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.