SAN FRANCISCO — Earlier this month, more than 50 women attorneys gathered at the Bar Association of San Francisco for a discussion on psychological traits that can help them get ahead professionally. This week, the program is going national.
The American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession is launching “The Grit Project,” an online tool kit that preaches two psychological principles: grit, which is similar to perseverance, and growth mindset, a belief in the ability to develop skills versus seeing them as predetermined.
It’s a different way of coming at a persistent problem, say the program’s creators. In the past two decades, women have entered law firms in roughly equal numbers to men but lag at the highest ranks. Rather than focus on what holds women back, The Grit Project, according to its brochure, focuses on “the shared characteristics and competencies of the women who do manage to succeed in law firms.”
Underlying the program is dissertation research conducted by Milana Hogan, the director of recruitment and professional development for Sullivan & Cromwell. Hogan, who has worked for law firms since 2001, surveyed nearly 500 women lawyers at various levels of the profession and concluded that grit and growth mindset were two defining traits of accomplished women lawyers. Grit, she concluded, was a better indicator of success than an attorney’s law school or class rank.
Hogan found that women lawyers scored above average on “The Grit Scale,” a test developed by psychologist Angela Duckworth. However, they were on par with other women when it came to the “Mindset Quiz,” developed by psychologist Carole Dweck. The ABA’s tool kit includes both personality tests, as well as training materials that can be used by law firms, in-house departments, bar associations and law schools.
Hogan created The Grit Project with Latham & Watkins associate Katherine Larkin-Wong, president of the women’s professional group Ms. JD.
At the June 5 BASF program, Larkin-Wong shared her first experience drafting a motion, and the sense of failure she felt when she got it back with extensive changes. Though the experience triggered self-doubt, it should be seen as a learning opportunity, rather than a failure, she said.
“As young associates, struggle is inevitable because law is about judgment and judgment takes time to develop,” Larkin-Wong says. “When law students or young attorneys struggle, I hope that the True Grit Project offers them tools for seeing their struggle as a growth point.”
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