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Communication Tips that Combat Gender Bias
In this episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast, host Sandy Gallant-Jones speaks with McDermott Will & Emery partner Andrea Kramer about her new book, Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, and gender equality in the workplace. Andrea recalls the life experiences and occupational observations that motivated her and her husband to write their new book and expresses how important it is that women find ways to succeed in the workplace. She provides her tips to help women purposefully counter bias in the office and breaks down the four attributes, like cultivating the right attitude for success and maintaining high self awareness, for attuned gender communication. Andrea gives examples of how men in the workplace can also improve their communication with their female colleagues and closes the interview with her most important advice for women who have recently graduated from law school as they start their careers.
Andrea S. Kramer is a partner in the international law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP where she heads the firm’s Financial Products, Trading and Derivatives Group. She is a founding member of the firm’s Diversity Committee and co-chair of the Gender Diversity Subcommittee. She previously served on both the firm’s Management and Compensation Committees. Andrea co-founded (2005) and now serves as chair of the Board of the Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Alliance (WLMA), a 501(c)(3) corporation that brings professional women together to mentor and support leadership opportunities for women of all stages of their careers.View transcript
ABA Law Student Podcast
Communication Tips that Combat Gender Bias
Intro: Welcome to the official ‘ABA Law Student Podcast’ where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step. You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Hello and welcome to another edition of the ‘ABA Law Student Podcast’ on Legal Talk Network. I am Sandy Gallant. I am the Seventh Circuit Governor representing the States of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin for the Law Student Division and I am currently a 2L at Northern Illinois University College of Law in DeKalb.
Our show today is sponsored by the American Bar Association Law Student Division. In this monthly podcast we cover topics that are of interest to you, law students and recent graduates. We cover a variety of issues, from finals to the Bar exam and everything in between. We hope this show is a trusted resource for all of our listeners.
Our show today is focused on gender diversity and equality in the workplace and a new book is offering advice for navigating the gender bias mind field that is all too apparent today. Named one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in America, Chicago lawyer Andrea S. Kramer just wrote the book that every professional women needs to read. That book is ‘Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work’ and a coauthored ‘Breaking Through Bias’ with her husband Alton B. Harris, it is quickly becoming a real guide and tool for law firms and law schools across the country.
Not just because it sheds a giant spotlight on this hot button issue, but it also is helping empower women to recognize their own power to overcome stereotype driven obstacles to achieve career success. Andrea S. Kramer is a partner in the international law firm of McDermott Will & Emery where she heads its financial products, trading and derivatives group.
Andrea Kramer, welcome, it’s a real pleasure to have you with us today.
Andrea S. Kramer: Thank you very much, Sandy, I am glad to be here.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Well, this is a huge issue in workplaces across the country, and you know, it’s not just found in the legal arena, so back up and first of all, how long have you been practicing law?
Andrea S. Kramer: Sandy, I have been practicing law for a lot longer than you’ve been born.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Oh.
Andrea S. Kramer: Unfortunately the problems aren’t getting any better, and so one of the things that prompted Al and I to decide to write this book and to write it together, is because what we found was that there are techniques that women can use in gender biased workplaces to succeed, and one of the issues is that very often people believe or hope that the world is going to become fair and that is going to be gender-neutral, and that’s when all of a sudden things are going to fall into place. And the reality is that what are we going to do today, what are you going to do in your first job, your second job, what are the other listeners going to do that they are going to need to be sure that they have the same opportunities, and in gender-biased workplaces not just men but women carry the same gender stereotypes and will affect the way that we perform.
And so we decided to write ‘Breaking Through Bias’ because we believe that women can achieve career success in biased organizations and what they need to do is that a lot of it has to do with communication techniques.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: So I’m curious, over the years were you just really observant and what techniques did you use and instill to really develop these techniques?
Andrea S. Kramer: Well, I started my practice at a small firm where it was clear that the partners couldn’t care if you were purple with polka dots. If you did a good job they wanted you on their projects, and I worked there for about 13-14 years and then I went to a big firm. And what I found at the big firm was that the way that women were being treated both at my firm and in the other big firms that I was dealing with was different from the way that the men were being treated. And what really changed for me my perspective and when I saw that there is a need for some dramatic change was when I was serving on a compensation committee.
And what I found out was that in the first handful of self-evaluations that I read, I could identify those written by women and those written by men.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Really?
