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Will 'Cheat Sheet' Help Women Find Family-Friendly Firms -- or Lead to Lawsuits?

This article, Cheat Sheet Helps Women, Moms Pick Friendly Firms (Recorder 10/20/06), reports on the creation of a "Cheat Sheet," i.e., a list of in-depth questions that women can ask to ascertain a firm's commitment to retention and advancement of women. From the article:

[The cheat sheet] focuses on areas that, historically, have been stumbling blocks for women, including mentoring, workplace flexibility and partnership advancement.

Deborah Epstein Henry, principal author of the "Cheat Sheet" and founder of Flex Time Attorneys, argues: "The goal is to really work change in the profession."

I'm assuming that the "Cheat Sheet" is intended for use after an applicant secures an offer. If not,  I would think that the "Cheat Sheet" creates an unfair "Catch 22" for law firms. If female applicants ask "Cheat Sheet" questions on an interview, a firm that does not have family-friendly policies might reject these women, determining that they're not a "fit" for the firm (just as a firm with a high billable hours requirement might reject a male applicant who asks, "What kind of billables requirements do you have? I need to have enough time for working out.") These female applicants might then turn around and sue (perhaps invoking the FRD discrimination claims I described earlier), arguing that they were unfairly denied a position because they expressed an interest in work-life balance. Or perhaps, more cynically, that is the purpose of the "Cheat Sheet" -- to set firms up for future discrimination claims.

I've always been taught that you don't raise questions about salary or workload on an interview, because if the employer doesn't like your answers (e.g., if you seem too interested in money or lazy), it won't hire you. So instead, you secure the job first and ask those details later (with the understanding that some lawyers, like Dan Hull  may not want to hear it). Moreover, employers are precluded from asking women about their personal situation during interviews. But the "Cheat Sheet" turns  job interview etiquette on its head, by encouraging women to ask the same kind of work-life questions that employers can't -- and then giving female applicants grounds to sue if they don't like the consequences of asking about work-life balance. I'm not so sure if this is the kind of "work place change" we want to see. Or is it? I'm eager to hear your comments below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 20, 2006 at 04:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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