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Lawyers Club of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome. Guidelines for writers may be found on the Leadership Resources page.

 

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Off the Beaten Partner Track: "Sit at the Table"

Posted By Jillian Fairchild, Monday, August 15, 2016
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


Tags:  Confidence Gap  off the beaten partner track  Sheryl Sandberg  Sit at the Table 

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Chasing the Last Wave: "Rising Above the Gap"

Posted By Molly Tami, Monday, August 8, 2016
Rising Above the Gap

Much has been written about the “confidence gap” for women. Many commentators have noted that men often overvalue their strengths while women too frequently undervalue theirs. (Gender stereotyping, of course, which nevertheless seems true.) Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why women lawyers (and women in general) lack the confidence of their male counterparts. It’s not that difficult to understand how we got here. 

 

Historically, women were made to feel “lesser” or unworthy. When my 92 year-old mother graduated as valedictorian of her high school class, she was told that she achieved that status because the boys “did not apply themselves.” (Sadly, she did not go on to college and realize her dream of becoming a nurse.) When I graduated from the same high school more than 30 years later, the tradition was to include the top five students as speakers in the graduation ceremony. That year the top five graduates were all girls. While I was invited to speak, numbers four and five in the class were replaced with boys lower in class rank. None of us thought to question that at the time. While women have overcome many such barriers throughout the three waves of feminism, we still struggle to confidently aspire to top leadership positions.  

 

A New York Times piece entitled Overcoming the Confidence Gap for Women cited a study on women’s attitudes toward leadership which found that nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 professional and college age women surveyed expressed a desire to become senior leaders. But only 40% were able to envision themselves as leaders. Eighty-six percent of the women surveyed had been taught to be “nice to others” growing up and to do well in school, but less than 50% received leadership lessons. Interestingly, receiving praise from mentors and leaders was the single biggest factor influencing women’s perceptions of themselves in the study, more so than receiving raises or promotions. 

 

I was reminded of this “gap” when I attended a recent event honoring a colleague for her outstanding leadership. She received much praise and adulation at the event. When I emailed her to again congratulate her on this recognition, she replied thanking me but wrote that she “really didn’t deserve it.” But of course she did! And I told her so the next time I saw her. I would like to think that I personally do not suffer from this “confidence gap” but in truth, I probably do. While I strive constantly to be an unapologetically self-assured female role model for my daughter and our students, I occasionally find myself downplaying my own achievements and abilities.   

 

So how do we combat the confidence gap for women in our profession? I urge us all to sing our own praises and those of our women colleagues, gently correct women friends who minimize their achievements, stop apologizing when we disagree or express our opinions, and do whatever else we can to validate women’s successes. When it comes to overcoming women’s confidence gap in the legal profession, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.” Let’s resolve to rise above the gap and hold our heads high!     

 

This blog was authored by Molly Tami
Molly Tami serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law. She previously designed and taught a course on Law, Gender and the Work/Family Conflict and is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.              



Tags:  career  Chasing the Last Wave  confidence gap  feminism  feminist  gender  last wave  legal profession 

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