Andrea S. Kramer: Absolutely. The men were very comfortable saying, I’m a total rock star and I’ve done wonderful things and I’m important and I deserve to be carried around in a golden chariot.
And the women would say, I worked on the ABC project and my team was the following 12 people and even if she was the one that it figured out how to save the client half a billion dollars, she didn’t say it in her evaluation, because women, one of the stereotypes that we grow up with is that women are supposed to be modest, and so women are trained, socialized since we were little girls to not present ourselves as the talented and competent people that we are.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: So I am sure after reading those self-written reviews that did you go back to any of those associates and say, let me mentor you, let me help you?
Andrea S. Kramer: Well yes, but rigidly not on a one-off basis, so that what happened is, I started a self-evaluation do’s and don’ts checklist which was originally presented to our women lawyers and we then rolled it out to all of the lawyers, and it’s not just the associates, it’s actually the partners that write self-evaluations as well.
And so, in evaluating how to write a self-evaluation, that was really one of the first pieces that I wrote about gender communication and that’s actually still passed around from new lawyer to new lawyer I am told. But I’ve developed from that and built off of that to where we are now with ‘Breaking Through Bias.’
Sandy Gallant-Jones: I think women, no matter the age, are really good at identifying bias when they encounter it, when they experience it, but I do believe that one of things that we are not very tuned to handling well is really how to purposely counter those gender stereotypes. So what are some of the techniques that women can develop?
Andrea S. Kramer: Well, one of the things about gender stereotypes is that they are not just how we are expected to behave, but it’s also, there is punishment involved if we don’t meet certain gender stereotypes. So for example, if women are supposed to be kind and nurturing and concerned about other people and modest and emotional falls into that bucket as well, then we are considered to be nice people, but we don’t have what it takes to be first rate lawyers.
If we say we’re going to follow the stereotypes that apply to men, which happen to be the same stereotypes that we think about for leaders, so that what we are going to do is, we are going to be aggressive and ambitious and forceful and independent and get the job done.
Well, now we are acting outside of the feminine stereotypes, the communal stereotypes, and so people don’t know what to do with us, so their hair catches fire. And so what women need to do is, we need to understand that we need to be able to play with and use both the communal characteristics that we all have and the agentic agency, those are the stereotypes associated with men and leaders. The agentic stereotypes and so what we’ve done is we’ve provided techniques and ways that women can figure out when they need to dial it up, or when they need to dial it down in order to be sure that they’re being heard and that they are getting an opportunity to achieve their career success or advance or advocate for themselves as well as for their clients.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: One of the things that you’ve claimed is called Attuned Gender Communication and you and your husband break this down into four components. The first one being, Cultivate the right attitudes for career success.
Andrea S. Kramer: Absolutely, and in thinking about the communication techniques, one of the things that we realized and then in trying to put it together for a book as opposed to articles where the world according to me would be just fine in a book the research that was involved in, seeing what the recent social science and academic studies show, is that, if we have the right attitudes, and that means grit, and I know that the ABA has spent a lot of time on the Grit Project and having a positive mindset.
So that if we have a failure if we have — we don’t achieve something that we want, we can dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up, and view it as a learning experience. The lawyers who can do that, male and female, are the ones that are the most successful, and adding to that, having a sense of confidence about who we are even when we’re not feeling very confident there’s a lot of recent work on having a mindset and having an ability to think about how — when was I powerful, when was I happy, when was I in a situation that I was enormously pleased with.
And if we just think about those things we can actually change the way we see ourselves and at the same time our posture and the way we hold our bodies can change our hormones, which will then allow us to appear more confident.
And the very last one is to have a sense of humor. And I’m not talking about a standup comic kind of sense of humor, but a sense of being able to see the ridiculous or the outrageous in totally offensive things that allows us to develop a resilience and a strength to go forward.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: The second component, Maintain high self-awareness by observing how other people react to you in different contexts.
Andrea S. Kramer: Absolutely, because one of the things that we’ve also found in our coaching and experience as well as again with the studies is that if a person can understand who they are and how they are being perceived by other people then that is going to allow that woman; it applies to men as well, but it would allow her to be able to change or modify her communication technique to be sure that she’s actually being heard. And so, we need to know ourselves in order to then be able to communicate as effectively as possible with others.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Third step is, Commit to impression management by making sure that the impressions you make put the spotlight on your most appropriate and effective qualities for that particular situation.
