Self-promotion is tricky for everyone. Do it too often or too aggressively, and it turns people off. Don’t do it enough, and you foreclose opportunities. It is not easy and, there are added challenges that lawyers of color face when we try to promote ourselves.
In this two-part blog series, I will examine these challenges and offer tips on how lawyers of color can master the art of self-promotion in ways that help them advance their long-term career goals. Remember, you deserve to be recognized for your accomplishments, and that recognition begins with you!
One nuance is that racial and gender stereotypes may trigger implicit biases and affect the way in which attorneys of color are viewed when we engage in self-promotion. For example, any attempt at self-promotion by Asians may viewed as an attempt to “rock the boat,” which contradicts the Model Minority stereotype that Asians are amenable and “aim to please.” Similarly, Latinx lawyers who self-promote may be viewed as being insolent due to the pervasive stereotype of Latinx people as “the help.”
Further, the cultural norms that lawyers of color face also play a role. The cultural mores of different racial and ethnic groups vary regarding what is considered appropriate when it comes to self-promotion. For example, the cultural norms of India, China, and Korea value modesty, composure, and self-control more than the assertive self-confidence that is valued in the United States. Thus, the mere act of self-promotion can feel too challenging, or just plain wrong for certain cultures.
Another example concerns the concept of “swagger.” Within black and hip hop culture, swagger is a positive term regarding a mixture of confidence and style that denotes status, social empowerment, and overall identity. In recent years, it’s landed a prominent place of endearment in the urban lexicon (“President Obama has swagger.”); yet, in Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition does not have a positive connotation: “to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence; to force by argument or threat: bully.”
So, when a black man shows up to an interview exhibiting swagger, which in his mind demonstrates positive self-confidence, those interviewing him may read his body language as arrogance, overbearing, or aggressive.
A third issue that lawyers of color face is the imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern that is especially common among people of color, women, and other people from underrepresented groups in which they doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Why is the imposter syndrome prevalent among lawyers of color? Because one of the insidious lingering effects of racism and implicit biases, is the notion that we are perpetual outsiders. Unfortunately, many of us internalize this message and believe that we don’t belong.
Despite these unique circumstances, I encourage you to nevertheless promote yourself. Yes, it may feel awkward to do so, and may take you out of your comfort zone. And yes, some people may take your self-promotion as you acting as a braggart; or, it may backfire in some other way despite your best attempts to simply share some of the things of which you are most proud. Nevertheless, you must promote yourself. Relying on hard work with the hope that someone will notice and reward you for your efforts is too risky. You risk missing out on opportunities that will advance your career, such as being on pitches, getting great assignments, promotions, and money.
Failure to self-promote could also deprive you of the much-needed support of champions, mentors, or sponsors behind closed doors. Let me repeat an essential part of this: You deserve to be recognized for your accomplishments, and that recognition begins with you!
In the next part of this two-part blog series, I will offer 12 tips on how lawyers of color can self-promote fearlessly.