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Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to Fordham Law Women

Submitted by on February 11 – 201315 Comments

In my first week at Fordham Law School this past fall, I was excited to see that one of the student groups was Fordham Law Women. I eagerly joined, thinking that here was a place for women to share experiences and ideas, and explore the challenges that face women in law. Other than an invitation to meet with upper class students, I didn’t hear from them last semester. In January, as the panic about summer jobs settled in and interview season began, I received an email about their first event of the year:

Dressing for the Job!

Come get the inside scoop on what to wear this upcoming interview season! We will be hosting a stylist, hairdresser, and professional makeup artist to share tips & tricks to finding YOUR perfect interview look! Personal Consultations will be available to every attendee and two lucky girls will also get their hair professionally styled!

We plan to serve food & drinks (*wink*wink*) at the end of the presentations, which will be given by a stylist from Style for Hire, a hairstylist from Mizu, and a professional makeup artist! We’ll be dressed in our interview best, so feel free to wear (or bring) a look of your own for personalized advice!

I can’t really describe the feeling that came over me upon reading this email. I think it was a mix of disbelief and disappointment, coupled with growing anger. Women are already a minority in the legal world, underrepresented, underpaid, and underestimated. Though we make up 47% of law school graduates, only 33% of legal professionals are women. In court, just 27% of federal and state judges are women. In law firms, women make up 45% of associates, but less than 20% of partners. We make 86% of what our male colleagues earn.  Instead of supporting other women facing these challenges, this bubbly, giggly email sounds like an invitation to sleep over and play dress-up when we are, in fact, already capable, intelligent women who can dress ourselves.

I don’t mean to knock the value of looking professional. It shows your potential employer that you are serious and focused. But looking professional isn’t hard to explain, and it doesn’t require a make-up artist, hairstylist, or fashion expert. It just requires a shower, an iron, and clothes than fit reasonably well—not too tight, not too baggy, and not too exposed. That’s it. Your appearance won’t tell your interviewer anything about your intelligence, your capabilities, your work ethic, your strengths or weaknesses, or your ability to fit in at their company. If that were the case, you wouldn’t need to send a resume—you could just send over a photo and be done with it. But instead, you send a resume, and if they are interested in you based on your work, experience, and grades, they request an interview to meet you, not to look at you.

What we could really use is a presentation teaching us interviewing skills that help us emphasize our strengths, prepare us for common interview questions, and actually better our chances of getting a job. An interviewing event for women at Fordham Laws could be really useful, fun, and beneficial. Instead of make-up artists, hairstylists, and fashion experts, they could invite women working at firms in New York to talk to us about sex discrimination in the workplace and the challenges that face women working in law. They could hold mock interviews with upper class students or practicing attorneys who have been through this before, or give presentations about what to expect and how to emphasize your strengths, experience and skills. As part of this event, a presentation on what qualifies as appropriate professional attire would be entirely reasonable. But to trash everything else and focus entirely on our appearance sends the damaging message that what matters is how we look.

By focusing solely on our physical appearance, Fordham Law Women proposes turning interview season into a fashion show. It’s doing a disservice to the women of Fordham Law School and insulting our intelligence and the hard work it took us to get here. The women in my classes are amazing, strong, fascinating and brilliant. I am constantly surprised by the breadth of experiences, interests, and communities we represent. We are not here to play dress up because we think suits are cute. We are here because we want to study law for an endless variety of reasons. We have worked hard to get here and most of us have made considerable sacrifices to do so.

Being up to date on the hottest fashion trends and artfully sculpting your cheekbones won’t make you a more competitive candidate for that summer job. In 2013, I would think that at the very least we could recognize that women are more than objects for our viewing pleasure. This event just reinforces the misogynistic stereotype that women are not thinking, intelligent beings but playthings to be dressed and undressed to please others. What kind of a message is that to send to aspiring women lawyers?