Andrea S. Kramer: Absolutely, and impression management is really an interesting topic when we deal with women because men are very comfortable since 4-5 years old. If they want to be on the team of the tee-ball player, they are going to have to make friends with the kid who’s picking the team, and even if they don’t like him or think he’s not that great, they are going to pretend that he’s an important person for them in order to get on the team.
And women aren’t — we don’t grow up that way. And so we’re not really trained to do that and so women will very often say to us, that’s not being authentic. I want to be who I am, take me as I am and that — it turns out in the business world if we have an ability to manage the impressions that we give other people, that’s where we have a better chance of succeeding.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: And what if you overstep and you realize, oh, I just had a bad interaction with somebody that didn’t go so well. How do you write that wrong? How do you turn lemons into lemonade?
Andrea S. Kramer: Well, it turns out that first impressions can be very hard to change, but first impressions are not permanent. And so by understanding what we’ve done that has resulted in a reaction that is different from the reaction that we want, what we can do is we can then identify how to go forward. Maybe, we need to be more soft-spoken, maybe we need to be more aggressive, maybe we need to change the way we’re speaking so that we are being clearer as to what it is that we’re trying to say.
So there’s all sorts of different techniques and the book is filled with suggestions depending on different situations.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: And this last one I thought was really interesting, Communicate to maintain the impressions you make through both verbal and nonverbal communication management including tone, facial expressions, body language, and more.
Andrea S. Kramer: Absolutely. We spend so much time working on our legal arguments, so much time working on whatever position we’re going to be taking on behalf of our clients that we don’t focus on what the rest of the communication picture is.
And in dealing with people, if we are talking to somebody directly either face-to-face or like we’re doing Skype, what happens is, we see and pick up certain things. Well, because you can’t see me and I can’t see you, you could be making facial expressions that are telling me something, but I can’t see them, but I can’t pick up your tone, I can pick up the tempo in your voice, I can pick up the volume. And so, there are ways that we communicate with each other.
I will give you an example. If you’re going into a meeting and you’re the new lawyer, the summer lawyer, the new associate whatever and you’re walking into this meeting, how are you going to present yourself? You want to be certain that you get to the meeting early enough that you’re not going to be late and perceived as somebody who can’t keep a schedule. You’re going to want to pick a seat at the table where you’re going to be able to show that you are an active participant. You’re going to want to be sure that you shake hands with the people. There are all sorts of ways that you’re going to be able to show that you’re a competent and confident lawyer.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: In Chapter 4 of your book, you write that women must be noticed as competent, confident, and capable, well not being seen as pushy, unpleasant or socially insensitive.
I am curious if you have ever stepped into a situation where you realize you’re walking a very tight rope when it comes to those type of conflicting objectives.
Andrea S. Kramer: Personally, yes. I think that that happens all of the time and it happens to women unfortunately all of the time, it does not happen to men. Men are allowed to have a wider range of behaviors and communication techniques in the workplace, but in dealing with a woman’s situation we refer to this as the Goldilocks Dilemma and what it is, is that women are very often seen as too soft which is I am communal and I am helpful and I want to please you and I always say, yes, I’ll do it and I’m really nice or the other side, which is, I’ve got my job to do, I am going to do what I have to do, get out of my way.
And so women, that’s too hard, too soft. So what we have to do is we have to find a way to walk that line and sometimes we’re going to be able to dial it way up and sometimes we have to dial it down. So there are some women who are going to be perceived as too agentic to in your face and there are some women who are just too nice and they just don’t seem to have what it takes. And so, the Goldilocks Dilemma is ways in which women can figure out how to be viewed as just right.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Just right, boy. And that’s on us, but I think the other part of it is, it takes two to communicate and so how can men also improve in the arena of communicating with women?
Andrea S. Kramer: There’s a long way to go, but the wave of the organizations are going to be fair and gender-neutral is going to be when the men that control them, and many of the legal organizations are controlled by men, that the men that control them understand the business case for why gender diversity is so important. And men who are working with women have all sorts of reasons why they ought to be reading our book, it’s addressed to women, it intentionally speaks to women, but the reason that Al and I decides to write it together is because we wanted men in organizations to pay attention to these communication differences.
