Issues,  Legal Practice

What Does Confidence Get You? Career Growth While Facing Systemic Barriers

This past weekend I had the chance to speak on a panel on leadership with other super accomplished Latinas (including an elected official!). It’s always a great opportunity to glean tips and knowledge from others both in the audience and fellow panelists. Because we were discussing leadership, one of the big themes was having the confidence to go for it-to go for the leadership roles and have faith in your ability.

I totally agree. You have to be aware of your abilities and have the confidence to know your strengths and talents and to push yourself to the next level because you know you got it (or have the skills to figure it out). That is what this is all about—developing a mindset that pushes you make things happen.

Oberkirch But…what does confidence get you when people in power either purposely or subconsciously limit your growth?

Managing partners who can’t see your potential because of your accent? Or who question your leadership because your journey is non-traditional? When you have to compete with others who have access to resources, support, and guidance in ways we just won’t have…. In those cases, what does having confidence in your skills get you?

Heartache, mostly. Not always, but I’m keeping it real. I remember being overlooked for an internal promotion and being told there was hesitancy on whether I could figure out how to use a new software system. Now, I have to laugh because, hello, I’ve built my own website! I knew I was capable and had the potential to maximize the position but that didn’t help me in the end. And I’ve seen even smaller concerns be used against POC to bar them from bigger opportunities.

Ultimately, we can’t discuss career growth, or mindset development, or empowerment without equally dissecting the real barriers we face and identifying ways to dismantle them.

But it’s not easy and can bring moments that have you questioning yourself and your careers. I know this is kind of a downer, but this shouldn’t be a surprise seeing that we only make up 2% of the profession. It’s not for lack of trying or intelligence. It is a much bigger issue.

So what can you do to make sure you’re working on your career while also pushing back against biased systems?  What you can do really depends on where you are in your career.

For new attorneys, it’s most important to be aware of the barriers that exist. To not let setbacks beat you down or convince you that you’re not capable. It means taking charge of how your career grows and advocating for yourself as much as you can. It means leaving when it’s clear there is no more room for growth.

For those that are mid-level, it means pushing back as much as you can when you encounter systems that are unfair to others. This means being cognizant of your work’s culture, how they’ll respond to being called out, how you’ll respond when you’re chastised for discussing race, all that good stuff.

And for those that gain real positions of authority, the best thing one can do is change the rules that furthers racist/classist/sexist systems. That takes a lot of courage even in a leadership role.

All of it does, actually. But we are brave! We set out on this career journey often without any road map or support on how to do it. We figured it out and collectively we can figure out ways to dismantle the barriers preventing others from joining this profession.

It won’t happen tomorrow of course. We will have a long journey but I believe we have a duty to self to cultivate a fulfilling career and a duty to community to make it better for those that come after.

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