(The statistics in this letter came from the ABA:  http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/current_glance_statistics_2012.authcheckdam.pdf)

–Estelle Wagner

15 Comments »

  • Fordham Law Women Board says:

    On behalf of the Fordham Law Women board, we would like to apologize to anyone who feels that this event is a chance to “play dress-up” rather than focus on the merits of the legal profession. This was far from our intention. Though Ms. Wagner believes that “looking professional isn’t hard to explain,” we beg to disagree. The Fordham on campus interview program showed women in suits that were too baggy, skirts that were too tight, and heels that should were appropriate for girls’ night out, not an interview. Moreover, sad as it may seem, most events held at Fordham Law School continue to tell female students that they must wear a skirt suit, because a pant suit is deemed inappropriate to some older male partners. Where the message on appropriate attire is so jumbled, the solution seemed to be clear—a lesson on appropriate interview attire. We wanted to let the women of this school know that they can let themselves shine through their clothing. Not only can a woman reveal a hint of her personality through the outfit she creates, but the perfect, well-fitting outfit can also help her to muster the confidence to endure a packed interview schedule. As for hair care, many women who are nervous resort to playing with or twirling their hair. A hairstylists with tips on classic updos seemed to us a helpful solution. We again apologize to those who are offended. For anyone interested in interview prep or issues facing women in the law, feel free to attend the women in the law panel we are co-sponsoring with the CPC this Thursday.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think you misunderstood the point of the email. whoever wrote this was talking about HELPING you in your interview, and do not automatically assume they will ignore the other important aspects of an interview that you mentioned. but the first thing that interviewers will see is what you are wearing and how you look and it is important to know what the interviewers expect of you. while you may be certain you know what to wear and how to present yourself others may not. Some do assume its ok to wear things that are in reality not ok.
    it is important to know what to wear and how to present yourself for women just as much as men- for instance i was unsure if i can wear a colored shirt with my suit or it had to be white or solid blue. Or whether i should or shouldn’t wear a “yarmulke” (google it if you don’t know what it means)
    for women this may be more important because you have to face the facts that most of these interviewers especially on your callbacks will be old white men that already have dispositions towards women, while it is wrong on so many levels its the truth.
    Being that what you wear is extremely important (because its the first impression that the interviewer gets from you and you might have an exquisite resume, but so do so many other people in your class… as one interviewer actually told me “the whole interviewing process is just arbitrary” and yes what you wear does fit in to the arbitrariness)
    whoever wrote this realizes the importance of what is worn to an interview and s/he is trying to make it sound fun, something that can be enjoyed in order to attract attendees so they can learn what is expected of them.
    They are also not the only ones who do this, the school sends out an email trying to explain what is appropriate to wear to an interview, there are books on it or at least chapters in books on it (for instance the ‘Ivey guide to law school admissions’ has a chapter about interviewing dress for law school interviews)
    This email is not about “the latest fashion trends and artfully sculpting your cheekbones” and even still unfortunately it will make you a better candidate if you are dressed well than if you are wearing a suit six sizes too big.
    Everyone makes conclusions about a person based on what they wear and whether or not its ok is not the issue, its the truth and even more so when these interviewers are meeting hundreds of candidates for 10 spots or even less.

  • Angelina says:

    I think the point that Ms. Wagner was making was perhaps that she was challenged that a law group for women had only one event by January and it was focused on dress. I think she was expressing her disappointment that more opportunities that covered the variety of challenges that women in law face and perhaps added opportunities for community building were not made available.

    While I do not disagree with the other comments that dress is an important aspect of the job interview, I think we need to look deeper into Ms. Wanger’s argument. We shouldn’t see it as something about which to become defensive, but a challenge to offer more to the female student body at Fordham.

  • FLW Member says:

    I think that dressing appropriately and stylishly in the workplace is empowering. I appreciate this event.

    Also, to clarify, the bowling night at Frames at the end of January was actually the first FLW event of the semester.

  • I too “can’t really describe the feeling” I had at the thought of a law school event that is meant to be light yet informative. What if people actually enjoy themselves? While I am not a member of Fordham Law Women, I am going to guess that they are well aware of women’s employment statistics, and “sex discrimination,” hence the group’s existence and its ability to attract and retain members.
    In all seriousness, the group has accurately identified a challenge that a given subset of aspiring female lawyers face during recruiting season.* African safari-print pumps aside, it is not always obvious how to make a professional appearance: especially since women’s fashion is not limited to dress. Given the diversity in women’s apparel, beauty products, hairstyles, not to mention women themselves, it’s conceivable that women face some level of ambiguity when trying to look presentable for recruiting season, and events such as that being put on by FLW could be useful for those who are unsure.
    I’m obviously not as well versed in statistics as others, but I’d surmise that there is a direct inverse relationship between the human capital spent critiquing the well intentioned and that directed toward meaningful achievement.