And it’s important for men to understand how stereotypes and biases affect how women are going to communicate just as much as it is for them to understand, how they are more likely going to communicate. So that a man who understands that a woman might say this may be a dumb idea, but or I don’t know if this is going to be helpful or may be all of this stuff that woman very often will load up sentences before they tell you exactly what it is the answer is or what the right thing to do is, is because we don’t want to be seen as too agentic. And so women will do different sorts of language patterns that make them appear weak and if a man understands that she’s doing that not because she does not know the answer but because she’s been socialized in a way that encourages her to say things like that then he’s going to be a better colleague, a better boss, a better client, and she needs to know that she can be more effective if she avoids those sorts of language patterns.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Do you think if we master these communication skills early on that it really opens up the door to better compensation to really breaking through that glass ceiling when it comes to the pay gap by just having great communication skills early on?
Andrea S. Kramer: It does it’s never too early to develop the right sorts of communication techniques and skills. And in fact, just last week Al and I were doing training at Girl Scouts, Camp CEO, so we were middle school and high school girls about these same issues, obviously focusing on it from the sorts of gender bias situations that they would confront, trying to be running for President of the Student Council or trying to get her first part-time job. But learning these techniques are really very important, and a lot of the senior women who have made it and who have succeeded, a lot of us we just intuitively have figured this out but nobody had tried to take it and put it into little pieces so that it can become techniques that can be learned, which they can, as opposed to just having been born with or an inherently convenient or obvious to somebody.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: And so, we know as Maya Angelou says, “If you know better you do better”.
Andrea S. Kramer: Absolutely, and it applies to men as well as to women.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: So I know we have a group of law students who just recently graduated, who recently took the Bar exam and who are trying to find their first jobs right now, what’s the most important piece of advice that you can offer to female graduates as they prepare to launch their careers?
Andrea S. Kramer: There’s a couple of things that new graduates need to be focused on. One is that their applications and their resumes are very often been vetted now by computers. So they need to understand some of the techniques about the algorithms that are involved in selecting people for jobs. This is a surprise to many new graduates who think that somehow somebody is going to be actually sitting and carefully reading their very carefully drafted resumé, you’ve got to have a cover letter that is coherent, no typos, no mistakes in grammar, same with the resumé.
Once you get that first interview we have techniques in our book about how to appear confident, how to feel good about yourself when you go in for your interview, and an issue that women in particular have to worry about is that we are often asking for references from other people and the references that men get and the references that women get are typically colored by gender stereotypes. So that the letters that men get talk about how he’s a great leader or how he has got what it takes to be an amazing lawyer and her reference letter is going to talk about how nice she is, and how accommodating she is or how hard she works, and women need to be certain that the people who are providing their references understand what the job skill-sets are and why she meets those requirements so that she can help direct them out of gender, stereotype-like reference letters.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Great advice. Well, before we wrap up, I have just one last question. I know that some of our listeners will really want to follow up, how can they get in touch with you?
Andrea S. Kramer: Well, we have a website called HYPERLINK “http://www.andieandal.com” andieandal.com, you can contact us through our website and if you’re interested in figuring out how you stack up in navigating potentially gender bias situations, in the Navigation Bar at the top of our homepage we have a quiz and if you click on Quiz you’ll be taken to a 10-question assessment and the assessment you answer those 10 questions and by fairly shortly by return e-mail you’ll get an evaluation of how you handle gender-biased or potentially gender bias situations, and it’s written from a woman’s perspective but men are told that they are supposed to put themselves in the shoes of a woman in answering the questions, and actually some of the most interesting comments that we’ve received have been for a man who said that taking the assessment has really opened their eyes to situations that women face that they had never thought about before.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Wow, I love it. I am going to actually have my husband log on to that and take that quiz.
Andrea S. Kramer: It sounds like a good idea.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: Again, Andie’s book is entitled ‘Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work’.
Attorney and author, Andrea S. Kramer, it’s been a great pleasure talking with you today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Andrea S. Kramer: And thank you so much, Sandy. I’ve enjoyed it as well.
Sandy Gallant-Jones: We hope you’ve enjoyed another episode of the ‘ABA Law Student Podcast’. We would like to encourage you to subscribe to our show on iTunes and to take a moment to rate and review us as well. You can also reach us on twitter @abalsd using the hash tag #lawstudentpodcast. We want to hear what’s on your mind. From all of us at the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division and the Legal Talk Network, thanks for listening and take care everyone.
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