May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This annual campaign aims to raise awareness for mental illnesses and break the stigma associated with mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime, and every American is affected through friends and family who have mental illnesses.

Thus, it is likely that one of us has a mental illness of some kind, and a sure thing that we know someone with a mental illness.green ribbon

Many professionals deal with depression.  We work in fast-paced, highly demanding environments that can take a toll on our mental health. According to the Dave Nee Foundation, lawyers in the United States are the occupational group with the highest incidence of depression and fifth in suicides.  Further, chronic stress can trigger the onset of clinical depression.

Those are some startling statistics! But what does this have to do with women specifically? According to NAMI, women are prone to certain mental health conditions:

  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (a severe form of PMS)
  • Perinatal Depression (depression during or after pregnancy)
  • Perimenopausal Depression (depression during menopause)

sad-girl-1382940_960_720A 2014 study on depression in professional women found that women in positions of authority have more depressive symptoms than men in positions of authority (although apparently female lawyers are less depressed than male lawyers). According to the linked article, this can be attributed to women’s traditional assumption of most of the domestic responsibilities, as well as pay inequity, and the scarcity of other women at top levels. The article recommends that professional women

  • Choose a family-friendly employer
  • Find like-minded women and create a network
  • Don’t strive for perfection

unhappy manNotably, female professionals do not own the market on depression and mental health disorders. Male professionals have their own struggles.  A recent American Bar Association article on depression in attorneys cited a study by National Institute for Safety and Health which found that male lawyers age 20 to 64 are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than are men the same age in a different occupation. A study done in 2016 by the Journal of Addiction Medicine shows that male attorneys are also susceptible to problem drinking.  The rate of drinking problems among all attorneys is three times that of the general population, as 1 in 5 attorneys are problem drinkers. In a survey done on 12,000 lawyers, 25 percent of the male lawyers tested positive for hazardous and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.  According to the study, men under age 30 are most at-risk.

Interestingly, the study shows that female attorneys have even higher rates of alcohol abuse than male attorneys (which is the reverse of the general population). So, although female attorneys may be less susceptible to depression than male attorneys, they turn to alcohol more than men.

From an employer’s standpoint, taking care of employees’ mental health can increase productivity and job satisfaction. Employers should review their wellness programs and assess (and, if necessary, beef up) their coverage for mental health issues and include an employee assistance program, or EAP, to provide employees with confidential referrals to mental health professionals.

mental-1389919_960_720It is clear that male and female professionals (especially lawyers) have high-pressure, high conflict jobs that can take a mental and emotional toll, and everyone has different methods for reducing their stressors. The key is to find healthy stress outlets and methods for avoiding or dealing with depression.

Other recommendations for maintaining mental health or helping with depressive symptoms include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Meditation and breathing techniques
  • Making time to do something you enjoy or just for you
  • Set small, achievable goals
  • Make small, positive changes to your diet including increases to folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Get enough, or at least more sleep
  • Challenge negative thoughts and practice positive ones
  • Avoid withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Find something to make you laugh
  • Participate in your insurer’s Wellness  Program
  • Reach out to your insurer’s Employee Assistance program
  • Honestly talk to your doctor

Obviously, for a lot of professionals following the above advice is easier said than done.  But nobody has to go it alone.  There is no shame in asking for help.

Mental Health Month is a good time for all of us to ask ourselves whether we are doing all right and to seek help if we need it. If your employer doesn’t have a hotline or EAP, please try the following contact information below if you are in need of help of any kind:

NAMI Helpline 800-950-NAMI Suicide prevention

M-F, 10 AM – 6 PM ET

Text “NAMI” to 741741

Mental Health America Helpline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

24 hours Text “MHA” to 741741

 

Image Credits: From Google Images,  Creative Commons license: Green Ribbon; Blue Woman from Pixabay; Unhappy man from Max Pixel; Mental Health Cloud from Pixabay; Suicide Prevention Hotline from Lifelinelogo.svg-Wikipedia

In the last two weeks, I posted Part 1  and Part 2 of this blog series which discussed what women want from the workplace, why many women are leaving the workforce when it does not accommodate their need for flexibility, the desire for businesses to recruit women, and developing business trends and needs requiring flexibility. This final blog will discuss how the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) works against businesses’ being able to provide women with attractive work options, thus hurting women and businesses.

