Gender Bias and Productivity: What Female Lawyers Need to Know
Productivity generally means generating something of value. However, in a professional setting, productivity has to generate something of value to you. This should come in the form of accolades, recognition, or higher compensation. Performing tasks that benefit the office but don’t translate to professional advancement for you are, very simply, not productive. Unfortunately, such nonproductive activities are very often delegated to women in law firms as a result of deep-seated biases regarding gender roles.
The key is to identify when such biases are at play and avoid them. Here’s how:
Don’t Do Secretarial and Paralegal Tasks.
As female attorneys, we are often asked to perform secretarial and paralegal tasks. For instance, recently a partner came into my office and asked me to make his handwritten edits to a brief. He has a computer and, presumably, knows how to use it. He also has a secretary. So while I did make the edits, I also sent him a polite email explaining it was a misuse of my time and our money for me to make his edits. Since then, when he asks me to make edits, I refer them to his assistant. Do the same. While we are conditioned to perform these tasks as “team players,” they are a profound misuse of our abilities.
Say “No” to Office Housework.
Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant noted in their article “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee,” that “women do the lion’s share of ‘office housework’—administrative tasks that help but don’t pay off.” This includes taking notes at meetings, scheduling calls, managing food and refreshments for events. Learn to say “No.” Why? Because, as noted by Sandberg and Grant, “These activities don’t just use valuable time; they also cause women to miss opportunities. The person taking diligent notes in the meeting almost never makes the killer point.” In other words, your valuable time should be used making intellectual contributions. If someone needs to take notes, bring in an assistant or more junior individual to perform the task.
Delegate Home and Personal Logistics.
Books like Lean In illustrate how women’s lives are overloaded with not only the normal pressures of building a career, but also the mentally draining tasks of home and childcare logistics. Solution? Hire an assistant. Services like Magic and Zirtual provide lost-cost personal assistants that will handle a variety of tasks, including finding childcare, coordinating doctor’s appointments, setting up playdates (seriously!), coordinating with childcare providers, and reserving event locations. I even use them to order and deliver dinners for when I’m entertaining guests!
Avoid Networking and Mentoring Events With Low ROIs.
Women are expected to be “social” and “nurturing.” This unfortunately means that female lawyers are roped into mentoring others in one-on-one exercises that don’t contribute directly to their own team or practice. They are expected to also entertain low-return business contacts and attend social functions. These are significant strains on female productivity.
Don’t get me wrong: Mentoring, networking, and business development can be critical to professional development. However, social functions with low ROI masquerading as networking or mentoring are not acceptable. Before accepting such an assignment, determine whether it will really enhance your productivity. As noted by Joyce K. Fletcher of the Simmons College, “Women’s communal contributions tend simply to disappear.” Such disappearance is a sign of zero productivity. If you have nothing to show for it, you may as well not have done it.
Carminati is a trial attorney and litigator, women’s advocate, and founder of Carminati Law PLLC, a distributed law firm. Her practice consists of commercial and business litigation, family law, and mediation. She is licensed in NY, TX, DC and CO. Carminati speaks and writes about gender bias, micro-aggressions and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Her firm leverages technology to maximize productivity and decrease costs while delivering high-quality legal counseling and representation.