• Fern Lee

How to get noticed, recognized and promoted as a female lawyer in a law firm

The expectations to be nice and smiling all the time as a woman in a workplace really hit home when my boss asked me why I looked angry and did something happen to cause me to be so mad?

I had only recently started working as solicitor in a London law firm when my boss asked me that question. I didn't think I was in a bad mood. I told him that I wasn't angry merely serious. It was a busy workday and I was just getting on with my work. I was just being serious.

He mentioned that this was the first time he had seen me look stern and cross. To him, I was always smiling and so 'feminine'. It isn't like you at all, he said. That was when it hit me that I was expected to be 'feminine' all the time - pleasant to look at, congenial in demeanor.

I learned that even if the job requires authority and assertiveness, women are still expected to please and behave accordingly. When you don't live up to that role, it might surprise, even offend some men.

How do we be strong women yet still liked in order to get the respect, recognition, and promotion we want and deserve?

We are all too aware of the double-bind that women suffer in male-dominated industries like law. If we are authoritative and decisive, we are seen as bitchy (whereas men are seen as strong leaders). If we don't speak up enough, and our voices aren't heard, we are seen as weak and unable to lead.

How do we counter-act that stereotype yet assert ourselves in the workplace so that we are perceived to be leaders and yet still liked?

Whilst we may want to debate the fairness of the situation, it is a reality that when men are assertive and authoritative, they are seen as a strong leader, but when women are assertive and authoritative, we are seen as difficult and demanding.

Things are changing but in the meantime, we still have to work within the boundaries of the bias we have had no hand in creating but must manage. As unfair as things are, we still have to deal with the hand we have been dealt with.

In order to be promoted, and recognized for our efforts, we need to be known, liked and trusted by our bosses and colleagues. We have to be seen as team players, and that doesn't mean agreeing with everything everyone says. If we don't speak up and be heard; if we don't assert our authority in some way, and take the lead on projects, we won't be noticed. And if we aren't noticed ... you get the picture!

So how do we solve or circumvent the double-bind that plagues women?

It's true that as women we have to be smarter and more strategic in a lot of things that we do. And this isn't any different. Assessing the situation and acting accordingly is key. Know what behaviors will be expected and respected by the bosses and teammates. Behaviors that are authentic and true to you.

For example, in a meeting, you might want to speak up sooner rather than later, so you will be noticed. You might want to speak in a loud, clear voice at a lower pitch so you sound authoritative. You might also consider speaking at a slower speed so everyone can hear you. Enunciation might be important to you too so that people can hear your words clearly and will have time to process their thoughts.

How you deal in a meeting room is very different to how you deal with a colleague who needs a sympathetic ear or guidance. You might want to speak less, let your colleague lead in the conversation. Be nurturing and caring, be soft-spoken. This is the time to feel and appear vulnerable to the other person.

This might all sound like a lot of theatrics to you, but in a way, presentations and presenting yourself to the outside world is a form of theatre. You want them to like and respect you. You want to be heard and recognized as a leader in your field. You have to set the stage and present that side of you to them.

Understanding what is expected of you and responding in ways that will cast you in a favorable light will create a consistent, positive view of YOU. You will develop a reputation of the leader that they are looking for, and when they start to think about recognition and promotion, your name will come to mind.

Just be sure to do what feels authentic and real to you. It becomes obvious really soon if you are just pretending.

Have a great week ahead!






©2019 by Fern Lee Career Coaching