Advice column: how can I overcome clients' chauvinistic attitudes?

Dear Ash

My work involves mostly providing advice to a number of commercial managers in a particular company, and although I have a good professional relationship with most of them, a couple of the managers seem to hold quite chauvinistic views and think nothing of making remarks about a woman’s place; all in apparent jest, of course! I have, on a few occasions, also had to bite my lip when my legal advice has been questioned because of my apparent lack of understanding of the commercial background; this would not be so hurtful had I not witnessed a more junior male colleague seemingly being applauded for his insight after effectively repeating my advice during one meeting! I am conscious of not wanting to antagonise important clients, but this situation is impacting on my confidence.

Ash replies:

There is certainly a balance to be struck between appeasing a client and preserving one’s self-respect and dignity. I understand that at times it can be difficult to manage this balance due to pressures of your retaining clients and meeting targets, but there comes a point when you need to stand up for yourself and it may be that in the long run you are respected for taking such a stand.

I would first suggest getting to know the problematic managers more on an individual basis and taking an even greater interest in their work and the direction of the company; you may be surprised about the positive reaction you receive when the individuals are not part of a group and don’t have a pack mentality. Developing such one-to-one relationships may make each client more aware of your competency in your job and perhaps make them think twice about challenging you on a personal level in the future.

Also I suggest asking your boss to perhaps consider supporting you in some of the key meetings, but only on an initial basis and only to the extent of supporting your advice without undermining you. His overt confidence in your advice may allow the clients also to finally appreciate your abilities.

Working on these relationships may allow your clients to realise that you are more than competent in your job and that your sex does not determine your mental capability!

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email: 

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