    *To some women, looking professional is quite elementary. Said women should refrain from attending events aimed at those who have an inferior capability to play dress-up.

  • Jay says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the letter writer. The email, not just in substance, but even moreso in TONE – conforms to the absolute worst stereotypes of women in law and the workplace in general. What the hell do professional stylists know about legal hiring aside from the common sense advice Estelle gives in her letter?

    The email reads like a cruel joke – it’d be like JLSA sending out a giddy email about an event explaining all the pennies you can pinch by eating meals at employer receptions. Only a lot more offensive.

  • Anonymous says:

    Your rabble-rousing post exemplifies your misguided views. You’re right, Estelle: women are underrepresented in the legal industry. Accordingly, Fordham Law Women is – rightfully – trying to change this by elevating women’s hiring chances. Ideally, looks wouldn’t matter, but the world is not ideal. Looks matter equally to both men and women. Your resume gets your foot in the door, but your personality and appearance get you hired. Fashion does matter. It is unfortunate but true. Lawyering is becoming more interpersonal, and the way one appears makes a big difference. By trying to educate women on how to present themselves professionally and fashionably, FLW is not “solely focusing on [] appearance” but rather addressing merely one of many aspects that matter in the hiring process. It’s not an insult to intelligence; it’s only an insult to the hypersensitive and misguided like yourself. Chill out. You don’t have to take the fashion advice if you don’t want it, but many people do – not just women. No one is forced to attend. If you’re concerned about sending the right message to aspiring female lawyers, how about sending a message of not arguing for the sake of argument’s sake, not being too quick to judge, and not attempting to speak on the behalf of others?

  • Kevin says:

    God forbid someone write a catchy, fun email rather than an absurdly serious, pretentious litany of do’s and don’t's. Have some joy in your life and don’t look down on others for being enthusiastic. This was an internal note, not a formal invitation to a symposium. Sometimes we lose focus of the balance, which is unfortunate.

    Oh, and I googled “yarmulke.” I thought it was spelled yamukkah. This goy learned something new today! Thanks Anonymous comment.

  • Jay says:

    2 questions I have for the commenters:

    Where did Estelle ever say appearance wasn’t important for interviewing? This strawman is being mauled mercilessly.

    How does this event “educate women on how to present themselves fashionably for legal interviews”? Not a single person appearing at the event had anything to do with, or any knowledge at all, of the legal hiring process.

    The idea that some hair stylist could help you get a job would be too stupid a thought to even entertain if we were talking about males… that’s why this email was a sad display.

  • Anon says:

    Thank you for perpetuating the stereotype that feminists have no sense of humor and take everything too serious. Where is the DISLIKE button on this thing?

  • Fordham Law female who can't wait to be styled says:

    You’re right…

    “Instead of make-up artists, hairstylists, and fashion experts, they could invite women working at firms in New York to talk to us about sex discrimination in the workplace and the challenges that face women working in law.”

    that would be SO much more fun.

    Please.

    In all seriousness though, we spend countless hours in the library, classroom and slaving over books at home. Fordham provides several mock interview settings and no one should go into OCI unprepared from this aspect. What we do not often have is a moment to connect with our fellow female students on a more personal basis. I commend the Fordham Law Women for giving interested women a chance to take a “brain break”, have a little fashion fun, and get to know other like minded girls all while learning to dress professionally without becoming shapeless photocopies of female lawyers in cheap ill-fitting suits.

    It’s not Legally Blonde, but it’s New York. I for one want to dress my age and not offend Anna Wintour on my way to the office.

  • Equity Man says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the previous two posters. As a guy, I have it much easier than the ladies when it comes to what I can and cannot wear to interviews, yet this was still something I labored over. Making a good impression when you walk in the room and sit down is incredibly important – OCI interviews are much more about “feeling” and “connecting on a personal level” than they are about your qualifications. In all honesty, they’ve already figured out whether they think you’re qualified for the position by the time you sit down, so all that’s left is to convince them you can present yourself well. I’m not entirely sure how that gets done if you look like an idiot, whether you are a guy or a girl.

