It’s Different at the Senior Level

Over my 13 years spent as a practicing lawyer, I have always been curious and interested in how women professionals are perceived and treated at work, by males and females alike. In their early years of practice in a law firm, I have seen many women find initial success through uncomplaining commitment (in terms of thousands of hours worked), attention to detail, and doing what they are told. These qualities—qualities women are perceived as having more than their male counterparts—are often prized early on.

As a lawyer in a law firm becomes more senior, however, different standards evolve, and the behaviors and traits that made someone successful in her early years are not necessarily those expected going forward. It is at this juncture that I have seen a number of women—myself as a younger lawyer included—face challenges.

Law firm leaders—primarily men—are looking for characteristics that they associate with “leadership,” but all too often are looking for clones of themselves, personality-wise. While it can be tempting to try and mimic a particular person in the hopes of achieving that person’s level of success, I have found that doing so can be restrictive and limiting. If I were giving advice to my former self, or any other woman coming up the ranks, I would tell her the following things:

  1. You’ve shown that you are good at your job. Be confident in your abilities.
  2. Step out on a limb and take on new challenges. You are prepared. Even if it is hard, it won’t last forever, and you’ll be better for having done it.
  3. Be your authentic self. Let people know that you’re a human being, and treat others the same way. It’s not a sign of weakness, and it will garner you more credibility.
  4. Be transparent about your goals. Most people will want to help you achieve them.
  5. Show enthusiasm. No one wants to work with Debbie Downer.
  6. Thank the people that help you. All of them.