The challenge for many women lawyers in the “Lean In” age is to lean in without falling over. This means developing sufficient resiliency to manage demanding clients in an increasingly competitive world while also managing family and personal responsibilities. Resiliency is a key leadership skill. However, women often need to approach resiliency differently than men.
While both women and men need to exercise, get sufficient sleep, and eat well, women often need to pay attention to three other important elements to gain sufficient energy to lead demanding lives as lawyers.
Firstly, women must give themselves permission to take time for themselves.
Historically, women have been taught that “good” daughters, wives or mothers put the needs of their families and others ahead of their own. Women are raised to be supporters and care givers and put others first. This can make it difficult for some women to take time for themselves without feeling guilty or selfish. A woman can feel that she is abandoning her family, clients or colleagues if she puts her own needs first, even for a short period of time.
This is an area where women can learn from men. Men are raised to take charge of their own lives and not ask anyone for permission about how they spend their time. Men do not see this as being selfish but as necessary to keep themselves strong so they can better take care of others.
Women also need alone time – even if it is only a small amount of personal time – to do whatever they need to do to build up their resiliency and strength so that they can better support their clients, families and friends.
The second element for building greater resiliency is women must learn to ask for what they want. Women will not find the space for personal time without the support of others.
There is significant research into why women are often reluctant to negotiate on their own behalf. In addition to being raised to put others’ needs first, women are often afraid of damaging relationships if they ask for something for themselves. They are afraid of upsetting a spouse, disappointing a colleague or client or fighting with their children.
However, in order to create some space to go for a run, meet a friend, write or meditate, women often need the support of family members who may view her as their round-the clock caregiver. This can be a difficult transition where the woman wants to change her role and there is pushback from her family who are used to her complete attention. This is where a supportive spouse is essential to sharing the workload.
The third and final element that helps many women build greater resiliency, is girlfriends.
One of the main stress relievers and support for many women is having a close female friend with whom to talk on a regular basis. Many women release their daily stress and gain energy, by talking about their difficult day.
Most men do not talk about what is troubling them as talking can make men feel worse not better. When a woman talks about what is bothering her, many men assume the woman is asking for advice, as this is the pattern of male conversation. However, women rarely want advice. They just want someone to listen with some empathy and interest. The simple act of talking it through is a significant stress release for many women. When work and family responsibilities become so all consuming that women have no time for female friendships, this can add a significant burden of stress onto busy women’s lives.
All lawyers face the challenge of developing sufficient resiliency to meet the demands of clients and colleagues while still having time to re-energize themselves through personal pursuits. Women will be stronger lawyers and more resilient if they ensure they take the time to make themselves stronger, ask for the support they need to get this time and keep strong friendships that will share the journey along the way. When women lawyers make sure they take care of themselves, the whole profession benefits.