Strategies That Work

Early in my legal career, I interviewed for an advocacy position. In one of the interviews, I was at lunch with an older male executive in the company, when suddenly it seemed like I was on a date. I couldn’t tell you what happened to change the atmosphere, but it was palpable. I remember the exact moment it happened, and the way the executive changed his posture and leaned forward slightly, as I leaned back. I went to a group interview later that week, and the same executive escorted me around, gentlemanly, with his hand on my low back. I was very uncomfortable. He told me that they were not hiring, but if they found someone “particularly attractive” they might consider opening a position. I got the position.

My supervisor was a woman, and, before I started, I decided to ask her advice about how to set good boundaries with the creepy executive. I told her nothing had become inappropriate, but I thought it might become inappropriate, so I wanted to make sure it was clear that I was at work to do my job and to be recognized for my work.

My supervisor said, “I’m really surprised to hear that because the last person in this position worked really closely with him, she never said anything, and she’s really pretty.”

This devolved into a mortifying conversation about whether I am pretty. The other piece of advice she gave me was that our work is just really sexist and we have to deal with it. She did not have the skills or tools to teach me what I needed, and, like many women, she had done what she could to survive and be successful without them.