Wedding Woes

Smiling my way to partnership.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a female lawyer on the brink of making partner at a mid-size firm. I’ve been passed up several times in favor of male colleagues who bill fewer hours and generate significantly less business. When I asked what I needed to do to get there I was told I needed to smile more, come out of my office and attend more company events and happy hours. I attend all holiday parties and major firm events but I am already working 70-plus hours a week, which leaves me little time for my family. The happy hours are every week and last for hours, and I don’t drink! I am friendly and make conversation with the partners and get lots of praise from clients. I am already burned out and it is affecting my family life and health. I’m just not sure I can give any more and the men that were promoted above me rarely attend any of these events, leave the office at 4:00, and I’m willing to bet were never told to smile more! I feel like this is a subtle form of discrimination. There is only one female partner out of 20 and these are the people voting. I’ve invested a lot in the company so it’s not that simple to just leave.

—70-Hour Work Week

Re: Smiling my way to partnership.

  • I agree @banana468.  

    This more screams that they don't think she'll work as a partner.  It sucks, but at this point she needs to start thinking about her next move and get those feelers out there.  They're not being loyal to her, so she owes them no loyalty.  

    I get working somewhere for a long time.  I've been with my company almost 17 years.  But I also know that if they decided my job was no longer needed, that I'd be out on my ass.  I have no illusions about what they 'owe' me. 
    short+sassy
  • I hate when people say "you should smile more" Seriously. Irks me beyond belief.
    What does smiling more have to do if you'll make partner or not?

    LW should find a new firm.
  • If it were me (and this is just me personally), I would smile more. I would come out of my office more. I would attend every other happy hour with soda water and lime in hand. While all of this was going on, I would be looking into other firms and asking questions about firm culture. Then, after I made partner, I would apply to my top choices.
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    mrsconn23MissKittyDanger
  • mrsconn23mrsconn23
    Tenth Anniversary 10000 Comments 500 Love Its First Answer
    member
    edited August 10
    Isn't visibility like a thing in getting promoted anywhere?  

    I mean, I'm fully aware that to want to be considered to be promoted at my job, there's a lot of steps I'd have to take.  I understand the politics of my company.  I'd also go to my manager and say, "I want to move on or up, can you help me?" 

    Furthermore, she can *never* go to happy hour?  I mean, she's basically being told that she should show up to rub elbows at non-sanctioned-but-still-good-to-show-face work events to be considered for promotion and she's turning up her nose at it.  And I KNOW she works 70 hours/week, but that's like...standard (good, bad, or indifferent) for lawyers.   I think showing up once or twice a month couldn't hurt her. 
    holyguacamole79OliveOilsMom
  • So sure it's bullshit to be told to smile more. And it happens in many, many male dominated fields. This kind of thing is still so common. 

    That being said teo options; grin & bear, get made partner and work on promoting more women and change the culture fromw within; or leave. Unfortunately there's not a lot of in between here. 
    OurWildKingdomMissKittyDangersouthernbelle0915short+sassy
  • Sigh.  Such a sucky situation.  In rare instances, I think it's valid to constructively advice an employee to smile more, ie be more approachable.  But, considering she's already bringing in more than her share of clients, it sounds like yet another example of gender discrimination in our society.  "Women should be pleasant and nurturing.  Women should always be smiling and pretty."

    At different times in my life, I've had two friends (both male) who would often instruct me to "smile!"  I've also had STRANGERS do it.  I cannot even tell you how demeaning and patronizing I find it.  My feelings are my feelings, so don't talk to me like I'm a child.  And even children shouldn't be told to "smile" and how to feel.  And do you know the irony?  I'm usually a happy person and already have a friendly demeanor.  I naturally smile probably more often than most people.  Not that it matters.

    Especially if it is a stranger, it has exactly the opposite effect.  My placid expression will turn angry and hateful, while I scowl at them and roll my eyes. 

    Wedding Countdown Ticker
  • OliveOilsMomOliveOilsMom South Jersey
    5000 Comments Sixth Anniversary 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    member

    I see this, to an extent, in my own firm.  There is one particular female associate here who made a lateral move to us, but yet she has not yet made partner.  And has been an attorney longer than some of the other males here. 

    Southern - Generally, if you make partner, you will not leave a firm.  (Not true in all cases, but generally)  Once you make partner, you will be making more money based on what the firm generates.  And if you get to equity partner, you get even more $$$$$.

    If I were LW, I would first speak to that lone female partner and see if she can mentor her.  Offer any advice that may help.  I would put in appearances at the happy hours.  Just because LW doesn't drink, doesn't mean she can't have a soda or water while chatting up co-workers (unless there is an underlying alcoholism issue).  I would also begin to seek out a lateral move to a different firm and when interviewing with them speak about the opportunities to become partner.

    Sadly, LW's problem is problematic in many law firms.

    short+sassycharlotte989875ernursej
  • Where I live, there are many different firms with different characteristics in their partners and employees. One firm is absolutely the party firm and their reputation for having a good time (while still getting work done) is well known. I had a friend who ended up rejecting a job offer to this firm because it didn't line up with her priorities. She is now happy at another firm that is on the opposite end of the party spectrum. I think LW needs to start looking for a new firm or needs to be okay with the atmosphere at her current firm. I really like the advice to get mentorship from the lone female partner.
  • I think the "smile more" thing is total and complete bullshit, but the not coming to happy hours and social events is a legit criticism and a reason someone isn't an appropriate candidate for a leadership position. I don't doubt that there's not at least some sexism at play here, but I think she should go to two happy hours a month for an hour, leave her office door open, and see what happens.
    OliveOilsMomVarunaTTcharlotte989875kimmiinthemitten
  • Jen4948Jen4948 Houston
    10000 Comments Fifth Anniversary 500 Love Its 25 Answers
    member
    There are few things I hate more than being told to "smile" or "smile more," especially when I'm not being treated well at the moment. Smiling actually invites more bad behavior towards me because it tells the other person that I'm okay or happy with how I'm being treated. It's total fucking bullshit.

    That said, if being more social would help her and she actually wants to stay there, then if it would actually help, she might as well do so. But I think her best bet is to find another firm that treats her better and doesn't try to control her facial expression. There are situations where you cannot "fake it until you make it" and this sounds like one of them.
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