Ferne Kotlyar

How Can Such A Successful Firm Be So Regressive?

Have you ever felt disregarded and disrespected simply because of the way you look?  

You wouldn’t be the only one. Ella graduated at the top of her class at Harvard Law school (there aren’t many qualifications higher than that) and still, her company only sees her as a tool to meet their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion quota. Ella works at a high-end firm in Texas, she is the only female lawyer and the only one who has any administration tasks. The men on her team fact-check everything she says question her about every point she makes. Worst of all, she can hear them joking amongst themselves and making comments about her body. Ella doesn’t understand how such a successful firm could be so backwards.  

My first question would be “why are you still working there?”. What is keeping Ella working at this firm and with these people? What are Ella’s other options?

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back™. For those of you who have never heard of The Journal That Talks Back™, let me fill you in.  

So, a little while ago we noticed a couple of things from our clients. Number one, a lot of them were struggling with their adult children and they were sharing things with us that caused us to take notice. Things like: my daughter has anxiety. My son is stressed. My daughter isn't clear about her career path. My son is sitting on the couch all day long playing video games, and he doesn't know how to get a job.

And these are common themes, common occurrences, and the people we're working with we're saying "we wish there could be a program or something that could help them. I don't know how to help them".  

The second thing we were noticing is that these clients who also run formidable and sizeable companies were sharing that they were struggling with their younger employees. That there was a bit of a gap between them and the employees. 

"How do we retain them? How do we recruit them? How do we keep them happy? How do we keep them engaged? How do we make them really, really care about their work? How do we keep their loyalty? How do we keep them here longer for than just a year? And how do we prevent them from leaving?"  

And so, we decided to create an affordable and accessible coaching program for young people, young professionals, young adults, and we call it The Journal That Talks Back. So, if you are one of those employers who have younger employees and you're maybe struggling to figure out how to recruit them and retain them, or if you're a parent who has a young adult child who might be struggling with anxiety, stress, depression, confusion about their careers, having trouble just launching or becoming financially independent, please, please send them our way. 

Again, the URL is thejournalthattalksback.com. We'd love for you to look us up and check it out. And I also want to hear your feedback. But today is Fridays with Ferne.  

[00:02:14] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:02:15] Kim Ades:
And I'm thrilled to have Ferne back. As you know, she's my daughter, and she's here to give me a case to work on. Ferne, welcome! 

[00:02:25] Ferne Kotlyar:
Hello, hello! So nice to be here. How are you today?  

[00:02:30] Kim Ades:
How am I? I'm good. It's Friday, it's been an amazing week. I'm excited and I always look forward to talking to you. So, what do you have for me today?  

[00:02:40] Ferne Kotlyar:
As do I. So, today we have a case about a young woman named Ella. And Ella works at a firm, she just got a job in a small town in Texas. She moved with her husband to be close to her husband's family. And she works at this firm, her whole life she wanted to be a lawyer, she worked super hard, went to Harvard, graduated top of the class, so, amazing student. And she finally got this lawyer position, and she's at work and it's not at all what she expected. 

She's in this small town where they hired her, essentially, for equity and diversity, not for her skill. They hired her essentially just to look good, and she really feels like– you know, she's the only girl in the whole entire firm and all these men don't respect her. She knows how to be a good lawyer, she knows what she's doing, but they give her all the administration tasks and they kind of very often disregard her and kind of dismiss what she has to say.  

And she really feels like they don't respect her and she is frustrated and fed up and she just wants to be a good lawyer and she doesn't want to have to deal with essentially all this bullshit. She's very angry and she feels like it's very backwards. So what advice do you have for Ella today?  

[00:03:55] Kim Ades:
Well, I want to talk to Ella and I want to ask her some questions and I want to ask her a whole bunch of things. Like, why are you still there? For starters. What keeps you there? What makes you feel like this is the place where you need to stick it out? So, I want to understand that, I want to understand the mentality around staying in a place. And I don't know how long she's been there and I don't know how long she's been struggling with this problem. Do you know? 

[00:04:22] Ferne Kotlyar:
Well, I think for her is a twofold problem. So, for one she's there because it's the only firm in Texas– not in Texas [chuckles] in this small town, that's close to her husband's family. but two that she really, really wants to be a lawyer and she knows that a lot of places are not as progressive as say Harvard was. And she wants to kind of pave the way for women in the future as well. So, she knows that she has to deal with a whole bunch of shit, but she didn't think, I guess, that it would be this hard.  

