As my work is focused in a male-dominated field, my advice might seem counterintuitive, but here it is: Resist the temptation to blend in. I never aimed to be “one of the guys.” Instead, early in my career, I made the decision not to downplay who I am as a professional.
To be clear, my approach is not one of trumpeting how I am demographically different from the typical government contracts attorney. I focus instead on demonstrating the professional attributes that distinguish me.
The simplest way to describe this approach is: Be authentic. Don’t imitate someone else’s style—put your effort into playing to your strengths.
For me, this means building meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients. My experience has been that people feel most comfortable and work best with a person who is sincere and genuine. It boils down to having a real interest in them. Who are they—beyond their professional role, their job title, and their immediate responsibilities at work? What makes them tick? What are their interests, their goals, and their concerns?
Taking an interest in colleagues and clients as people means nurturing relationships with them. This, in turn, requires taking time and expending effort to engage with them about more than the immediate matter at hand. Beyond the topic of an email or conference call, ask what is on the horizon for them—professionally and otherwise? How—in the broadest sense—are they doing?
My point is not to advise all women to focus on “soft skills” or make fostering relationships the end-all and be-all of career development; this approach has worked for me because it reflects my strengths. Rather, my advice is to find your own strengths and focus on putting them to best use.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
The pillars of success in my field are recognizing trends, extrapolating from them, and then providing clients superb service that helps them get ahead of trends affecting their interest.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
My most significant mentor had zero tolerance for my making excuses or talking myself out of a challenge. His attitude was always, “We can figure this out,” followed by, “OK, Lorraine, now get to it!”
On Facing Challenges
My biggest career challenge has been navigating the large-law-firm environment, where, in addition to doing excellent work, one must find and get assigned to the best projects. Many women find “BigLaw” firms too difficult and leave prematurely. I was fortunate to join a firm committed to attracting, developing, and rewarding women lawyers–and one that supported my efforts to build an internal support team. I refer to it as my board–trusted coworkers, mentors, sponsors, clients, and others who provide guidance and alert me to matters that will enable me to serve clients and colleagues well.
Lorraine’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Relationships are invaluable; it’s crucial to find and nurture shared connections with classmates, colleagues, and clients. Through those relationships, you can build a community you can call on for advice and guidance. Remember, you never know who will end up being helpful to your career—or how.