FLSA Incentives1280px-Time_clock_at_wookey_hole_cave_museum

To begin this discussion, let’s talk about the incentives created by the FLSA. You might initially think the FLSA incentivizes its 1938 goals of hiring more people instead of working employees longer hours, and paying them a reasonable minimum wage for the first 40 hours worked. This, however, is far too simplistic, and no longer very true. Many more behaviors, including unintended behaviors, are incentivized by the FLSA. Before discussing those behaviors, let’s get some reactions and emotions out of the way. Like it or not, both employees and businesses are motivated in large part by money. Employees want to maximize their earnings up to the point they conflict with other priorities. How this is achieved varies significantly from hard work and job choice to “working the system.” Businesses, including non-profits, want to maximize cash flow and profits while minimizing expenses, all within the dictates of their priorities. No matter what some may think of these motivations, they are reality, and we must deal with reality. So here are realities regardless of opinions, emotions and reactions.

Employee Behaviors

  1. Some employees maximize their opportunities for greater income by finding ways (legitimate and not so legitimate) to work over 40 hours to obtain premium overtime pay, including working (or claiming to be working) during break times, not getting work done during scheduled hours, starting work early, leaving work late, and doing work at unapproved times.
  2. Some employees are very dedicated to their work and would rather mis-represent their time records rather than stop working when directed. For example, I hear about nurses all the time who would rather work through lunch because a patient needs them, no matter how many times they are directed to take a full 30 minutes for lunch. (Employers love the dedication of these employees, but their good intentions can cause havoc from a WH perspective).
  3. Some employees will misrepresent the time they work when they think no one can verify their time. For example, a common employer and coworker complaint involves employees disappearing for extended periods of time from their work locations while on the clock without a legitimate reason. (Not surprisingly, these employees cause employers to be reluctant to let these employees work by the hour from their home!)
  4. Many, many employees like the prestige of being “salaried” and not punching a time clock even if they do not receive additional pay for hours over 40. These employees also do not usually get less pay for weeks in which they work less than 40 hours. I have seen countless misclassified employees get very, VERY upset when their employers convert them to non-exempt/hourly status in compliance with the law and make them start recording their time – a very real fact politicians refuse to acknowledge when they advocate for more classes of employees to qualify for overtime.

Continue Reading How the FLSA Hurts Women (Part 3 – Conclusion)

Last week we published Part 1 of How the FLSA Hurts Women which discussed what women want from the workplace, and some reasons why they are leaving the workforce when it does not accommodate their work-life balance needs. In this part, we will be discussing business trends and business needs in general. Part 3 will discuss how the FLSA works against businesses’ being able to provide women with attractive work options, thus hurting women and businesses.

Business Trends9 to 5

I remember attending the annual conference for the Society for Human Resources Management a few years ago. The consistent message of the keynote and featured speakers really struck me: the 9:00 to 5:00 jobs are passing into history. Future employees will not be able to punch out before dinner, leave work behind, and lead a financially comfortable life. Instead, for business and employees to succeed — indeed for them to survive by meeting the 24/7 demands of the global marketplace — the whole concept of the work day needs to change. The tools we use for business and communication now, such as the internet and email are not limited to Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 Eastern Standard Time, not to mention our local, national, or overseas customers. As I listened to the speakers, I remember wondering how businesses in the United States could adapt to these changes when the FLSA, and similar state laws, demand that employees stop working after a certain number of hours no matter how much or how little they accomplished; stop reading, stop sending or receiving emails, stop thinking about new markets or product ideas or talking to co-workers or customers after clocking out. (Technically, the wage and hour laws don’t require that, but employers who let non-exempt employees work at all hours face the potential for astronomical overtime costs, as well as the nightmare of having to accurately record every minute worked).

50% Rise in Two Working Parents
      50 Percent Rise in Two Working Parents

These questions continue to arise after news reports of the disappearance of middle-class jobs, artificial intelligence replacing hourly employees, and articles like Forbes, Why Millennials are Ending the 9 To 5, by Kate Taylor, and Bloomberg’s It’s Time to Kill the 9-to-5, And the 8-to-6, Too, by Rebecca Greenfield. Greenfield’s article highlights the negatives of our U.S. culture which is “rooted” in an “hours mentality,” which no longer conforms to most people’s lives or their workflows. Employees who have flexibility and control over their schedule rather than 8 hours in a cubicle, have improved productivity, health, and retention rates. Greenfield also noted the 50 percent rise in two working parent households since 1970, yet there has been no structural change to the workplace to adapt to the new reality.