    Sorry, but mismatching a tie with your shirt or wearing the wrong shoes, silly as it seems, makes you look like an idiot who’s going to embarrass the firm in front of particular, finnicky white collar clients. If you want to work in BigLaw, you’ve got to dress the part.

    It should be clear by now that if this is a problem for guys, it’s at least double the problem for women who have FAR more options to consider when dressing themselves. Fordham women, as the posters above noted, don’t really know how to do that on the average. A friend asked during OCI if it was okay to wear a white Hanes tagless tee under her blazer for an interview. This was seriously a question that was voiced aloud. Couple this with the aforementioned baggy suits, too-tight skirts, ridiculous cleavage, terrible color matching and the rest that’s on display every OCI and you’ve got a great recipe for not getting a job.

    But yeah, go on ahead living in this fantasy where everyone’s approached on the basis of merit alone and being a real person who can look and act the part of a BigLaw lawyer doesn’t matter at all. You’re in a client service industry. Wake up and realize that you need to present yourself well to succeed. It’s not sexist or condescending. It’s true. Ignore that fact and you’ll never be one of the students who distinguishes themselves enough to score one of those hot-ticket jobs at OCI.

  • Equity Man says:

    Hey Jay, I think this is where we all found that “strawman”:

    “Being up to date on the hottest fashion trends and artfully sculpting your cheekbones won’t make you a more competitive candidate for that summer job.”

    also, here:

    “But instead, you send a resume, and if they are interested in you based on your work, experience, and grades, they request an interview to meet you, not to look at you.”

    and also in this blatant falsehood (at least when applied to the average woman at Fordham Law):

    “Instead of supporting other women facing these challenges, this bubbly, giggly email sounds like an invitation to sleep over and play dress-up when we are, in fact, already capable, intelligent women who can dress ourselves.”

    Being pro-women in law is great. Being an uninformed 1L and spouting off about things with which you have no experience or personal knowledge when informed individuals are offering you help in a humorous, light-hearted manner is not.

  • FLW Member says:

    FLW is hosting a panel along with CPC tomorrow called Women in the Law. It is going to feature female attorneys from different areas of practice. They will talk about their experiences and the challenges women face in the legal profession. Since this event is on February 14th, and the Dressing for the Job Event is on February 19th, it is actually the third event of the semester. Counting FLW’s welcome night, mentor program, and dessert night (which was timed so that it would be an opportunity to connect with your mentor and also discuss things like the long memo for 1Ls and finals), Dressing for the Job will be FLW’s sixth event of the year.
    Additionally, over the summer, FLW holds a panel about OCI. Last summer the panelists were actually attorneys that were coming back in a few days to interview Fordham students on campus. If this doesn’t count as giving the women of Fordham substantive advice on interviewing and building their career then I’m not sure what does.

  • voiceofreason says:

    Quick to quote the ABA (whose questionable practices have been discussed ad nauseum, and needn’t be further delved into here), but a complete failure to consider studies like the following: http://www.businessinsider.com/attractive-people-are-more-successful-2012-9 (citing findings from the University of Chicago and the University of Texas), that note that the better you look, the better chance you have of being hired and promoted.

    Keep in mind that the people who put this together took THEIR time to help YOU be better prepared to face these realities. They most certainly didn’t have to go through that trouble. Additionally, you fail to recognize that while this “bubbly, giggly” event was focused on dress and presentation, it would likely have provided the added benefit of helping alleviate apprehension and stress. For someone who’s admittedly, feeling such a “panic about summer jobs,” that she felt the need to pen this letter, one would think a chance to let your guard down and relax would be appreciated.

    While apparently, “looking professional isn’t hard to explain,” it would seem as though appreciating other people’s efforts and identifying what’s important in a body of text are much more difficult characteristics to develop.

    I for one commend the FLW for this event; were I a woman, I would absolutely have attended. I just hope that they don’t get discouraged by the self-aggrandizing speech of a 1L searching for a pulpit who’s obviously all tight because she missed the application deadline for the Gunner Games.

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