The Thinking 

The Decline of Male Mentoring

November 14, 2017


SEXUAL harassment wasn’t much of a problem in the all-male office of yesterday. This provocative and interesting comment came from a reader in 2012, lamenting the loss of mentoring opportunities that also came with that era. Note his observations on the importance of male bonding.

Jim writes:

I recently quit my job after a 10-year career at large and mid-size law firms in a big city. I do not believe in whining, sour grapes, or blaming women for the world’s problems. I have never told anyone what I am about to write, which is in response to the following comment you made on January 31, 2010:

“Like all other occupations which women have moved into, a large stratum of men choose to quit or not join rather than put up with the PC nonsense of aggressive feminism.”

Sometimes this decision is unconscious. But there is an iron law regarding the entry of women into formerly all-male vocations. These jobs instantly become less desirable to men. Therefore, to allow women to become police, firefighters or soldiers is to jeopardize our safety.

At both law firms where I worked, the male partners of the baby boom generation would select a female as a favorite associate. Every male partner had his own younger female sidekick that would have the opportunity to tag along with him and work on important cases. These women excelled at the tasks expected of a junior associate; they had meticulous attention to detail and strong organization. The partners got not only excellent support but also the satisfying feeling of having a young, attractive woman look at them with reverent, adoring eyes. As far as I know, these relationships were not sexual, but they were personal. The younger female associates would know the details of “their man’s” personal life–his relationship with his children, his hobbies, where he went on vacation, what he did there. It is impossible for most men to forge this kind of a personal bond with a senior man in the workplace. Most men compartmentalize work from their personal life, and find it awkward to discuss personal things at work. They just want to talk about work there. Women, on the other hand, strive for work/life balance. They eagerly await the holiday calendar so they can make travel plans. Work is something they do to support leisure and family time. They intuitively do not separate work life from personal life and naturally are curious and concerned about their older male partners whole life, not just his work role. Once a man has a younger female associate’s affections, especially those of an attractive female, the male protective instinct kicks in, and Daddy is going to take care of his Little Girl. In the law firm, world that care takes the form of mentoring, the best work opportunities, rave performance evaluations, increased compensation, and promotion.

I believe these relationships are toxic to young male lawyers and do not serve the best interest of the legal profession.

First, attractive women do not stay in law firms for very long. Most women want to have families, and most women marry up. An attractive young woman making six figures a year will marry a man that will provide her with a life far superior to the one she would have as a partner at a large law firm. Or she will find a 9-to-5 job as an in-house counsel that will provide the work/life balance that most large firms lack. About half of my law school class were women, and most of them dropped out of the workforce within three years. All the training, mentoring, and work opportunities provided by law professors and senior male law partners produced no long term gain for the profession.

Second, in my experience, woman lawyers are better than men at the skills required of junior associates, but worse at the skills required of senior associates and partners. My field is litigation, which is a win/lose endeavor analogous to combat, chess or tennis. In my experience, women litigators usually lack the hyper-competitive drive to win that results in consistent victories, time and time again. They do not do so well at handling cases independently, thinking strategically, knowing when to hold and when to fold, and making firm, sometimes spontaneous, black line judgment calls that turn out to be right. It is like they are helpless without their Daddy. The kind of man that excels at this work will be a threat to all but the most confident male partners. He will always have to strive not to be a threat. In past days, as threatening as his talent might be, he would be given a chance based on his performance on the merits. In my experience, the male partners of the baby boom generation have chosen not to mentor and promote these men, instead investing their time and wisdom in young women who will not even use it. To the extent these women stay in the profession, they hit a plateau of competence, but continue to ride the wave, often gone half the year on maternity leave, while their male colleagues struggle forward, day in and day out. These women are Protected, not only by discrimination laws, but also by their Daddies, who will always make sure their Little Girls are taken care of. Any lack of competence is ignored, trumped by the special relationship between older man and younger woman, which no male associate can ever enjoy.

The History Channel may as well be renamed the Man’s Channel. Men of all classes and colors love these rugged shows of men working together in all-male environments, and fathers teaching their sons the hard-learned tricks of the trade. The undiscerning observer may attribute this phenomenon to the virile subject matter of these shows, but the writer knows it is the characters and their relationships with each other that provide the drama. And there is nothing homoerotic about it. Men crave to be appreciated by other men, to be taught mentored, promoted, and eventually handed the reigns. Older men have a duty to train, mentor and promote younger men–not to poach the younger man’s potential mate. Blaming the young women with Daddy relationships at work is like blaming the squirrel that stumbles across a nest full of robin’s eggs. As far as these women know, the benefits they have received are based on their merits- unrelated to their gender or attractiveness. Why should they believe otherwise?

I still believe that there are virtuous blue-collar baby-boomer men out there, but I have lost all respect for the white collar baby-boomer man. He has forsaken his feudal duty to support the younger man in exchange for flattering his ego with the presence of an admiring younger woman. And I’m not going to work at his law firms anymore.

— Comments —

Jane S. writes:

Would love to see more discussions about today’s workplace, especially excellent posts like this one.
Here’s a topic that deserves more attention: bullying in the workplace. It is said that workplace bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment. I believe it.

Women do not make up the majority of bullies in the workplace. But women bullies are the meanest, nastiest, most vindictive people you will find in the workplace. This I will vouch for, both from observation and firsthand experience.

The common stereotype of the workplace bully is the cranky sexist male boss who expects you to make his coffee. Those types do exist.

But men are task-oriented. When they come into work, they are focused on getting things done. Do your job right, that’s all they want. Bring him his coffee, if that’ll make him happy, and he’ll leave you alone.

Women, on the other hand, never stop trying to figure out ways to make your life miserable, and they have an extraordinary talent for finding ways to inflict misery that you’d never think of. The Workplace Bullying Institute says: woman-on-woman bullying is the worst.

Google “corporate mean girls” and you’ll be surprised to learn that those snarky girls who tormented you at summer camp grew up and got jobs in middle management, where they continue to torment you the same way they did at summer camp. They didn’t intend to give it up. It’s what they do best.

Laura writes:

“The Workplace Bullying Institute.”

What a fascinating (and disturbing) idea. Can you sue someone for bullying at work?

Your comments remind me of how glad I am that I don’t have a workplace.

Jane responds:

Bullying in the workplace is a widespread and egregious problem that is almost totally ignored. Most employers do not have a policy that prohibits bullying. They don’t want a policy that prohibits bullying, because bullying is a useful way of keeping workers in line.

Workplace bullying is not against the law, unless it involves some kind of illegal discrimination.
It can be very hard to prove, because it is usually camouflaged as part of normal operations.

All these make it almost impossible to sue. It may be that people have won cases against employers for bullying. If so, I have never heard of it.

I think a lot of people outside of the traditional workplace do not realize the power employers have these days. It is outrageous, the things they can get away with. Nobody cares. That makes it even worse.

Laura writes:

It’s not surprising.

An atheist society is rife with cruelty.

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