Continue Reading How the FLSA Hurts Women (Part 2)

What?!  Blasphemy!

What do you mean do away with the FLSA?!
     What do you mean do away with the FLSA?!

Our politicians regularly debate how high the minimum wage should be, and which workers should earn overtime pay, but in my 30+ working years, I cannot recall any significant push to rid ourselves of the nearly untouchable dinosaur known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Women in particular, however, should take a fresh look at the FLSA and how it is hurting them from achieving what they want from their workplaces and pursuing work of choice, and consider whether it is time for a complete overhaul of this archaic law. Real foundational change could also have multiple other benefits including employer growth and success, benefits for minorities and children, and the lives of male workers.

This blog will be the first in a three part series taking a fresh look at the FLSA, with a particular focus on its negative impact on working women, and how real change could be a real boon for women. This “Part 1” will examine the history of working women, address why women are leaving the workplace, and what women want from their employers to attract them to stay.

Part 2 will discuss relevant business needs and trends in general in today’s world marketplace.

Finally, Part 3 will bring everything together and explore how the FLSA works against women in achieving their professional goals as well as better work-life balance. It will also consider alternatives to the current structure of the FLSA and the positive impact real change could have on U.S. businesses and women alike.

History of Change for Working Women

Women's work?
Women’s work?

Next year, 2018, will mark the 80th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Following the great depression, it was passed in 1938 with the good intention of encouraging business to hire more workers (by paying a penalty for working employees over 40 hours), establishing a minimum wage for workers with low bargaining power, and protecting children from horrendous child labor and working conditions. In 1938, these goals were important for helping one parent obtain gainful employment and allowing children to get an education and be kids.

In 1960, only 25% of married households with children under 18 had both parents working. By 2012, that number more than doubled to 60%, and the number of     households with only a married mother working tripled. In 2015, 64% of women with children under age 6 were working (compared to 74% of working-age women with children between 6 to 17 years old), and 29% of working women with children under 6 were single parents.[1] While women are breaking glass ceilings, are more valued by companies who recognize that diversity contributes to higher financial outcomes, and more women than men have college degrees, women are still choosing to leave the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics show that between 2000 and 2015, the percentage of women in the workforce decreased from 59.9 to 56.7, with the highest decreases in the prime age range of 25-54. So why is this happening?

What Women Want

While every woman who has decided not to work has their own individual reason, according to the 2016 Gallup study, “Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived,” companies’ biggest competitors for talented women are their children. Whether a working mother decides to accept a particular job is often less about a paycheck, and more about having the ability to do what they do best, having a job they can depend on, and having greater flexibility, including flexible hours, schedules, and time out of the office. According to Gallup, female millennials are surprisingly aligned with female Gen X and baby boomers in these considerations. For working mothers, jobs with rigid schedules are rarely attractive or practical.

happy womanWhile pay is not the highest priority for the majority of working women, to better analyze what women want, it is important to discuss the “gender pay gap.” Personally, I have a major pet peeve when people discuss the gender pay gap with the sound-bite, “women earn $.83 for every $1.00 a man earns,” because this is way too simplistic, and often intentionally ignores numerous factors of personal choice that explain at least part of the disparity. That being said, there is plenty of evidence that the gap is not fully explained by personal choice. In addition, the greater disparity for African-American and Latina women compared to men ($.64 and $.56 respectively) leaves more room for question well beyond personal choices. Nevertheless, one underlying factor cited by Gallup as accounting for these disparities has a very real significance for working women, especially given the flexibility they value in the workplace: hours worked and perception of hours worked. To better balance their workplace and family needs, women often decide to cut down, or change their work hours, pursue less time-intensive jobs, or leave the workplace altogether. In 2015, 25% of employed women worked part-time compared to 12% of employed men. These decisions affect the perceptions of how hard women are working and their dedication to their employer, reduce women’s up-to-date work experience, and thus reduce women’s pay and chances of getting promoted.

heather graph 3Statistically, salaried men report working more hours than women. But does this mean men are working harder or getting more done? Anecdotally, I have seen professional women allegedly “cut down” their hours – that is they cut time working in the office – which really translated into working just about as much time or getting as much done, but at odd times working harder and faster, and whenever they had a few minutes here and there. They often got more done in less time than people clocking more hours at the office. Indeed, studies like this and this are providing scientific evidence that women’s brains are better at multi-tasking then men’s brains – working moms probably don’t need science to prove that! So, continuing to value face-time in the office instead of productivity, which can favor men over women, doesn’t make much sense.  And this will lead to next week’s installment of our blog – what businesses really want.

