As a co-lead for the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law initiative, I have heard countless stories of women lawyers thinking that their excellent work product was enough to stand out. If they earn good performance evaluations and produce high-quality work products that successfully achieved positive outcomes for clients matters again and again, they assume that those managers evaluating their performance will recognize their work and promote them.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And the ongoing lack of representation among women in power and influential roles across the legal industry demonstrates this, although the situation is improving albeit at a much slower than most would like. Indeed, there is a need for enthusiastic action for women lawyers to own their career advocacy to advance.
Communicating value proactively is an essential element of a career advancement strategy. Whether you are an early career lawyer or a seasoned lawyer, it is neither too early or too late to start. The first step is to reframe your psychology on self-promotion and learn to communicate your value with authenticity focused on outcomes and results from your professional efforts.
Flip the Script on Your Self-Promotion Mindset
Traditional cultural and social norms for women over the decades has not served working women lawyers well, leaving them to choose between likeability and leadership. A recent Forbes article summarized the challenge perfectly. “This is a problem of ‘likeability,’ where women who are not assertive and fit the gender stereotype of a woman as being gentle and caring are liked more but not considered as leadership material. On the other hand, women who display traditional ‘masculine’ qualities such as assertiveness, forcefulness, and ambition are labeled… as unfeminine and aggressive, and hence generally disliked.”
For career advancement, women lawyers must choose leadership and deal with the gender bias. Likewise, to communicate value effectively, being proactive is essential because we live in a world where multiple people and things are competing for our attention, including your superiors who have a role in promotions. As a result, you must be thoughtful and deliberate in how you communicate your value to those you are trying to influence in order to gain visibility through self-advocacy. Check out the tips below for better ways for women lawyers to communicate their value and pay special attention to the first two tips about re-framing self-promotion.
Guilt-Free Self-Promotion Tools
Accomplishment Record — Self-promotion is effective when framed in a way that is focused on your work product and the outcomes resulting from your work. To start, you have to track your accomplishments and record the results from your efforts. Writing down the result and impact of your work will enable you to communicate your value without feeling like a fraud because it is framed in terms of value. See the examples below to illustrate how to use the tool:
Three-Up, Three-Down — When you have sit-downs with those who evaluate your performance and discuss your career development plan (usually held quarterly), use the three-up, three-down tool. To utilize the tool effectively in preparation for your meeting, pull your top three most impactful achievements from your accomplishment record. Then, identify the three areas for development that are important for your career in the next quarter and propose initiatives or projects that can help you advance your experience and learning to address that goal.
Post Without Boasting — Use written messages every two weeks to update those who are involved in evaluating your performance. By proactively updating those individuals on the progress of the matter or task they care about, you are communicating your value and highlighting your efforts under the guise of an update and offering information. See a quick and easy email template below: