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When I ask people about leading gender issues for lawyers, often the instant response is to jump to “women’s issues.” And the most frequently identified problem is that of women wanting more balance for lifestyle reasons, like child care. But these issues — about lifestyle and beyond — are not just about women. They are very much about men as well. We haven’t been used to thinking this way. We’re accustomed to discussing gender issues as a topic that’s “just for women only.” Men have been cast as onlookers, as detached commentators, occasionally asked for their opinions about women in the workplace or to support initiatives for female lawyers. But gender issues are more productively considered as a discussion about both sexes. Increasingly, men have their own issues, or share viewpoints with women. For instance, because of sexual harassment law, a whole universe of previously unexamined behavior has become off-limits. Men do many things they wouldn’t have done in the past, such as filtering perceptions and staunching rumors, sometimes by avoiding working with women. For instance, one man in his 50s told me that he had been working on a big piece of litigation, assisted by an attractive woman associate in her 20s. When it came time to travel to another city for several days and take depositions, the partner needed to have the young woman accompany him, but he worried about perceptions. He went out of his way to explain to his colleagues that the associate had worked hard on the case and was the only one who could do the work, thereby inoculating himself against rumor and speculation. This sort of careful maneuvering is a frequent characteristic of everyday professional life for male lawyers. ‘MALE’ TRAITS EXPECTED There are other examples of gender issues that present complexities for males, because of their gender. For instance, men routinely are marginalized if they don’t fit the typical bold, brash model for males. This makes it harder for them to make partner in firms, or advance with other legal employers, and results in being funneled into specialties such as regulatory work. “Quiet, reserved men are perceived as lightweights,” pronounces one legal recruiter. “They’re marginalized except in a certain type of practice.” Men actually occupy tighter straitjackets than do women when it comes to gender roles. While male characteristics continue to be the gold standard in American (and world) business workplaces, men who stray from those traits can be more penalized than the women who do so. For instance, the female who wants to take some time out to raise kids gets some societal support for her choice; her career may flounder, but she won’t be downgraded entirely. A man may never recover from such a move: He receives precious little support from society, and is covertly judged to be a slacker for not fulfilling his breadwinner role. Even a conversation topic like sports illustrates this rigidity. Women often complain that they are bored by or shut out by male sports chatter in business settings. But men who aren’t sports nuts are even more flummoxed. They believe that it’s a real challenge for them to fit in, and feel more isolated than the women (who, after all, aren’t expected to be talking RBIs and defense strategies). UNWANTED ATTENTION In other respects, men have had a taste of women’s problems. Now female colleagues and clients approach men for dates, and, if the attention is unwelcome, men face the same awkwardness that women have known forever, as they try to fend off a colleague or client without alienating them. And males increasingly are scrutinized when they work with or for women. A young male associate said he worked for a striking older woman, and sometimes had to go away with her for several days at a time on trial. Upon returning, his friends would demand, “So? Did you two get together?” His reaction: “Now I understood the kind of thing my boss has had to put up with in the law.” As a result, increasingly male viewpoints converge with so-called women’s issues. The classic example is lifestyle. While men are often loath to say so publicly, for fear of showing a chink in their armor and being dismissed in the competitive stakes of advancement in their workplaces, many admit privately that they dislike the endless race for hours in law firms, and work pressures with other legal employers, as much as women. Indeed, a Catalyst survey of lawyers in 2001 found that 70 percent of both males and females reported that they had difficulty balancing the demands of work with their personal lives. Moreover, 61 percent of women and a hefty share of the men — 47 percent — cited lifestyle as their reason for leaving firms to go in-house. Other surveys show that men leave pressured workplaces almost as frequently as women. In the broader workplace, there are many signs of shifting trends. According to the Families and Work Institute, 26 percent of men with children under 13 say they would sacrifice career advancement for more flexible work arrangements, and another 7 percent say they would consider it. There are many groups to support men in their roles of fathers, countless organizations working to redefine or enhance roles of men in society, and more and more articles about and recognition of at-home dads, a quietly increasing phenomenon. The social and demographic backdrop, then, highlights men’s viewpoints more than ever. LET’S TALK ABOUT IT What is the importance of broadening the discussion of gender issues to include men? • To kick-start a debate that has gotten stalled. People sense that these issues aren’t properly discussed solely in terms of females anymore. Many or most of these issues are workplace issues, which may differ in their details between males and females but should include everyone. • To give men a reason for involvement. Involving men will mean greater progress because they have more of a stake in resolving these issues. Men are still, overwhelmingly, the leaders in legal workplaces, so gaining their buy-in means change is more likely. This isn’t to suggest that men are too self-involved to care about women’s initiatives, only that they will see benefits in these efforts and wonder (correctly) why they shouldn’t be part of the picture. • To provide common ground. Men and women can find common ground on these issues, rather than focusing on areas of difference. The overriding image in the debate about gender has been warfare — the “battle of the genders,” the “gender divide” — which suggests that men and women are facing off against one another in a hostile clash. A more positive vision is one where men and women work productively together, with an eye on the future. • To prepare for the future. These issues are not going away, they are intensifying. Legal employers concerned about the future will favor unified, broad-ranging discussions and resolutions of these workplace issues so that they can keep up with social trends. Being responsive will help employers retain top attorneys who would otherwise become disillusioned and leave. The bottom line: The sooner that “gender issues” morph into “workplace issues,” the better. Holly English, a former litigator, is a writer and consultant in Monclair, N.J. She is the author of Gender on Trial: Sexual Stereotypes and Work/Life Balance in the Legal Workplace (ALM Publishing, 2003), from which this article is adapted. She can be reached at [email protected].

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