What Works for Women at Work

by Lisa Bohl ’14

Like many of my classmates, I was thrilled that Joan Williams was coming to YLS and that I would finally have the opportunity to meet this advocate and feminist scholar in the flesh.  She and her daughter, Rachel Dempsey, a fellow classmate at YLS, spoke at a dinner discussion entitled What Works for Women at Work, which is also the title of their recently published book.  Joan and Rachel had interviewed successful professional women to learn what strategies they employed to combat four phenomena women face at work: prove-it-again (having to prove their competence repeatedly), the tightrope (striking the balance between being too feminine and too masculine), the maternal wall (getting pushed out when they have children), and the tug of war (being forced to judge other women due to the pressures of the workplace).  While many students in the audience found themselves nodding in agreement at the description of these obstacles, this turned to shock upon hearing some of the strategies women used to combat them: flirting to be more likeable, increasing your femininity, or wearing certain types of feminine clothing at the office.  Joan and Rachel explained to the bewildered faces in the room that the goal of the book was to recognize that there are deep-rooted structural problems that cause pressures in the workplace and to share the strategies that successful women used to navigate these flawed settings.  The book’s goal isn’t to encourage women to act in ways that make them uncomfortable or are antithetical to their principles, but to empirically present approaches that have worked for highly successful women.

Joan also maintained that we shouldn’t judge the choices that women make.  She gave the example of Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo CEO who incited controversy after taking only two weeks of maternity leave.  While Mayer’s action prompted vitriolic responses from women who contended that she was setting a terrible example for family-friendly workplace policies, Joan argued instead that it isn’t our role to judge women’s decisions.  There are so few women executives, and Mayer should do whatever works for her to succeed—otherwise, we would simply have no women in these positions.  Similarly, while many criticized Anne-Marie Slaughter for neglecting the experience of middle and lower-income women in her Atlantic piece, Joan’s response was that this wasn’t Slaughter’s project and that she shouldn’t be expected to address every single aspect of these issues.  That is, we should respect women’s efforts and not admonish them when they can’t act for the benefit of all womankind all the time, as this would yield a huge burden for all women.

When the audience asked Joan about the root of discrimination and unequal treatment in the workplace, she responded that it was our current conception of masculinity, and that these structural problems won’t change until we de-prioritize traditional masculinity.  I’m looking forward to Joan’s next project of engaging men in the conversation so that they’re a central force for changing the cultural dynamics of the workplace.

Learn more about What Works for Women at Work here.

Gretchen Rubin visits YLS

YLW was thrilled and honored to welcome a very distinguished alumna back to the halls of 127 Wall Street last week: Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling book The Happiness Project. During a lunch event cosponsored by YLW and the Yale Law Journal, Gretchen spoke candidly to a room packed with law students, staff, and administrators about her time at Yale Law School and her decision to leave the law and pursue a career in writing.

Gretchen’s decision to give up her bar membership and become an author may have been particularly surprisingly to some, given the dazzling success she had during her brief stint as a law student and lawyer. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal and after law school landed a coveted clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In fact, it was during her clerkship that Gretchen realized that she really wanted to be a writer. At the YLW/YLJ event she recounted noticing that the other Supreme Court clerks always wanted to talk about the law and pending cases and chose to spend their spare time reading articles in law journals—whereas Gretchen spent the little free time she had researching her first book.

Gretchen suggested that the lesson of her experience is to “do what you do.” In other words, if you’re not sure what you should be doing with your career, pay attention to what you do in your spare time. What are you drawn to when you have a few moments to yourself? Chances are good that those activities make you happy, and that incorporating those activities or ways of being in the world into your future career would make you happier, too.

Learn more about Gretchen and The Happiness Project on her website.

