At first glance, the obvious stars of this photo are the yellow, translucent petals.  Filtering the sunlight at various degrees, they make the flower seem more like an astrological star than a horticultural stunner.  But take a closer look.  Where would the lucent petals be without that strong and sturdy stem supporting the petals with its willowy appendages so that the flower can stand out in all of its shining glory?

The supportive stem is essential to the balanced beauty of the flower, just like supportive stems are essential to the balance of our lives.  We all have them, we all need them, and we are all a supportive stem for someone else.  At any given point in time, we may be the petals or we may be the stem, and because our role as either petal or stem is constantly shifting and changing, it is crucial to acknowledge the essential role of both petals and stems to the creation of a stable and flourishing relationship.

As I am dipping my toes in the blogging pool, I have been stunned by the support that I have received from friends and family, as well as the encouragement received by fellow bloggers whom I have never met.  Trust me when I say that every single email, blog comment, Facebook “like,” or message I have received has not only brightened my day, but given me the confidence I need to continue writing.  For this support, I am truly grateful; without it, I am certain that I would have abandoned my writing projects long ago.

Not only is a support network essential to personal and professional success, but the mere acknowledgement of the importance of that support network is absolutely critical to reaping its benefits, as pointed out in Garrick Gibson’s recent post.  The stems in our support network may be family, friends, colleagues, mentors, religious leaders, or even people that we may have not have met.

Unfortunately, our increasingly independent and entrepreneurial culture fosters an “I can do it myself” mentality, a sort of “pick yourself up by the bookstraps” approach that often fails to acknowledge the crucial role that others play in our successes – both professional successes and personal successes.  Regrettably, our failure to acknowledge the importance of our support network exacerbates our independent determination, self-reliance, and arrogant autonomy, all of which alienate us in our personal and professional relationships.

I was saddened and frustrated, but not surprised, to read that a recent survey of legal secretaries indicates that they strongly prefer working for male attorneys, rather than female attorneys.  The survey, published by the American Bar Association last October, revealed that of the 142 legal secretaries surveyed – 95% of which were women – most preferred to work for male associates or male partners, and none of the secretaries surveyed preferred working for a female partner.

Among the reasons cited for their preference were the overly emotional nature of women in the workplace, the demeaning treatment received by female bosses, and the lack of business maturity among women.  Many legal secretaries responded that women attorneys have an attitude or “an air about them.”

Some speculate that the preferences are influenced by societal expectations that men are entitled to women’s help or that secretaries want to work for those in power within the law firm, who are men, for the most part.  Others suspect that female attorneys are more abrupt with their secretaries due to the conflicts that they feel as they try to balance work and family.  Another speculation is that women, all too often, find themselves in a no-win situation – if they behave like males, they are perceived as arrogant, but if they don’t behave like males they are perceived as too emotional.

Having worked exclusively in law firms my entire adult life (as both an attorney and among support staff), I can personally attest to the existence of unsettling gender dynamics within the legal industry.  I doubt that this problem is unique to the legal field, however, and it saddens me for several reasons.  It saddens me that any woman in a management position would treat her employees with anything less than the utmost respect and find it appropriate to “put on airs.”  It saddens me that lingering discrepancies between the treatment of women and men in the workplace continue to exist, making it all the more difficult for women in positions of authority to conduct themselves in a professionally assertive way without being perceived as arrogant.  It saddens me that any woman would find herself feeling uncomfortable, intimidated, and demeaned in the workplace by anyone, much less another woman.

Regardless of the underlying causes of the gender discrepancies and preferences, the bottom line is that, within certain professional environments, the importance of the support system is not respected appropriately.  In fact, the mere presence of the professional support system may not be acknowledged at all.

A lack of recognition of our support network can play out in our personal relationships, as well.  A stay-at-home parent may assume the role of family martyr by grudgingly undertaking all childcare and household duties without acknowledging the support received from his or her spouse.  A successful businessperson may smugly congratulate himself or herself on his or her achievements, attributing them to his or her intelligence, work ethic, and personal sacrifices, without acknowledging the advice, guidance, financial support, and sacrifices given by teachers, family members, and mentors along the way.

To which I say, enough already!  It is time that we take a step back and look not only at the petals, but at the supportive stem.  At some point in our lives, we will all be shimmering petals basking in the glory of our success and we cannot forget to appreciate our supportive stems.  At other times, we will be the strong, supportive stem holding the petals up to the sun, and we must relish our vital role to the maintenance of a flourishing and successful relationship.

So, enough with the gender stereotypes.  Enough with playing the role of the overworked and under-appreciated.  Enough with smug attitudes of wholly self-contained success.  Enough, I say, enough.


Thanks to all the positive feedback received for the Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography (not to mention the fact that the challenge was just so much fun!), I am going to continue the Photo Inspiration Challenge on a weekly basis.  Check back each week (likely mid-week) for a new blog post inspired by one of Angie McMonigal’s stunning works of art.  Or better yet – follow me by clicking on the link in the sidebar so you won’t miss a thing. 


Linking up with Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can’t Say



  1. An insightful and heart-felt cry for *mutual* caring and respect in the workplace and elsewhere. Sadly, it’s true that bad attitudes happen not only in the legal profession.

    But you reminded me to care for and support those who *do* offer support. *Thank you* for your intelligent, creative, beautiful blog.

  2. I just finished your article and then attended a Women at Work Training Session at my company. We should of had people read your article rather than the video from a well established consulting firm.

  3. That photo is lovely. I wish I could say I am surprised by the survey. I worked as a flight attendant for two airlines and in one we had exclusively female cabin crew. I expected it to be easier. But women are more competitive and take themselves way too seriously. They find it much easier to bring other women down which they would never do to a male co-worker. And nowhere is that more evident then at the playground. Mothers are the worst for judging instead of supporting. Enter a dad to the playground and they will all gush over him. I hear you: enough already!!
    But blogging is a parallel universe. I never though about it, but it must be one of many reasons I love it. Women always support each other here. But your article made me wonder if I met any of the bloggers randomly at the playground, would my parenting ways make it on their blog as the “Strange things I saw at the playground today”

    • What a perceptive and insightful comment. I wonder the same thing. I wonder if the veil provided by the virtual world allows us to really “see” someone for who they are without the misconceptions, stereotypes, insecurities, doubts, etc. that come to the surface and cloud our perceptions when we encounter someone in the “real” world.

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