|Sit at the Table
One of the things that Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to do in her book Lean In is to “sit at the table.” She tells a story about high-ranking women that visited the Facebook offices with an international diplomat. The women had just as much right to engage in the discussion as the men, but they continued to sit off to the side even after Ms. Sandberg offered them a seat at the table. She argues that it is important for women to literally and figuratively sit at the table.
Ms. Sandberg notes that part of the reason that women fail to engage and “sit at the table” is a lack of confidence. Compared to men, women generally underestimate their abilities, predict they will do worse on tests and do not consider themselves as ready for promotions. Several studies show that when men are successful, they attribute this success to their ability and intelligence. When women are successful, they attribute it to luck, someone else’s help, or hard work. Generally, men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
Confidence can affect promotions and can even be more important than competence in some situations. When asked about this, senior partners at law firms recognize this confidence gap is a problem. Some female associates are extraordinarily competent as attorneys, but do not speak up at client meetings. For this reason, partners have identified this as a reason they are not confident the female associate can handle the client’s account. This confidence gap is hurting women’s ability to get promotions at law firms.
This is something that I have struggled with in my practice as well. I have a memory of a client meeting where I sat off to the side with the paralegals and not at the table with the partner. Needless to say, I did not actively participate in that meeting. Should the partner have introduced me to the client as the associate on the file and encouraged me to sit next to him? Yes. But I should have also had enough confidence in my abilities and intelligence to engage in the meeting and sit at the table. Moreover, if I had the courage to sit the table, then the partner would have been more likely to introduce me.
During the past couple of years I have found the confidence to speak up. I try to make sure that I contribute verbally to all meetings. I do this not only to share my ideas, which is important. I also try to voice my opinions in order to appear confident in my abilities.
Have any of you had experiences where you did not participate at meetings for lack of confidence? Have you found ways to overcome this confidence gap? I would love to hear from you regarding your success stories for overcoming fear of contributing at meetings.
This blog was authored by Jillian Fairchild