YLW presents Speak Up to the NYU Law Women Summit

Yale Law Women was thrilled to present our Speak Up report to the NYU Law Women Summit on February 28, 2014.  Lauren Hartz, YLS ’14 and former Chair of Yale Law Women, discussed the context, methodology, findings, and recommendations of Speak Up during the afternoon panel entitled “Translating Success from the Classroom to the Conference Room.”  Lauren was joined by Irene Dorzback, Associate Dean of New York University School of Law; Barbara Becker, Chair of the Diversity Committee at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, Professor of Law at NYU Law and the Faculty Director of the Academic Careers Program; and Sarah Olson, Chief Diversity Officer of Sidley Austin.  After Lauren’s presentation, the panelists offered their thoughts on gender dynamics in legal education, and how women’s experiences affect their professional careers years down the road.  The panelists expressed concern at the continued gender disparities in law firms and legal academia—especially in top positions—but were hopeful that continued awareness-raising, cultural change, and programming for men and women alike will lead to exciting progress for our generation of lawyers.

Also during the panel, Professor Marotta-Wurgler mentioned that she had presented at a Yale Law Women workshop a few years ago, and she noted that workshopping a paper with a group of women was transformative for her academic career.  She commented that as a legal academic, she is often completely surrounded by men, and that engaging with a group of women law students was a unique and empowering experience.

You can watch a recording of the panel here.  Lauren’s presentation begins around 17:00, and Professor Marotta-Wurgler’s comments about participating in a YLW workshop begin around 35:00.

Thank you to NYU Law Women for inviting YLW to present Speak Up!

Women in Politics

This year, Yale Law Women launched the inaugural Women in Politics series, through which we bring women from all areas of the political arena to YLS to speak about their career paths and accomplishments. The goal of the series is to offer YLS students insight into the challenges and rewards of a career in politics, as well as to provide practical advice for launching careers in the political arena. We also aim to bring attention to the underrepresentation of women in politics and to the valuable perspective that our female elected officials and political influencers bring to shaping our nation’s public policy.

This semester, we have thus far organized three Women in Politics events.

  • On February 25, we were joined by Hannah Fried, who served as an attorney with the Democratic National Committee and as the Director of Voter Protection in Florida for the 2012 Obama campaign.
  • On March 2, we were joined by Laurie Rubiner, Chief of Staff to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and healthcare expert. You can read more about Laurie’s path at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/21/nyregion/21lives.html.
  • On April 4, we were joined by Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, who was elected in 2012 to represent Connecticut’s 5th District, and who previously served in state and local office.

We have received rave reviews from members of the Yale Law School Community who have attended these first three events.

Are you a woman in politics? Know someone who is? Contact us about a future Women in Politics event!

Board Alumnae Reunion

On March 9, former, current, and incoming board members of Yale Law Women gathered at the law school for the first ever Yale Law Women Alumnae Board Reunion.  Board Members from 2005-2006 through 2013-2014 reconnected—and for some, connected for the first time—to discuss all of the exciting things Yale Law Women has been up to, to learn about the alumnae’s experiences after graduation and how our programming can better prepare current students for beginning their careers, and to discuss how YLW can best engage with alumnae.

The day started with breakfast and introductions, with alumnae and students updating one another on what they are up to and where their careers have taken them.  Then, the current Yale Law Women board launched into an overview of YLW’s past year of events, advocacy, and publications, including the Speak Up Report and Top Ten Family Friendly Firms Initiative.  Next, alumnae discussed what they wish they had known in law school and made suggestions about what YLW could do to better prepare current students for the experiences and challenges they will face.  The alumnae provided students with exciting recommendations for potential new programming, including events with women early in their careers,  advice on deciding the next move after a clerkship, getting the most from 3L year, how to get your second job, and financial planning.  The day closed with discussions about improving YLW’s alumnae engagement efforts.  After a full day of helpful planning and brainstorming, we capped off the event with a dinner at the lovely home of Dean Barnett, YLS 1997, a former Yale Law Women Chair and current Associate Dean for Academic Affairs!

The Reunion was a rewarding and fun day, and a great opportunity for past and current boards to connect and brainstorm about the upcoming years of YLW programming, advocacy, and publications!  We’re looking forward to applying the ideas that came out of our sessions to this year’s efforts, and to hopefully hosting another Board Reunion soon!