I was having a conversation with Arin Reeves, president of Nextions LLC, about the unique issues that many women attorneys of color face – being mistaken for the court reporter when she arrives for a deposition; the subtle incidents of exclusion, the accumulation of which can take its toll on many; being asked to take on tasks that seem very (inappropriately) gender-specific. As I listed, in a matter-of-fact tone, many incidents that I’ve experienced myself or that others have experienced, Arin looked at me and said, “You don’t internalize much.”
And she’s right. I don’t internalize much. It was a revelation for me personally, and a revelation for me in my efforts to help more women of color succeed in law firms. I have come to believe that the extent to which a woman of color internalizes the subtle and not-so-subtle innuendos, and the intentional and unintentional oversights, is a singular determining factor in how long she stays at her law firm or in the profession altogether.
I recognize that this may be a harsh message for younger lawyers. Essentially, if you are going to be in this profession for the long haul, you’d better have thick skin. You’d better have an ability to take, for example, a potentially offensive remark and chuckle at the ignorance from which the remark stemmed. You’d better have the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt more often than not – not for their sake, but for yours. If you allow yourself to be consumed with trying to figure out people’s intentions, you will not have the mental and emotional energy that is necessary to master this profession.
In any social construct, people who are different are generally treated differently. The legal profession is not unique in that regard. Wellintended diversity and inclusion initiatives are aimed at limiting that different treatment, and many are doing a great job of it. But while we are working toward a fully inclusive profession, we have to make the best of the imperfect profession that is ours at this moment. I love this profession. The rewards are many. And the water that rolls off our collective backs today is forming the river of prosperity for generations of women to come.