Robert Winner

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Controversy about law firm memo to female employees

The international law fir Clifford Chance sent a memo out to female employees with suggestions for a more professional impression. This included: Don't giggle: don't take your purse to the podium; wear a suit not your party outfit; No one heard Hilary the day she showed cleavage.

This has been viewed as a insult to women. Perhaps if that is the way you wish to view it ... or could it be reminders from older more experienced members of the firm.

Perhaps there were some instances that inspired the memo ... and maybe it was just written by a sexist pig.

Would it be better to address all issues personally and make them a matter of record ... Three strikes your out ... Or is the memo a good idea?

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    Oct 31 2013: Having worked in a situation where there was a very specific dress code, I am probably not the best to comment on this subject... coupled with the gender thing... no one paid attention when I was out with my cleavage showing... that was at the beach. Some little smart alec made comments about a beached whale...
    but I digress.

    I do believe that employees when representing an organization should reflect an image the superiors intend to be reflected. I believe all people should strive to be attired appropriately for the occasion. Do I sound stuffy.... I feel stuffy.
    What really bothers me, even more then the fashion slip by Ms. Kuric, is this inappropriate costuming of small children.
    I do believe a six year old will be 21 soon enough, What is with the rush to dress them like that now.

    My biggest regret is how I wanted to rush through childhood... and now I wish I had held on with both hands not to grow up. this adulthood stuff is hard.
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    Oct 31 2013: Robert,
    One can certainly interpret a memo in different ways...insult, or reminder. I believe the requests are realistic. If I was in that situation, I wouldn't mind......and......if I was a junior member of an established law firm, I would wear the preferred "costume", and not giggle and carry a purse to the podium. I assume there were cases which prompted the memo, so those people who were targeted probably didn't like it very much. In any event, I believe the memo could have been gender neutral....reminding ALL participants of the desire of the firm that they be represented professionally.

    I remember when Katy Curic (sp?) started her news anchorperson job, I was so surprised at the costumes she was wearing, I couldn't pay attention to the news....I think it was laughable and distracting, thereby decreasing her credibility as a serious reporter...in my perception. Apparently I shared this sentiment, because within a short time, she started dressing more appropriately. If we are going to play a certain "role" in the life experience, it pays to wear the appropriate costume:>)

    You mention Hilary and the day she showed cleavage.....
    It reminds me of a situation with my son.....when he was a teen, he wore a black ski outfit trimmed with pink....Some people made a joke of it, and the most open-minded people, in my perception, said...."when you can ski like that, you can wear whatever you want" :>)
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    Oct 30 2013: The thing that I find frustrating is that a memo to the male staff asking them to wear a tie and make sure their belt matches their shoes wouldn't rate a mention.
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      Oct 30 2013: I think if the male staff got a memo telling them not to giggle and to wear a suit rather than party clothes and not to bring personal care items up to the podium, we might hear about it also.
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        Oct 30 2013: As my grandson is fond of saying .... oh snap. LOL.

        I don't care who you are that there is funny.

        Bob.
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        Oct 30 2013: What if they got a memo saying don't call people dude stop wearing jeans and get rid of that facial hair?
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    Oct 30 2013: Unless the problem is a systemic one a memo is probably an overkill and the issue could have been discussed with the person(s) that inspired the memo in the first place.
    Beside that, defining rules of engagement, and that includes personal appearance is something I consider normal for a company. Many companies have such rules.
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    Oct 29 2013: My opinion is that it would be more professional to handle such a matter in person with those who need to hear the message.
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      Oct 30 2013: I agree with you ... on the flip side ... we all get handbooks from the company when we join. We are expected to wear a tie ... no jeans ... no cell phones .... ipods .... and a whole bunch of stuff that most of us say DAH and move on.

      So my question is .... Is this a memo that we should say thanks good tips .... or make it an issue. We have always had a list of good practices almost everywhere I have worked ....

      If I have a employee that continuously ignores good practices, rules, company policy, then I must engage them and document the transgression and provide guidance.

      If every female in the firm got a copy of the memo .... it had to be someone with the authority to address the whole staff ... certainly not a low level person ... at least a senior partner in the firm. I would consider this a polite shot across the bow. This person has the power to fire and the memo should be taken as a very strong suggestion with consequences. I am not for sure I would fight it or be to outspoken. This could be a career defining moment. I do not support this method but it is real and must be considered. We all know there are means of dismissal that may not be fair but do exist.

      In a organization that has offices in 25 countries they are not a mom and pop organization and the employees are numbers in most cases with people standing in line to play with the big boys.

      Personally I'm with you .... individual attention.

      As always, Bob.
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    im boo

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    Nov 2 2013: Is the memo for attorneys as well as law firm staff?
    Many law firms have staff policies and procedures. If this firm doesn't have any, perhaps a dress code policy could be instituted rather than an interoffice memo. The dress code could include male employees, so it wouldn't single out one sex. Courtroom dress/behavior could also be put into a staff policy -- again, addressed to both sexes i.e. wearing of a tie for men, no gum chewing, etc.
    To single an employee/s out for behavior examples as what were mentioned in this memo I believe would make rather trivial issues appear larger than they needed to be.
    If policies are given to employees when hired and updated regularly, there are no surprises and the employees know what is expected of them.
    I worked at law firms where the younger females dressed sexier than the older women. The women didn't wear pantyhose, which astounded me. However, our culture is changing and has gotten more relaxed in some aspects regarding dress and behavior, so some tolerance of such issues should be shown by management. Women and their purses -- don't even go there! Our purses are our lifeblood.
    Suppress giggles? Maybe they're drinking way too much coffee!!
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      Nov 2 2013: I hear you. I agree the hiring pamphlet is the way to go. Since this is a international firm many customs traditions would come in play. You can't cover all of them ... but if you are in professional attire such as suit and/or dress clothes then I would think you are on safe ground.