1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Characteristics of Families Summary, April 22, 2016.

Image Credits: From Google,  Creative Commons license. The Happy Land Illustration by D.H. Friston for the Illustrated London News of 22 March 1873; From Flickr, Women Sewing, Successful Woman on Laptop; Table from the Gallup Report, “Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived,”   

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in the three-trimester blog series Diary of a Pregnant Lawyer – Pregnancy in the Professional Workplace. The first blogmester is here. On December 22 (after she wrote her last “blogmester” post, which we’ll publish later this month), Mallory gave birth to Margot Eleanor Ricci. Congratulations, Mallory!

You have survived the first trimester! Many consider the first trimester to be the hardest of the three (I respectfully disagree and will elaborate more in the upcoming Third Blogmester post).

"Honey, I made it to my second trimester!"
“Honey, I made it to my second trimester!”

If you spent the first trimester escaping to your office for 30-minute power naps, escaping to the bathroom for vomit sessions, or escaping to the fridge for some craving-satisfying snacks, things may be looking a little better for you now.

Unless you’re like me, and the fun times are rolling for a little while longer.

In any event, this second 12-week period is considered to be the easiest. But that doesn’t mean the second trimester doesn’t come without issues, some of which involve the place where professional women spend the majority of their time – work!

Let’s read about some other practicing attorneys’ experiences during the middle of their pregnancy and see if this trimester is as uneventful as it seems . . .

“I was six months pregnant with my first child, and huge. I was at a hearing in the judge’s chambers. Opposing counsel asked when I was due, and I said in three months. The male judge looked at me in amazement and said ‘are you expecting twins?’ I said ‘no,’ and he was hugely embarrassed. Needless to say, I won the hearing.”

“I may be one of the only women who HATED being pregnant. (Or at least one of the only ones to admit it.) I was grouchy, to say the least. However, with that grouchiness came a positive. For approximately 25 weeks (after I went public in the office), I reveled in the fact that the men completely left me alone. I got more work done those 25 weeks because our male dominated office at the time treated me like I had the plague. It wasn’t mean–it was for their own safety and self-preservation. I was spared the hour-long football story distractions and petty arguments that come along with practicing law with an office full of brilliant A-type personalities. My partners also took advantage of my ‘grouchiness.’ I was the one who was always picked to have the controversial phone calls with opposing counsel (also men). It was a great way for me to vent my irritation–and useful, too, because we were preparing for trial all that summer with a very difficult opposing counsel. Needless to say–I usually got my way, and my husband enjoyed the fact that I was a little nicer at home!”

“While I was pregnant, opposing counsel was pregnant, too. Under the state rule, the duration of a deposition is severely limited, and I ended up having to ask the Court for additional time because of the number of bathroom breaks that my opponent took. She opposed the motion, but I was granted the additional time.”

Continue Reading Diary of a pregnant lawyer: Second blogmester

Being pregnant can be hard. Working while pregnant can be really hard. Practicing law while pregnant can be hard, really hard, and more.

As I sit here I am well into the third trimester of my first pregnancy. While typing this introduction, I have had to “go” three times, and I have my feet propped up on two unused computer bags under my desk because by the end of the day my feet look like wonky balloon animals. Looking back at my pregnancy journey, I am aware of how fortunate I am to not have a physically demanding job and to have had a relatively healthy pregnancy – though not without its bumps (in addition to my one big bump) along the way.  I am also aware, however, of the unique challenges pregnancy poses to professional women. Women and their employers should be equipped to handle these challenges. That is what this post is for.

Much like pregnancy, this diary is going to be divided into three “blogmesters”:

First blogmester: family planning and the first trimester;

Second blogmester: the seemingly uneventful second trimester; and

Third blogmester: working while getting ready to deliver, maternity leave, and post-partum issues.