[00:04:55] Kim Ades:
Right. So, again, I still want to know why she thinks she has to stay there. So, what you're saying is, as you're describing it, she feels like there's only one option for her because she's in this physical space and this is what she needs to do in order to be near her husband's family, and to get a job in the town that she lives in. 

And so, for me, a lot of the questions that I would explore with Ella is, where do you want to work? You know, when you say "pave the way", does that mean you have to take the shit? Does that mean you have to do this for now? Like, what does that actually mean? Does it mean you have to stay here and stick it out and fight it out? Or does it mean that perhaps that there's another way to do this?  

And so, you know, I think that you were hoping that I would give her some strategies for dealing with this problem here and now, but for me, I will always want to step back beyond the problem or above the problem and say, so if you're in an environment that is less than ideal for you, what makes you stay there? What makes you think that there are no other options? What makes you think that this is the path or the journey? And it has to be hard and you have to have grit and muscle and push through it?  

And so, what I see or what I guess really is that what Ella's dealing with really is an idea or a belief that she can't have everything she wants. She needs to make some sacrifices in order to eventually reach her goals. And those sacrifices sound like "I can't move away from Texas and if I stay here, this is my only opportunity. And if this is my only opportunity, I have to muscle up and live through it". And all of those things I think can be pushed back on, can be evaluated and we can explore whether or not in fact there are other options.  

Like, is it possible to be a lawyer in Texas, but actually work for a firm in New York? Possibly. We don't know. And so, what are the options? The other thing is, can she make a difference as a lawyer? Perhaps not in a law firm, but at an accounting firm. Accounting firms need lawyers too. 

And so, the question becomes what are the possibilities around her? And then if she says, "okay, well, you know what? I do want to stick it out and I do want to have this job and I do want to muscle through it", then we look at, how does this become an opportunity for you to grow? right? You want to make a difference here? How are you going to do it? How are we going to have conversations with people that say, "Hey, I'm a good lawyer, let me show you my track record, or give me an opportunity to work with some interesting clients and let me make a difference".  

Obviously, they hired you for a reason. You know, I'd push back on the idea that they only hired her for diversity and inclusion. If she got such great grades at Harvard, she probably is talented, there's probably some talent she could put on the table. And so, then it would be to create a strategy that allows her to really, really demonstrate her skillset in this environment. And perhaps challenge some of the old ways, the old kind of view of the world, the old view of women in the workforce, and show something different. 

But the real question that I have for Ella is, what do you want? Is this the journey you want to be on? To be at this company and fight the people in this company and make a stand over here? What is it that you want? And what do you want to learn along the journey? And that will give us really valuable information about what path she should choose. Right?  

But at the end of the day, what I want to do with Ella is say, Hey, you are not trapped. Because her frustration comes from feeling trapped. There are 1,000,001 options here that you can choose. Let's really, really look at what those options are. Let's sort through them. Let's identify how you want to grow, and let's choose selectively which path you're going to go on. And then let's strategize about how to get there and how to work with whatever the dynamics are in her world.  

[00:09:19] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, if she were to choose to stay, how would she overcome this lack of respect and kind of disregard?  

[00:09:30] Kim Ades:
Well, you know, we teach people how to treat us, right? And so the question becomes... I'd want to get a little more granular, so what does this disrespect sound like? What are they saying to be disrespectful? And then how is she reacting and responding to that? Does she get quiet? Does she walk away? Does she fight back? Like, what are the elements? What is she doing there?  

And so, when we're talking about interactions, we want to examine them very, very closely to see what is her knee jerk reaction to things when they go down, and examine whether or not that reaction increases the outcomes she's looking for or decreases them.  

So for example, if she's disrespected and she has a temper tantrum, because she gets mad and upset, and she screams and yells because that's not right and that's not fair, do people increase their respect or decrease their respect? 

And so, now it becomes about, what is it that you really want to achieve? And let's look at how to get there. Let's look at the characters in the organization, let's look at potential allies, let's look at the path to get from here to there. Let's look at the projects you're working on. What projects can you work on where you can really make a difference. Where do you need to, in a way, increase your resilience and not react when they're being ridiculous and being disrespectful? Where do you need to speak up and how will you speak up?  

So, all of those things come into play. And before we get into that, we need to decide, is this the right spot for her? Is this the place for her to grow? Is this aligned with her goals? If so, now let's look strategically and tactically at how she needs to operate in this environment.  

[00:11:20] Ferne Kotlyar:
Great. That makes sense. And so, if we take an example of something that happened in the office. I mean, first I get it, we decide whether or not this is the right place for her, but if she ends up deciding that, you take a situation in the office where, you know, she's kind of standing to the side and all the men are in the corner, kind of talking about how nice her ass is. Like, that's very inappropriate and very uncomfortable and very disrespectful as well. What kind of reaction do you have?  