      Fair or not the way women are viewed in some countries is very demanding. As bad as it may sound: When in Rome ... etc.

      Since you worked in the business ... a lawyer in a international mega firm is a plumb job and no small salary attached. As a rule there are no "token" women .... they earned it every step of the way.

      Thanks for your reply. Bob.
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    Nov 1 2013: Both the Party Have Lost their Mind, I think.
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    Nov 1 2013: I worked for an airline in the 70's when Ms was meant to replace Mrs and Miss. So in their infinite wisdom they changed their inter company memos and letters to indicate Ms for all single female employees, but they still used Mrs for the married ones :)

    Today you could easily have a giggling male with a 'holdall' and a 'party' presence so the memo is definitely sexist and discriminatory.
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    Oct 31 2013: 'No one heard Hilary the day she showed cleavage.'

    If this triggered a similar memo to male employees about their professionalism, a balance would be given.
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      Nov 1 2013: I have been duly chastised. I will not show cleavage at work any more. Sorry. Bob.
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    Oct 31 2013: I would not take it as an insult either but I could see how a gigglish person could take offense since that is more of a personal behavior characteristic; I would imagine they have a company dress code where they could also include some other expectations they might have. In my opinion though, this standardization of what we call 'professional look' makes a very monotonous and predictable landscape of people wearing the 'professionality' costumes.
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      Oct 31 2013: My guess is that it is not the gigglish person or the unprofessionally dressed person who might be insulted. In a big international law firm, I would expect only a small minority need such a reminder. Meanwhile, as the letter goes viral, all the highly professional female Clifford Chance attorneys may now feel that the world believes that their firm is a carnival of giggly women in party dresses who dig into their handbags at the podium.
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        Oct 31 2013: Great point Fritzie. By attempting to solve a small problem they have created a international image issue. They will forever be examined by everyone who associates with them. The managers who assign cases would not assign a giggler to a murder case as an example or maybe not to any cases and do research only. Not my area ... just thinkin .... The image may now be that the females are party girls .. not professional lawyers. This memo may have opened a can of worms they did not want. Again, good point.

        Bob.
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          Oct 31 2013: Robert,
          A person CAN be a party person AND a professional lawyer. It depends on what persona a person chooses to use at any given time. A person who is aware, will present the appropriate persona at the appropriate time and place:>)
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      Oct 31 2013: Point well taken. This is not small firm and has high powered clients. Image is a big part of their job ... as in many things first impression is very important. I would reconsider going to a doctor who is fat and smokes and then gives me the advice to lose weight and stop smoking. Big firms have consultants that tell them how to dress ... colors ... hair cuts .... cars to drive .... scents to use ... local customs ... and even research the person that they represent and all their quirks and issues ... including the judge they are arguing in front of ... and the whole nine yards. This is as important as jury selection and all of the research and work that goes into that. Big guns get big bucks and are expected to deliver at every stage ... from meeting to verdict.

      You are right no one is immune. As a male I can suggest that Joe not smoke or smell like smoke at the office and his image could use some improvement ... join a gym and wear matching sox. I would never talk to a woman about some of that stuff. That is the stuff law suits are made of. I have seen good men go down in flames by a wronged female worker.

      I would suggest that a phamplet be given out in the interview with rules and customs .... then if a violation occurs they can be called in and redirected one on one. No gender involved.

      Always a pleasure to talk with you. Bob.
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    Oct 31 2013: this in no way can be interpreted as an insult. at least not an insult to women. it is an insult to the audience they anticipate to meet. but thinking about it, it is not even an insult to the audience, because it is most likely a pretty accurate view of them.

    in short: it is not the fault of a law firm that their employees must perform in a totally idiotic world. they don't do a service to their employees if they misinform them or don't inform them about reality.
  • Oct 31 2013: They strive for conformity.......Centrally planned conformity......Corporately speaking :-)

    We are terribly repressed, are we not?
  • Oct 30 2013: I agree with a lot of the responses. The memo should be non gender specific and refer to the rules of appropriate apparel and conduct that is usually well defined in an HR document (which almost no one reads or reads once and quickly forgets.) I think the memo opens the company to a gender law suit.

    This happened in the mid 70's and it may be looser today but the basic concept still holds. My company was negotiating a major deal to upgrade the os and transactional system of a major Japanese bank. I was asked to attend a week long mtg with one of my major leads. I brought my senior lead, who happened to be a woman. The night we arrived, we were told there would be an informal dinner. She dressed in a party dress. I was surprised to see the head of the bank. He broke tradition and came up to me and thanked me for coming. He also said he hoped my colleague could join us shortly. I suggested drinks and quietly suggested she change. She changed and came into the bar, apologized for being late. Formal introductions and card passing was done. The meeting and dinner went well after that.
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      Oct 30 2013: Could be. My guess is that a international firm with big clients and big ego with every law suit being millions or even billions .... that some high powered regular customer said something and the memo was sent out. One thing for sure ... it wasn't a low level memo ... which leads me to my guess.