Putting aside the sexism debate for a moment, there is a notion that certain behaviors of women threaten to silence their place of leadership within their firms, their departments, the courtroom and the industry as a whole. But male or female, knowing behavioral change is needed often comes after that message has been repeated by different sources, whether they come in the form of a colleague’s observation or training with an executive coach. Professional development occurs when such awareness is internalized and, as a result, the doors of opportunity can open widely.
In November, I had the opportunity to sit down with two managing partners of Bowman & Brooke, Alana Bassin and Sandra Giannone Ezell, in which the two women collegially argued the merits of a five-page memo called “Presentation Tips for Women,” which was recently distributed by a member of the Women’s Committee to all women associates across the U.S. offices of Clifford Chance. Bassin’s argument is that the message of the memo is substantiated by the principle that women need to focus on areas that are inherently different than their male counterparts, such as pitch in a closing argument and giggling or squirming, all of which undermine the high-powered authority of a female legal professional. Meanwhile, Ezell’s assertion is that such “rules” are overtly sexist, and diminish the value women leaders offer to their organizations. “Women do not all think alike and it is the diversity of perspective and not the femaleness of it that matters,” she says.