Ask any woman who works with traditionalists and she will tell you that there is nothing more irritating than being condescended to by a man who assumes he’s the more intelligent party.
My female friends call it “mansplaining,” and if you don’t know what that is, you may very well be an inadvertent culprit.
Perhaps it is the product of any well-meaning guy who thinks he has the solution and is just trying to help. But as my wife rightfully reminds me when I offer unwanted counsel, a tone-deaf advisor always sabotages his own advice.
Of course, most conscientious people intend to navigate their professional relationships respectfully. However, the recent phase of evolution in gender dynamics, the considerable media coverage of the #MeToo and “Time’s Up” movements, as well as the new platform women have to speak up against the attitudes and behaviors that disempower them in the workplace, all signal that it is time to upgrade our skill sets when it comes to cross-gender communication.
This is especially true in the current business development environment, where good pitches are hard to come by and clients are unforgiving. It only takes one careless step with a prospective client to lose out on a good opportunity. So, here are five recommendations to bolster a more gender-sensitive approach at your firm:
- Mix it Up: According to a recent article in ALM, mixed-gender teams significantly outperform single-sex teams on all industry-recognized key performance indicators. Unless an all-male team is a purposeful strategic move, add gender diversity to your side of the table.
- Prepare Your Pitch: Lawyers often don’t make the time to role play their comments with a colleague of the same sex as the client they are about to meet. A pitch always sounds better in your head than it does when it comes out of your mouth. Get a little feedback during a rehearsal instead of jumping straight into the performance.
- Check Your Assumptions: The pitch meeting will start with a few preliminary niceties after which you will demonstrate your knowledge of the client’s issues and identify some of the solutions you think will be helpful. But make sure to check these assumptions with the client. Nothing reeks of mansplaining more than a one-sided conversation. Remember, an excellent pitch is one in which the prospect talks more than you do.
- Calibrate BD Training to Your Trainees: The women in our training programs consistently remind us that business development is a distinctly different experience for women than it is for men. While both genders can learn from each other’s approaches, trainers need to understand the relevant nuances, encourage open dialogues and avoid prescribing a “one method fits all” approach.
- Encourage Women Leaders: Currently, men dominate the top earner spot at 97% of major law firms. Enroll your current and emerging female leaders into professional development programs like the Women Leaders Forum; where legal leaders work together to overcome management challenges and advance business development acumen.
While these five recommendations will help, we still have a long road ahead of us. Change does not come quickly or easily in our industry, even when it offers the most sensible path to success. But you probably knew that already.