“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
I recently read this explanation for the high rates of attrition among women lawyers, especially women in litigation:
Male lawyers are conditioned to be overconfident decision makers whereas female lawyers are conditioned to believe they’re impostors, not smart enough or not ready. That conditioning starts from the way we’re brought up as boys and girls and the cultural ideas that are ingrained in us from early childhood.
Think about that. Imagine a bunch of boys gathered for a game of pickup basketball on a Saturday afternoon. What would you hear from those boys? Bravado? Yes, plenty. Bragging about their abilities and how much better he is than the rest? Yes, certainly? All of them thinking he is headed to the NBA.
Then ask yourself whether you can imagine a group of young girls acting tha way. The answer is likely no. A group of young girls would be sizing themselves up against each other in a very different way. Does my hair look good enough? What about my makeup? I wish I had a new dress like hers. I am sure the boys like her better than me.
And, the girls are not all to blame. Women have been taught for generations that bragging is not lady-like. And it is not. It also is not man-like. It is obnoxious from both males and females, but men get away with it because of cultural norms.
But, you are stuck with being a girl and a woman. Not smart enough? Not ready? An imposter? Now tell me that you never have felt that way. Don’t bother because I probably would not believe you anyway.
The differences between the way that male and female lawyers evaluate their capabilities does not fall purely along gender lines, however. Surely, many young male lawyers have found themselves feeling the same kinds of insecurities as the young female lawyers, but the men seem to get over it faster. As the young men become more capable, they gain confidence. Not so for many young women.
Women lawyers really need to work on the confidence factor. The law profession is difficult and can make you question your competence on a regular basis. But, it has been my experience that confidence trumps competence every time.
And, you have so much competence to be confident about. For the most part, you excelled in undergraduate schools, gained entrance into prestigious law schools, and statistics show that women graduate at the top of their law school classes in terms of gpa and honors more often than men. These are not small accomplishments. Treat them with the significance they deserve.
Make it a point to be consciously confident, and stop being too humble. Humble doesn’t help when it keeps you under the radar and holds you back. Check your persona to make sure that you are presenting a confident face to the world. Check your communications to make sure that you are talking in a confident manner. That does not mean bragging and claiming to know what you do not know. That is obnoxious and dangerous, but there is a confident way of saying that you do not know but will find out and come back with the information.
Start developing your professional brand and an “elevator speech” that reflects confidence and competence and references your strengths, your abilities and your unique perspectives. If your brand is right for you, it will inspire and empower you to connect effectively with both clients and colleagues.
Stop beating yourself up with the NOTS — not good enough, not smart enough, not this, not that. Stop thinking of yourself as a fake or an imposter. By those standards you never will be good enough.
And you are good enough. You just are not recognizing it and marketing it. Play to your strengths not your weaknesses.
I know that I have published list after list of the “Best Firms for Women Lawyers” over the years in my blogs and on my website. It seems like the right thing to do for someone who has been devoted to the retention and advancement of women lawyers for more than a decade.
But, honestly, I did it with some reluctance. I always was a little skeptical about how those lists were compiled, whether the research was based on an even playing field for all contenders, and the nature of the relationships between the ranking entities and the firms ranked highest on their lists.
Now a new batch of those lists (from Law 360, Working Mother, and more) has been released, and it turns out that I am not the only one with these kinds of questions and concerns. One of the most savvy law reporters around has doubts similar to my own and has looked critically at the lists and the law firms that appear there.
In her article, “‘Best’ Law Firms for Women? Really?,” Vivia Chen of The Careerist and ALM calls the lists “confusing, if not misleading. And sad.”
Here are some of her concerns for you to keep in mind as you read and rely on those lists:
We all are trained as fact finders for three long years in law school and in our practices, and we must look behind representations to discover the facts and who really deserves credit and who does not. We need to expect that of ourselves.
For more on the “lists” and progress in gender diversity at law firms, see “Who’s The Best? (Leading Law Firms for Women)” in the current issue of the ABA Journal.
If you have followed my writing for the last ten years, it will not surprise you that I do not advise crying at work — unless it is behind closed doors and the telltale hints of crying are erased before you re-enter the office common space. Or unless you are facing some devastating personal loss.
So, when I saw the article “It’s Okay To Cry At Work” on Above the Law recently, I had a visceral reaction. Visceral because I am trying to help you become the most competitive and highly competent and regarded professionals possible — and crying at work is not the way to reach those goals.
The question of whether you should cry is different from whether you have a right to cry. Your “right to cry” is firmly established. You have a right to cry because there is a lot that women lawyers have to cry about. They are outnumbered by men in a profession that is also hugely male dominated. Only 20% of the partners in law firms today are women and that leaves a lot of management and leadership that does not understand the challenges to women lawyers and/or does not care about them. Women lawyers with children and family responsibilities are pulled in so many different directions that they are sure their limbs will become detached at any moment. And there is still far too much gender discrimination and implicit bias running rampant in the profession that it stretches the causes for optimism, even on a good day.
Yes, there is a lot to cry about. But, don’t do it. It makes you look weak — as recognized by Kathryn Rubino, the author of the ATL article. Why would you want to look weak in a shark tank? That just does not make any sense. The fact that women have traditionally been the criers does not change that result either or establish the wisdom of weeping openly in the workplace. In fact, in a profession as challenging as the law, where criticism comes from all directions, including the client, the senior counsel, the opposing counsel, the managing partner, and the judge, why on earth would you want to look weak???
Apparently the men have figured this out. I have been a lawyer for almost 40 years, and I have yet to see a male lawyer cry in the workplace over stresses related to the job. Yes, I have seen tears in male eyes on 9-11 and at the images of Sandy Hook Elementary, and I would expect that. But, I do not expect it for the reasons suggested by the ATL article.
And I am not interested in the health benefits of crying in this context. Although I generally am interested in women lawyers paying attention to their psychological and physical health, this is not one of those times. You will find yourself in a much more “healthy” state if you safeguard your professional future. Job security trumps endorfins every time. Trust me.
Your job always should be to keep communications open, and crying will shut down a conversation in a nanosecond, especially if the person on the other end of the conversation is a man. Men do not feel comfortable seeing women cry, and they will do everything possible to wiggle out of the discussion. So will a lot of women. The reason for that is that shows of emotion like crying are personal and — as a rule — do not belong in communal settings. Sure there are exceptions, but do not strain your brain looking for them and trying them out. There is a law of diminishing returns associated with academic exercises like that.
You are a professional, and you are expected to act professionally. I have a rule of thumb that is appropriate here: If you would not exhibit certain behavior in the courtroom before the judge or jury, don’t do it in the workplace. It is an easy rule to apply.