MoFo Women’s Workshop Encourages Attendees to Tap into Their Grit

On November 2, more than 85 professional women attended a MoForever Women’s Network presentation and workshop on developing the traits that help female attorneys to advance their careers at law firms.

Morrison & Foerster partner Carrie Cohen kicked off the evening by introducing Dr. Ellen Ostrow, a psychologist and executive coach known for her expertise on the challenges faced by women lawyers. Ellen delivered a presentation based on the ABA’s Grit Project, a program designed to teach female lawyers how to develop grit and a positive or “growth” mindset—two non-cognitive variables that research has proven bear a statistically significant relationship to women’s success in law firms.

People with a growth mindset reject the idea that a person’s fate is fixed at birth. These people, Ellen explained, “see effort as the essential path to mastery” and view failure as an opportunity to work hard.

People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, believe that skills are innate and immutable. When you subscribe to that way of thinking, said Ellen, “everything becomes a test, a time to prove how smart you are,” and as a result you’re likely to become risk averse and defensive—characteristics that aren’t likely to help you achieve your career goals.

The second non-cognitive variable, grit, is defined as the tendency to approach work with persistence and passion, according to Ellen.

“Gritty people maintain their tenacity over the long haul,” she said. “They practice, but they also stretch themselves.”

In law firms specifically, grit is associated with success measures, including billable hours and the opportunity to work on particularly desirable projects, Ellen reported.

The speaker then specifically addressed how women can best negotiate their compensation.

“Learn everything about the culture and the context,” she advised. “Know the decision makers and their criteria.”

Ellen then asked the audience members to work with the other women at their tables on explaining how a gritty lawyer with a growth mindset would tackle two hypothetical scenarios—one that involved applying for a job abroad that you’d been rejected for years ago and one that involved being “talked over” by a male subordinate in a business meeting. Working on the scenarios gave the workshop’s attendees’ the opportunity to apply what they’d just learned and get to know some of their colleagues.