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'Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe': The Clifford Chance guide to women speaking in public

Law firm accused of sending patronising memo urging staff not to giggle or show cleavage when making presentations
  • @chloehamilton

Female lawyers at the global law giant Clifford Chance have spoken out after receiving a “patronising” memo advising them not to giggle or show cleavage when making presentations.

The memo, entitled “Speaking effectively”, was circulated by a member of the British company’s women’s committee to a number of its female lawyers based in the US.

While many of the 150 pieces of advice – such as “breathe”, and “stand up straight” – are uncontroversial, some of the lawyers who received the memo are understood to have been infuriated by its gender-specific recommendations.

In the section marked “What not to wear”, high-flying female lawyers are reminded to “wear a suit, not your party outfit” and stick to “understated jewellery, nothing jingly or clanky”. Elsewhere, the memo advises: “Don’t take your purse up to the podium”.

Female speakers are also urged to stick to demure clothing, with the author of the memo noting that “no one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage” – in an apparent reference to the former US Secretary of State and wife of Bill Clinton. Footwear should also be practical: “Make sure you can stand in your heels”.

Whoever wrote the note seems particularly concerned about the pitch of women’s voices, twice insisting that “your voice is higher than you hear” and encouraging readers to “think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe” in reference to the former’s famously husky tones. Women are also advised: “Don’t giggle, don’t squirm, don’t tilt your head.”

One recipient of the email, who described the incident as “beyond the pale”, told the US blog Above the Law the firm’s female associates were upset by the patronising tone of the advice, as well as by the implication that the guidelines did not apply to men.

“Female associates are very upset by not only the elementary nature of the tips themselves, but by the suggestion that these would only apply to women. We have never been a very female-friendly firm, but this is beyond the pale,” she said.

The law firm, which is based in London but has offices around the world, this year promoted 20 lawyers to its global partnership, only two of whom were women.

The Independent understands the list of gender-specific advice came about following a women’s committee meeting with a senior female partner, who had been invited to share her personal presentation tips with the group.

Clifford Chance has apologised for any offence caused, saying the advice “represented a personal perspective” only. A spokesperson said: “The more than 150 points are based on what this individual has found helpful as a public speaker in a broad range of business environments.

“While much of what is covered is common sense, we believe that it is important that women as well as men are given access to a range of different viewpoints and approaches; there is no Clifford Chance template on how people should present.

“The offence caused by a small percentage of the suggestions in the tip sheet was entirely unintentional.”

Clifford Chance, which is on the so-called “Magic Circle” of leading British-headquartered law firms, generated total revenues of £1.27 billion last year and has around 6,000 staff around the world.