Monopoly on Power: You Can't Win Playing By Their Rules
the popularity of women's pantsuits triggered a strange backlash in the late 1980s by male rule-makers. They resented women abandoning skirts, the traditional symbol of submission and easy sexual access. I was banned from powerful private clubs where masters of the universe cut deals because I was wearing a pantsuit. In a demented attempt to help misguided women foolish enough to commit this fashion faux pax, one establishment offered me a wrap-around gingham skirt that I could don over my slacks and thereby gain entrance to the power brokers' dining room.
If you weren't yet born, Gen-Y women, you won't recall what we had to do to get through that gate.
What we should have done was to say, "excuse me sonny, but I have a business meeting in there," and walked right in. What were they going to do? Call the police? "Officer, we have a woman here disturbing the peace. She's wearing a pantsuit."
Yet women are still expecting that the boys will cut us into their pie, knowing we're bad at claiming any part of that pie for ourselves, expecting us not to negotiate and not giving a flying hamburger whether they retain or promote us. For whatever set of optmistic views about the human race they harbor, women continue to believe that the AmLaw has an interest in making itself a meritocracy.
What is left of women's trust in the AmLaw's good faith should evaporate while reading Above the Law's piece on a no-offer to a law student who not only believed she was being asked for an actual evaluation of the firm's summer program when asked by the Powers That Be, she gave PTB a truthful answer, incurring the wrath of ATL's hyper-masculine followers for being such a clueless schmuck.
On a more mature and therefore a more telling note, ATL shared a conversation among its staff about just how compliant summer associates should be in the face of misbehavior by firm's Big Shots.
Pretty damn compliant.
The social science researchers remain busy proving to us what we already know. If the game is rigged in any primate's favor (for that's what we are, folks) we will puff up our chests, stretch out our legs, and, treat our underlings as undeserving. Not only do we feel entitled, we lose any empathy for the unentitled and eventually believe that we're better than our hobbled competition even if we know we were given an unfair head start.
Here's how New York Magazine described the game proving the rule.
One of the players, a brown-haired guy in a striped T-shirt, has been made “rich.” He got $2,000 from the Monopoly bank at the start of the game and receives $200 each time he passes Go. The second player, a chubby young man in glasses, is comparatively impoverished. He was given $1,000 at the start and collects $100 for passing Go. T-Shirt can roll two dice, but Glasses can only roll one, limiting how fast he can advance.
T-Shirt isn’t just winning; he’s crushing Glasses. Initially, he reacted to the inequality between him and his opponent with a series of smirks, an acknowledgment, perhaps, of the inherent awkwardness of the situation. “Hey,” his expression seemed to say, “this is weird and unfair, but whatever.” Soon, though, as he whizzes around the board, purchasing properties and collecting rent, whatever discomfort he feels seems to dissipate. He’s a skinny kid, but he balloons in size, spreading his limbs toward the far ends of the table. He smacks his playing piece (in the experiment, the wealthy player gets the Rolls-Royce) as he makes the circuit—smack, smack, smack—ending his turns with a board-shuddering bang! Four minutes in, he picks up Glasses’s piece, the little elf shoe, and moves it for him. As the game nears its finish, T-Shirt moves his Rolls faster. The taunting is over now: He’s all efficiency. He refuses to meet Glasses’s gaze. His expression is stone cold as he takes the loser’s cash.
The deck is stacked and the only way to win it is to change the rules. For those inexperienced in activism, here's how you change the rules.
You're in the top 10% at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford (etc.) You form a network of Ivy League Women at the Top. You agree to tell interviewers that you're interested in being at a firm that values its women as much as its men. The firm that "wins" your hand in first-year-associate hardship will include in its offer the following:
- a non-voting position on the firm's finance or management committee, which you assume is already populated by at least two women senior to you
- the elimination of subjective metrics for bonuses and promotions
- a three-year career plan that will assure you have hands-on lawyering experiences with the client by the end of year three
- the firm's support in co-authoring at least one article with one of the firm's rain-makers by the end of year-two
- mentorship, sponsorship, and negotiation, rainmaking and networking training, preferably "off campus."
- a public commitment by the firm to increase its female equity-partner ratio to at least 25% by the end of your fifth year
If your coalition of top law students from the country's top law schools can't get genuine commitments in writing at the commencement of your legal careers, guess what? To paraphrase a particularly great piece of screenwriting in Heathers, you are playing Barbies with Betty Finn. You are a Bluebird. You are a Brownie. You are a Girl Scout Cookie.
They will not give you economic power. They will not change the rules of their game to make it a meritocracy. They will use you fully but casually. They will toss you like a used kleenex into what they believe is the non-Am-Law trash can.
You want power, ladies? Organize and take it. Demand it. Do not wear the gingham wrap-around of the day. You're a lawyer now. But you will never have more power than you do the day before you voluntarily sell youself to the highest AmLaw bidder.
As Hugh McLeod says, "I do the work for free. I get paid to be afraid." He also says, "if you're not creating trouble, you're not creating much."