Continue Reading Diary of a Pregnant Lawyer First Blogmester – Planning for Pregnancy and First Trimester

According to an article in bizwomen, for the last two years Wells Fargo has been building an external business strategy, known as the “women’s initiative.” Wells Fargo has been marketing specifically to women by educating their teams on why they should focus on women and how to market to women based on the differences in the ways that men and women do business.

It is clear that Wells Fargo wants women’s business. And for good reason. According to the bizwomen article, women-owned businesses are expected to make up 39 percent of all businesses by 2017.

I am reminded of the 2000 movie What Women Want. Mel Gibson plays a marketing executive who can hear women’s thoughts. He uses this tool to, among other things, better market toward women by working closely with his new boss in order to steal her thoughts and develop a marketing pitch to Nike Women. Before he got the “gift” (if you want to call it that) of hearing women’s thoughts, Mr. Gibson’s character was known to be a bit of a scoundrel.  Most of the movie consists of Mr. Gibson getting in touch with his feminine side in order to determine – wait for it – what women want. At the end of the movie, the final pitch to Nike Women is geared toward women runners. It shows a quiet, lonely road, occupied by a single woman running. The ad focuses on the woman’s desire to simply run on the pavement without superficial judgment or expectations. The women love it, Mr. Gibson’s company wins the pitch, Mr. Gibson’s character gets the girl, and everybody lives happily ever after.

But do men and women really need to be marketed to separately? Judging from Super Bowl commercials, it appears that the ad industry has already decided “yes.” You’ll get an eyeful of burgers, fast cars, beer, and babes (and I don’t mean infants). To keep the women interested, occasionally you’ll get Ryan Reynolds, puppies, wine, or babies (now, I do mean infants).

Every now and then, you may have a standout commercial that is clearly geared to women, like the 2015 Always “Like a Girl” commercial.

An article about the ad noted, “[T]he ad may be the first time a feminine care product was advertised during the Super Bowl and is a prominent example of how companies are trying to woo women customers are shifting advertising tactics.”

Should women be offended that we are being marketed to differently? Does this mean that we are really being reduced to wine, cuddly animals, and cute babies? (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things.) But a lot of women like burgers, fast cars, and beer, too. And a lot of men like wine, cuddly animals, and cute babies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Just because you like me . . .

The “Like a Girl” campaign teaches us that society has applied different norms and expectations to young men and women, some of which persist, but it also teaches us that women are rewriting the rules.

According to a 2015 report by First Round Capital, tech startup companies founded by women performed better than those founded by men. Yet, there are only 24 female CEOs in the S&P 500. Is this because of the glass ceiling, or are smaller tech companies – as opposed to the more traditional companies included in the top 500 – providing women leaders with more attractive opportunities? Possibly, both.

HotRodGirl.flickrCC.InsomniaCuredHere
. . . doesn’t mean you can’t like me, too.

The “Like a Girl” campaign and the Wells Fargo women’s initiative are run by women. Given the growing number of women-owned businesses, the success of tech startups founded by women, and the stark reality that women are still not running very many S&P 500 companies, programs like the “women’s initiative” and the “Like a Girl” campaign are less about differentiating women from men and more about responding to real changes and providing women leaders with the tools to be successful in their own way, whether as a small business owners or as CEOs.

It is a recognition of differences in how women and men succeed, and how they define success. Recognizing these differences must not be demeaning to women. Companies should recognize that women leaders are here, important, and growing in number, and that their different styles, needs, interests, and goals are contributing to positive change in business. Companies like Wells Fargo, who help women-owned businesses to grow, will reap the benefits of their success. More companies should follow that example, not by singling women customers out for their femininity, but by recognizing that women have something to offer to the success of a business. All will benefit in the long run.

Still image credits: From flickr, Creative Commons license. Kitten by Orest Schvadchak, still from Hot Rod Girl (1956) by Insomnia Cured Here. 