[00:11:53] Kim Ades:
If that's the case, and I'm not a lawyer and I'm not an HR specialist, but that would fall into the category of sexual harassment and that kind of thing, that's leering, that kind of thing needs to be addressed at the highest level. So, she needs to go to the HR department and say, "here's what happened". She needs to document it. She needs to say "this person at this time and this location, this is what happened. I'm tracking it. I'm just going to write it down and I'm going to forward it". And to me that's not acceptable.  

So, she needs to look at the process for lodging a complaint, because again, that's not just, you know, disrespect, that's harassment, and that needs to be addressed. And so, she needs to identify what is happening in front of her and are some things born from playfulness? are some things born from ignorance? And are some things, you know, downright harassment. 

And so, we need to figure all of that out. We need to sort through her experiences and then help her make a decision about how she's going to address it. But in a case like that, that's not acceptable. 'Cause she– 

[00:13:08] Ferne Kotlyar:
Sorry. Is there any sort of disrespect that is acceptable?  

[00:13:11] Kim Ades:
Well, sometimes we perceive somebody's actions as disrespectful and maybe they aren't intended, or maybe they– like, sometimes we experience things with our own biases. Maybe sometimes we're a little sensitive. You know? So, we want to sort through it all, right? Is it really disrespect or is it lack of information? Is it really disrespect or is the person just making some incorrect assumptions? Where's the person coming from? What is their intent? What are they trying to do with you? Let's really look at all of that.  

[00:13:46] Ferne Kotlyar:
And how do you make all of these assumptions about somebody? 

[00:13:49] Kim Ades:
We don't, we sort through the data and we try to figure it out. We try to find patterns, patterns of behavior, patterns in messaging, patterns in the way that she's interacting with people. But what I'm interested in is, you know, from the standpoint of coaching someone, and this is very important, we approach it like this: we don't have control over everybody around us.  

So, we help clients learn to let go of trying to control everybody around us and trade that in for taking full control of ourselves. The way we think, what we believe to be true and how we behave. And so, what I want to do is sort through it all to say to Ella, what is it that you have control over? And are you taking full control of that which you can control? If not, let's beef that up. Right?  

So, if somebody in her environment, you know, says "jump", does that mean she has to jump? Does that mean she has to kick? Does that mean she has to sit down? How does she react when someone says "jump"? And she has choices around that, and I want to empower her to examine the choices and choose in such a way that leads to outcomes she's looking for.

[00:15:15] Ferne Kotlyar:
Makes sense to me. So, if you were to give Ella one kind of summed up piece of advice, what would that be?  

[00:15:24] Kim Ades:
The first and most important piece of advice is, I would say, let's look at your options and let's decide which option we're going to persue. Because what I heard from the get-go is that Ella feels trapped in a specific place, in a specific job. And it sounds like Ella doesn't feel like she has options. So the first thing I would do is say, hold on a minute. It's not true that you don't have options. Let's look at your options and then let's decide how we're going to pursue one of those options. And then look at the tactics and the strategies and the goals, and then maneuver around all of that.  

[00:16:05] Ferne Kotlyar:
Awesome. Well, thank you!  

[00:16:07] Kim Ades:
Interesting case. I know that sometimes when we feel like we're disrespected, sometimes it's very true. We are being disrespected, somebody is treating us very poorly. But we train people how to treat us, and sometimes we react in ways that cause increased disrespect. So we want to take a look at what are we doing when we are experiencing a moment of disrespect. And does that reaction breed the outcomes we're looking for?  

In the case of Ella, what we really want to do is say, okay, so if disrespect is happening, what are your options? So that Ella doesn't feel trapped. And for you, if you're listening, think about a situation where you felt trapped. We often feel trapped when we believe there are no options. And in my experience, there are always options that we aren't thinking about. I hope this episode has led you to think about your options. 

If you have a challenge that you want to share with us on the podcast, I'd love to hear from you. My email address is kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. Ferne, how do people reach you?  

[00:17:18] Ferne Kotlyar:
Same as well, email. So that's fernekotlyar@live.com.  

[00:17:27] Kim Ades:
Amazing. And if you have a challenge that you want to share, but maybe not so much on the podcast, reach out to me as well. Again, it's kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. Please like, please share, please send us your feedback! We're dying to hear from you! And we will see you again next week. Have a great week!  

[00:17:45] Ferne Kotlyar:

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