A successful executive advises a woman beginning her career

A friend’s daughter is finishing up law school. Due to my not-so-secret double life as an expert witness working with big law firms, she asked me for advice as to whether to join one of three international firms that had offered her jobs. Her passion is white collar criminal defense (should be a growing field if the taxpayers keep investing in multi-year investigations that reveal nothing more than Americans getting paid for having sex and/or trying to minimize their tax payments):

Right now I am struggling because at [Firm A] they have an incredible white collar group that is small, extremely prestigious and also full of incredible women …

At [Firm B], I would just go into general litigation, and then I could put my hand up to get in on white collar projects, but it might be more difficult to specialize. They are also really committed to pro bono … It is also a litigation-forward firm (rather than dominated by the corporate practice) which I like too.

I assembled a group email panel of lawyers and business executives. Male perspective:

I wouldn’t rely on women. Female intrasexual competition is human nature (other species too). You are a young fertile woman. The women in management are aging, no longer as attractive, and no longer fertile. Maybe they voted for Hillary but their biological instinct will be to have you killed, not to help you take their places in the boardroom.

It would be an advantage to be the only women on a litigation team. There will be women on the jury and perhaps the judge will be a woman. The team will have to put you forward in order to forestall accusations of sexism. Whereas if there are 10 women on the team you could be at a back desk handing out documents. Maybe there are other good reasons to like [Firm A], but I wouldn’t give any extra points because there are woman running the show there.

Female perspective:

In my view, all else being equal, the woman factor might be a reason to chose [Firm A] over your alternative. However, most important is whether the role at [Firm A] is what you want and the environment/ team dynamics are the best route to your success/ achieving your goals.

For me, working with women vs men really doesn’t matter as long as I feel I am set up for success.

Working with “incredible women” may not be better for you than working with incredible men. What makes these women incredible? Is there a difference between “incredible women” and “incredible men”? And what does their being “incredible” mean for you?

As I think back to all the work situations I’ve been in with women vs men over the last 20 years, I can say that this is absolutely right: “their biological instinct will be to have you killed, not to help you take their places in the boardroom.” It takes a very accomplished woman who is not insecure about where she is in life to suppress that instinct. No matter how old she is. There are not many women that accomplished in the workforce today. If you find one to work with awesome. If not, no big deal.

Men are generally easier to deal with in my experience. They are less complex. With men it usually comes down to ego. If you don’t attack their egos, and keep your relationship professional, they won’t try to compete with you or cross any lines. To the contrary, they will see you as an ally and they will support you.

I also agree about the advantage of being the only woman on a team. It’s not just about being the only woman though, it’s about being good at what you do AND being different from your peers in a way that obviously benefits the team/company.

Example: I am the VP of North America [Widgets and Services], two levels removed from our corporate ([Fortune 500 company name]) CEO. I am the only female VP on [this] team and the only person in the company who understands [something that brings in a growing amount of revenue].

Next month, [the Fortune 500] will hold it’s investor day. 20 of our top institutional investors will be visiting along with the entire top executive team. My boss and his boss will be presenting to this group, as will the Presidents of every other division. I found out yesterday, that I too will be presenting. I am the only VP – level person from all of [the Fortune 500] who will be presenting and the only woman. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a President or SVP because I am the best they have and a woman to boot!

19 thoughts on “A successful executive advises a woman beginning her career

  1. Regarding female intrasexual competition, right now my daughter is in a Phd program at Penn and her (male) advisor has been nothing but supportive. He is very fatherly toward all of the students in his lab and sees their success as his success. He does all that he can to see that they are published, get good jobs, etc. My wife had an absolutely nightmarish PhD experiences at Columbia 30+ years ago and her advisor was an aging female. She made her life impossible and did everything she could to sabotage her from ever getting a degree, never gave her any publication credit even when she had done all of the work, etc. The contrast is marked. It honestly never occurred to me all those years that this is what was going on, but the above comment really made the lightbulb turn on in my head.

  2. You would think that someone as cerebral as scientist will be detached from animalistic emotion – driven behavior. But there is no substitute to enlightened religion.

  3. Sounds poorly thought out on a number of levels. First, contrary to popular belief, there is very little true white collar criminal work at law firms since there is not a lot of white collar crime. Crime is closely correlated with IQ and high IQ people typically don’t commit crimes and the few who do will not provide a living for more than a handful of lawyers. Second, the entree into this kind of work is through a federal prosecutor’s office not some big law firm — what does she think, she is going to try a big securities insider trading case with no experience except rummaging through documents? Third, the chances of her working in a large law firm five years from now is quite small since very few women stay past their early thirties — when the choice becomes plain, either a family or expensive suits. The contra “sisterhood is powerful” argument is a good one since women are biologically competitors not cooperators. But that is a third order issue.

    • Jack: While waiting for an expert witness matter to be heard, I sat in a federal courtroom while a public company CEO was being prosecuted for allegedly manipulating the books/stock price. There were at least 30 lawyers in the room, mostly on the defense side, but plenty on the government. Many of them seemed mostly to be tasked with managing the boxes of documents that were presumably relevant to the matter.

