Women in Law: Their Unique Challenge around Confidence

Women in Law Their Unique Challenge around Confidence

Initially written for Lawcare for International Women’s Day 2020

Concerning Statistics

Speaking at the Young Magistrates Special Interest Group Conference at the Ministry of Justice in London, February 2020, I quoted a statistic that had been referred to by a psychologist at a Temple Women’s Forum event some time ago. The Temple Women’s Forum was founded in 2012 to encourage and support women barristers throughout their careers and increase the female talent retention rates within law. The stat was that of the applicants to Silk: women applied when they were 90% confident of success whilst men applied when they were 60% confident. The stat was tweeted widely, and a further suggestion made that men may be applying to be Queen’s [sic] Counsel when in fact they were just over 50% sure of success.

Confidence determines results

Either way, the traction this point gained on social media demonstrates a really valuable and concerning point: that levels of confidence directly determine the levels of opportunity to which we all expose ourselves, and more worryingly from this example, women can at times even stand in their own way.

Case Study

Some time ago a very capable and highly sought-after barrister colleague and friend of mine asked for my advice about whether she should throw her hat into the ring for a judicial appointment. She was quick to tell me all the reasons why she shouldn’t get the post, as opposed to looking objectively and logically at the evidence to suggest she would: her strengths, her skills, her temperament and so on. She was talking herself down and more to the point talking herself out of making the application – she was about to let go of an opportunity simply to have a go.

Coaches love celebrating strengths, so as well as pointing out far more fabulous qualities that she seemed to have forgotten about herself than the negative points she had focused on, I posed to her a simple question: How would you feel if you don’t apply and that more junior, less experienced, less qualified and frankly less worthy person, not only applies but is successful?

I even named names to make the point more direct, hard hitting and personal. It boiled down to asking: Are you going to allow someone your junior to fly by and succeed just because you’re feeling a bit insecure and under confident?

I’m pleased to say she said “No!!!” and got her application in – and better still, succeeded.

Are your confidence levels holding you back?

Confidence affects us all, whether men or women, but the stats are interesting from the viewpoint that they suggest, in law at least, that women may be more adversely affected than men. Firstly, I’d encourage a reality check for both sexes – are you celebrating your strengths enough? Are you giving yourself a fighting chance of being in the running for success, and leadership positions, by focusing on the positives rather than the negatives, and where necessarily learning to upskill to bridge any development gaps? Secondly, I’d ask women specifically, what would a male colleague do? Would he stand in his own way? I suspect not.

You’ve got to be in it to win it

Talk up your strengths, upskill where necessary, and submit that application: You’re got to be in it to win it, after all!

Nikki Alderson Biography

Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker and author, and former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience:

  • supports organisations, law firms and barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; and
  • empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.

Nikki specialises in 3 areas:

  • Women leadership transition and change;
  • Enhanced career break returner support; and
  • Workplace resilience, mental toughness, confidence and wellness.

She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category and finalist in the 2020 Women in Law Awards, Legal Services Innovator of the Year and 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.