It is fall of 2011.  I am participating in a mock trial tournament.  I am defending a (pretend) driver in a (fake) personal injury lawsuit.  I deliver the opening statement and I cross-examine the plaintiff.  After the trial, I sit by nervously awaiting comments from the judges.  I received many well-deserved compliments and critiques.  I will never forget, however, what one of the female judges said to me:

I thought you were great; you really drilled the plaintiff on cross.  But, a word of caution.  I think you are walking the line between being “assertive” and being too “aggressive.”  People often find aggressive females off-putting.  I think the problem is the color of your shirt.  It is too blue.  Try wearing a softer, more feminine color next time, like a pale pink.

FloraFaunaMerryweather2
“Pink!” “No! Blue!”

Yes … my shirt was too blue.  I was appalled at first.  But, looking back on what I am sure was meant as well-meaning advice, it all makes sense.

Female attorneys are held to certain unique standards or truths. (See Heidi Wilbur’s great take on it here.) I have been educated on all of the female golden rules since becoming a law student.

Rule number one: Don’t argue for a raise based on merit; rather, ask for a raise so that it seems like you are asking for “help.” As in, men like to be needed by women, so don’t go into the board room making demands, but rather, appear meek and needy.

Rule number two: Never wear pantsuits in court. Believe it or not I have witnessed many lawyers and judges make comments about “pantsuit” women.

Rule number three: (which has been told to me by an actual sitting judge) Keep your hair pulled back in the courtroom because long hair is distracting.

Rule number four: Don’t be overly aggressive with your witnesses, or the jury will hate you.

Rule number five: Don’t raise your voice, even when making a passionate point, or you’ll sound like Hillary Clinton (gasp!).

Rule number 6, 7, 8, 9 . .  .: Wear panty hose (Editor’s note – I actually heard a judge say this recently in Florida); wear heels; always be nice; and never cross the invisible line from assertiveness to b****iness.

Alas, the list goes on.

You might as well tell me to strive to be like Kate Middleton.  Because that is totally possible.

Be careful of that blue Kate!
      Be careful of that blue, Kate!

Being taught to follow all of these rules as a law student and young lawyer meant I could no longer dream of screaming like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men (1992):

“You can’t handle the truth!

 Jack Nicholson (as Col. Nathan R. Jessep) Nicholson’s shouted response to Tom Cruise (playing Lt. Daniel Kaffee) in the movie A Few Good Men (1992).

Or exclaiming like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar:

And the truth shall set you free!

Or even quoting My Cousin Vinny:

Everything that guy just said is bullsh*t!

2616942907_09a39d8c9d_m

Ok, maybe I would never say “bullsh*t” in court, but it is nice to have the option. The saddest part about all of these rules we have been taught is that often they continue to be perpetuated by women. Even I am guilty of passing these rules down to young women I have mentored who ask me for attire and trial advice.

Then, in 2014, I was fortunate to come to Constangy. (For those of you who haven’t heard the good news, Constangy was recently rated by the National Law Journal to be fourth best in the nation for women lawyers.) I have been exposed to so many progressive female role models who have taught me to embrace myself as I am, to say “the hell with” female stereotypes, and by golly wear whatever the heck I want so long as it is professional in the context of the situation. I’ve watched women from our firm make witnesses cry, best opposing counsel at heated arguments, and all at the same time manage to be the most nurturing mothers to their children and make it to their kids’ games and recitals.

Jessica Miranda

My message to our women (and men) readers is this: embrace yourself and surround yourself by others who encourage this as well. I also want to formally take back all the times I told my college mock trial students to not be so aggressive in the courtroom, to wear pearls, and to always pull back their hair. You too can be Lt. Daniel Kaffee, Fletcher Reede or even Vinny Gambini if that is who you are. Say to hell with the rules, and for goodness sake, wear your blue shirt.

Image Credits: From Google, Creative Commons license: Flora, Fauna and Merryweather; flickr, Creative Commons license:  Jessica Miranda in blue blouse; www.quote/counterquote.com: photo of Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men (1992); http://sylvssilverspoon.blogspot.com: photos of Kate Middleton.

Deshauna Barber made history last week by becoming the first Miss USA winner who is actively serving in the United States military.  First, it is undeniable that this woman is drop dead gorgeous. She is also the epitome of strength:  physical strength, intellectual strength, and strength of character.  After growing up in her non-“girly” military family, obtaining her master’s degree in management information systems (not exactly a traditional “girly” career choice), it is refreshingly wonderful that she openly embraces the indulgences of femininity.