      One white collar defendant, in other words, can keep a full army of lawyers busy!

    • “High IQ people don’t typically commit crimes.”

      Probably the lowest IQ thing I’ve seen posted on an internet forum, and THAT is saying something.

    • Criminality is strongly correlated with high impulsivity and low future-time orientation. The smarter you are, the less likely you are to do something with a short-term modest payoff and catastrophic long-term liabilities. It’s not that high IQ people don’t commit crimes but research shows they commit far fewer.

      Agree with the poster below who said that the route to a career in defense runs through a prosecutor’s office.

    • @colin and @sam and in support of @james

      study correlated “IQ scores and number of juvenile offenses ”

      That’s a correlation between IQ scores and being caught.

      Not between IQ scores and criminality.

      see also silent evidence and problem of induction.

    • anonymale,
      Can you elaborate more? Have you been attacked or mugged by hi IQ teenage crowd leaving dissatisfied an AMS competition? Can you give examples?

  4. “You are a young fertile woman. The women in management are aging, no longer as attractive, and no longer fertile. Maybe they voted for Hillary but their biological instinct will be to have you killed, not to help you take their places in the boardroom.”

    LMAO. Do these people really believe that in traditional hunter gatherer societies older women seek to have younger more fertile women of the community killed? Is there any basis for this belief beyond the febrile imaginations of bored corporate execs?

    • You’re conceptually confused. Today, women in their 50s believe the elite mantra that 50 is the new 30. What does it matter if she’s 40 pounds overweight, has slept with 25 men, and is on anti-depressants and anxiety meds — the NYT, WaPo, etc. teach her that she’s VIBRANT and DYNAMIC. On Tindr a lot of men are interested in her. So in the old career-woman’s mind she’s a young woman competing with other young women, as young women do in traditional hunter gatherer societies. There are no “old women” today. Age is a social construction!

  5. My daughter works in a mail-dominated industry with 3 women of varying ages in management. They generally get along very well. All 3 feel that they have had issues with sex descrimination at the firm – mostly minor issues, but they seem to have bonded over them.

    The references to Darwinian survival strategies make me cringe. Evolutionary biologists need a lot more evidence before attributing human behaviors to genetics.

  6. @philg

    White collar crime waaaaay too specialized a career path for entry-level job
    (0) Her billable hours will be paid by a D&O policy, so subset of defendants are limited to Directors and Officers of US Corporations
    (1) Who run afoul of criminal or civil code
    (2) While engaged in their duties as Directors or Officers
    and yet:
    (3) The safe harbors for bad, stupid and venal managerial behavior so wide and spacious I’m always astonished whenever anyone needs to resort to fraud to extract money they couldn’t get anyway via the simpler method of voting themselves and their colleagues higher comp packages.

    If being a bad manager/VC/allocator of capital was criminal, sure, there’d be a lot of business and she’d be in a growth industry, but that’s not the case.

  7. Your friend’s daughter needs someone that can provide non bullshit advice — sadly that’s not what she got. As she is young and not experienced, her personal opinion of what the job is meant to be is not correct, full stop. Platonic ideals being a poor substitute for the real thing, advice number 1 is to make a list of expectations (in terms of what she wants and what she thinks she’ll learn) and see how reality matches it. She might want or need to switch firm/team/job if the discrepancy is too much.

    Advice number 2 is that working with people she likes is far more important that doing a job she *think* she would like. This is either self explanatory, or the reader needs 10 years more education in a safe space before being let out in the real world.

    Advice number 3 is that a team where a senior and experienced member is happy to teach her the ropes and generally mentor her is to be preferred. The sex of said mentor is irrelevant, provided said mentor knows how to teach and mentor (and is willing to do so!).

    Given the advice you print, my fourth and final piece of advice is not to work, ever, with the people and the firms that provided the advice Phil printed here.

    • If working with likable people is more important than the job, shouldn’t most young people strive to work at a hip/fun coffee shop rather than a law firm?

      I think the Fortune 500 executive agreed with you that the gender ID (not “sex,” certainly!) of the mentor isn’t critical. Her point was that a male-identifying senior worker was more likely to provide high-quality mentorship to a young woman.

    • Phil, fun and hip coffee shops are staffed by people you would never want around in your life. In addition, she can still work in a law firm, making sure her colleagues are people she cares to spend 8 hours+ 5 days/week. It is well known that not liking your coworkers is one of the main reasons people change jobs.

    • > fun and hip coffee shops are staffed by people you would never want around in your life
      I am not quite sure your scale is set right. A hip coffee shop in Boston or NYC does not (IMHO) measure up to an espresso guy who used to sell coffee in small plastic cups on Platform 4 of Roma Termini. Buying a doppio from him as the first step on my way from Rome to Trieste was a sacred ritual. Back then it was 800 Lire.

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