7.10 Case Study 10: An Old Boy’s Club

Pattie works as a corporate lawyer at Hannigan, Fisher, and Schultz, a firm known for its work in intellectual property and securities law. Prior to her job, she served as a corporate attorney for a large Fortune 500 company located in San Jose, California. She is the mother of two young boys, 7 and 4 years old. Her husband works a full-time job as a financial manager for a prestigious financial services company. Even though Pattie and her husband lead busy professional lives, they always make sure that their two children come first. Jack, the younger of the two, was diagnosed with severe epilepsy 2 years ago, and the family wants to ensure that Jack receives the best care and attention.

In the past 7 years that Pattie has been with the firm, she has done everything she can to be promoted to partner. She has developed a large network of professional relationships. She has worked hard to demonstrate her leadership and management potential to her supervisors, and has led multi-million-dollar team projects. She has brought in new business and meets all her billable hours. She does all this while attending to her family’s special needs.

This year, only two associates were promoted to partner; both were men, both with the firm for less than 5 years. When she learned of this, she spoke with Robert, a senior partner and close colleague of hers: “Robert, what’s going on here? I’ve been here for six years, done everything according to the book, and yet I get passed up? I thought you said you were going to go to bat for me this year?”

“I did.” Robert hesitates and says, “You know, it’s hard to convince a bunch of old guys that you’re committed to your job.”

“Commitment? What are you talking about? You, of all people, know how hard I work,” Pattie replies. “Wait a minute. Is this about me working from home to take care of Jack this year?”

“Listen, it’s a tough world out here. They just want to know you’re going to be there for them; you know, keep bringing in the money. That’s how it is around here. It’s a ‘do as we say or there’s the door’ attitude around here. I’m sorry Pattie, but I’ll do what I can to support you—just hang in there.”

Using your knowledge about cultural intelligence principles, analyze what you believe is happening in this firm, and then identify three suggestions you have for the leadership of this organization.


Pattie works in a male-dominated law firm that seems to be entrenched in beliefs and values about women’s work and the work of attorneys. Although she has an ally in Robert, she still feels alone and discriminated against. In a situation such as this, Robert and Pattie would need to bring to the attention of their managers the subtle and insidious ways in which gender inequality occurs in the firm. This is a huge challenge, especially when partners in the firm do not see the problem or they view the problem as something different than gender equality.

Here is a situation in which Pattie must evaluate her beliefs and values and whether they align with the culture of the law firm. She needs to determine whether it is worth it for her to stay at the law firm or to bring more attention to the issue. Since she has Robert as an ally, and since he is a senior partner in the firm, he can be the support and advocate she needs to bring attention to the issue. Additionally, because of his position, he has the power to bring awareness of gender inequality issues to his managers and colleagues.

CI Model in Action

  • Acquire: In a situation like this, organizational leaders need to shift the way they think about women’s work as attorneys. There are specific beliefs and values involved, unexpressed but felt by Pattie and most likely other women in the firm. The firm of Hannigan, Fisher, and Schultz must recognize the cultural norms that sustain the behaviors. Because Robert is Pattie’s ally and a senior partner, he can advocate for her, but he needs to know what cultural dynamics are occurring in the organization to be able to articulate and communicate the issues to his supervisors. As he makes his case, he can ask himself questions like “What’s the big picture?” or “What’s possible here?”
  • Build: Robert can continue to support Pattie by acting as a coach or mentor. But, in his role as coach or mentor, he must pay attention to the cultural elements such as her gender, age, legal experience, and seniority in the firm, even the organization’s culture. These cultural elements will likely impact the types of suggestions he has for her and the kind of support he can give her.
  • Contemplate: In this situation, because the organization is entrenched in very specific belief and value systems, Pattie may never get to be a partner. She will need to consider what keeps her motivated to be in the job and why she would want to work for the firm. She cannot allow the situation to lower her self-efficacy; rather, she must make the most of it given her situation. As she learns more about her values and goals (self-concept), she may find that she no longer wants to work in the firm.
  • Do: Because Pattie cannot change the minds of her employers, the best she can do is to understand who she is in the situation and how she wants to manage it. She can make the situation worse by holding a negative attitude or she can choose to manage her emotions effectively until she decides what to do. Opening herself to other possibilities might seem challenging given her family situation; but as she adapts to the changes in her life, she will eventually transition into a better place.