettos

Advice to a new lawyer about golf, shoes and corporate culture. Inspired by the ferocious debate about Hillary Clinton, post-feminism, sexism, and stilettos.

Contributed by Jacqueline Church

224432608_1b5c78576c_m.jpg“Golf. That’s all they talk about at my firm – Golf!”

She wrinkled her nose as if you’d just put something smelly under it.

An accomplished, smart, young associate at a large law firm, my friend is determined to make her billable hours, do good work, learn everything she can, and make herself more valuable to the firm. She’s not really sure why that should include learning how to golf.

As a non-practicing attorney who was in her shoes not so long ago, I offered her the following advice:

• if that’s what they’re talking about at the firm, it’s incumbent on you to study up;
• golf is much more fun to play than to watch;
• learning a little golf will improve your client work as well as your office relationships.

Then, I gave her the name of a good instructor and my recommendation that she take some lessons soon. I could tell she wasn’t buying it without more evidence. (Better she take up golf than poker, I thought.)

Should it be her job to ensure that the men in the firm are comfortable with her? Even if it means learning to golf? No, it shouldn’t be. Should she do it anyway? You bet.

The golf debate is a good metaphor for other challenges young women entering the workforce face.
Pretending these challenges don’t exist will not make them go away. Tackling them in a “change the world” fashion is also not recommended. Trying to convince male lawyers that golf shouldn’t matter?
Try to convince a fish that water isn’t important; you’ll have an easier time.

If you want to succeed in highlighting how different you are from men in the firm, go ahead and tackle the golf thing, as they’ve already noticed if you can’t talk golf with them.

Understanding the firm’s culture, and deciding how to be successful within it, is the key. Each person must decide how much they want to accommodate, and what feels authentic. No matter what path you choose, do it with awareness. Aside from legally sanctioned behaviors, the daily slings and arrows are ours to endure, or to dodge. A little experience can help.

In possession of freshly minted credentials, you can be certain that everyone should believe you are as capable as the next guy. To succeed it takes both credentials and “street cred.” One only need look at the debate about presidential candidates and their “qualifications” to understand this.

So Many Shoes, So Few Trials.
Shoes seem to be the catalyst for many debates about feminism and corporate culture now. Stilettos, flip flops, sensible shoes: what do the choices say about us? Should they matter?

When I first set foot in a Boston court room as a “2L,” I had no idea what lessons I’d learn that day. The most important ones was not about the law.

A law student from a higher ranking law school was clerking for the judge while I was interning with the attorney appearing in his court. After he explained to me, sua sponte, the highly competitive nature of the admissions process at his school, he looked at my feet and said, “Nice shoes.”

They were nice shoes, too. Classic and twice as expensive as his, it was plain to see.

But I got the point. I knew that shoes shouldn’t matter. Even if they did, mine were better. But that still didn’t matter. It was also clear he felt entitled to judge me and to note, however subtly, that I stood out. These were not Lucite platforms, by the way. They might as well have been. Just by being female, I was easily dismissed, even by a peer, a 2L, another nobody!

I never wore those shoes in court again.

Golf, Fashion Choices and Being Included
Years later, in a startup, I was invited to join a golf scramble with the guys. As the only woman. I brought the cigars, took some lessons and sunk the winning putt for my team. In the same job, a VP tried to give me grief for something I wore one day. Keep in mind, his was a tech startup. Half the guys were in shorts and Tevas, often with socks.

I was confident and accomplished enough at this juncture to laugh it off, pointing out that he just needed to get with the times, adding that in New York or any other major city, I’d be right in style. I earned my way to this point. I was also the only female who the top guys felt comfortable telling jokes around.

About golf, Phyllis Diller once said: The reason the pro tells you to keep your head down is so you can’t see him laughing.

Golf will make you laugh and make you cry, like the guy who finished third in the Masters, Brandt Snedeker. He finished third after being in contention to win. Tears flowed and he compared his crying to another golfer he’d seen crying over a loss “like a girl whose prom date didn’t show.” He’s received an outpouring of support because of his obvious love of the game. While the Masters was being covered, Lorena Ochoa, a 26-year-old woman from Mexico, became the second-youngest player in L.P.G.A. history to qualify for the Hall of Fame, although she cannot be admitted until 2012. Since 2006 she has made over $8 million and won over 18 times. Snedeker’s third place at the Masters earned $435,000..

The moral of the story is that, if the guys at work saw you as that passionate about golf, they’d want you on their team, whether it was on the course or in the office. They’d know you were one of them. Or, you could wait for them to notice you working quietly away in your cube.

Whether it’s a choice of shoes or a choice of hobby, just make sure you understand what’s to be gained or lost in the choosing.