So, wear your heels, wear your swimsuits, overdo your makeup, have big curls and lots of hairspray.  It just gives me the chance to be really girly, and I think that’s what fascinates me about [pageantry].

Interview of Deshauna Barber by Diana Falzone, Fox411. Continue Reading Congratulations to Deshauna Barber: Strength and Femininity

As an attorney, I am always aware that the way I conduct myself professionally reflects on how my law firm, my law school, and my fellow attorneys are perceived out in the world.  Who wants to be the cause of another lawyer joke?  Not me!  But being an attorney is not my only identity.  I also happen to be a woman, a mom, and a lot of other things.

Female attorneys are doing amazing things all over the place, but there is no question that stereotypes still haunt us at times.  Take for example the recent story about a lawyer who was sanctioned for telling his opposing counsel that raising her voice in a deposition was “not becoming of a woman.”  And I know plenty of female attorneys who have shown up to a deposition and been asked if they are court reporters or paralegals.  

blogpic1

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/644911963079442434

 

As it turns out, worrying about stereotypes can really mess with cognitive performance.  Imagine showing up for an important meeting, deposition, or presentation and discovering that you are the only woman or minority in the room.  You may begin to worry that others are making assumptions about you based on a stereotype and that you might do something to confirm their negative assumptions about you are right.  “They assumed I was not an attorney! What if they think I am too timid/too aggressive/not smart enough to be here?  What if they call me sweetie?  What if I get flustered when things get heated? What if I start crying?!!”    

As it turns out, there is a name for the feeling that you may be at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about your social group.  It is called “stereotype threat.”  I first heard about “stereotype threat” on an NPR podcast called the Hidden Brain.  The podcast focused on the story of Annie Duke, a highly successful poker player who often found herself as the only woman at the poker table.  Even though she had fought her way to the final hand of the World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions, which she eventually won, Duke still found herself questioning whether she really deserved to be there or whether she was only there as the token woman.  

blog pic3

Social scientists and psychologists have found that stereotype threat can hinder performance in situations involving a stereotype-based expectation of poor performance.  When someone facing a difficult task uses valuable brain power to worry about negative stereotypes, it actually reduces the individual’s available cognitive resources, which in turn makes it more difficult to successfully perform the task at hand.  For example, stereotype threat has been shown to affect black and Hispanic students taking standardized tests, women taking math tests, and women MBA students engaging in negotiation tasks.  (Steele & Aronson, 1995; Gonzales, Blanton, & Williams, 2002; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Kray, Galinsky, & Thompson, 2002).  When women and/or people of color are a demographic minority in their workplace, they have an increased likelihood of experiencing stereotype threat.  Women have also been known to suffer a decline in performance when put in the presence of men holding sexist attitudes, so if opposing counsel keeps calling you “sweetie,” you could very well be affected by stereotype threat.  (Logel, Walton, Spencer, Iserman, von Hipple, and Bell, 2009).

Picture1

As companies continue to diversify and emphasize inclusiveness, hopefully negative stereotypes will begin to fade into the past.  Until then, however, there are numerous ways to overcome stereotype threat.  As a bonus, I think these suggestions would be helpful to anyone who is nervous about an upcoming difficult task like a presentation, meeting, a deposition, or even an important conversation with a supervisor.  So if you are not sure whether you are doubting yourself because of general nervousness or because of a possible stereotype threat, go ahead and give these suggestions a try either way:  

  • Think powerful thoughts!  Remind yourself about a time when you accomplished something great.  Take a moment to list some of your strengths and think about how those strengths will help you get through the task at hand.  Acts of self-affirmation have been shown to negate the effects of stereotype threat.  (Martens, Johns, Greenberg, & Schimel, 2006)
  • Reflect on role models who have overcome the same stereotype.  Consider keeping a notebook with articles about role models that you can flip through for inspiration before a difficult task.  (McIntyre, Lord, Gresky, Ten Eyck, Fry, & Bond Jr., 2005)
  • Reframe the task.  Think of what you are about to do as a learning experience rather than a test of your ability.   (Alter, Aronson, Darley, Rodriguez, Ruble, 2010)
  • Embrace your butterflies.  A wise acting teacher once told me that even the most accomplished actors still get nervous before they go on stage.  Getting nervous often means you care about doing a good job, and a lot of times the butterflies can actually give you a boost of energy to help you perform well.