Persistence: The True Difference Between Men & Women?

Remember when you failed at a class, skill, or game, and your parents told you to “stick with it”? It turns out that was sage advice.

Persistence, more than ability, leads to success.

“No matter the ability – whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism – studies show them to be profoundly malleable,” writes Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., for Psychology Today.

“When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot.”

Unfortunately, however, women—whether born or bred—are naturally inclined to trust their innate talents over tenacity. It’s possible this is the problem with the women in the workplace today: we stand in our own way.

At least, that’s what Dr. Halvorson would postulate in her article, “The Science of Success: The Trouble With Bright Girls.”

Dr. Halvorson’s graduate advisor, psychologist Carol Dweck (author of the book Mindset) conducted a series of studies in the 1980s, which identified how bright girls and boys in the fifth grade handled new, difficult, and often confusing material.

Apparently, bright girls—when given material to learn that was particularly complex—were quick to give up. What’s more, the higher the girl’s IQ, the more likely she was to quit altogether.

“In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses,” laments Dr. Halvorson.

“Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing.  They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than giving up.”

Keep in mind that at the fifth grade level (at the time of these studies), girls consistently outperformed boys in every subject, including math and science.

However, the study was not measuring ability, it was measuring perseverance. And, girls were quicker to lose confidence in their ability than boys, making them less effective learners.

This mentality is carried with us throughout our lives. Women continually doubt their abilities and are prone to believe that achievement is based on intelligence, personality, opportunity, even.

Instead, it’s quite clear that success is measured by those learners who are willing to put in time and effort to solve complex problems. Good ideas may not emerge during the first or second rounds of trying.

So when you’re thinking about how to win a case matter, looking to become partner, or expecting a pay raise, remember, don’t give up when it doesn’t happen the first time.

It turns out, your male counterpart who was also overlooked in a promotion is not throwing in the towel just yet. He’s redoubling his efforts and remaining confident that, eventually, his effort will be rewarded.

It will.

And so, women, will yours.

As a firm, think about hosting a women’s empowerment seminar or women’s week that honors women in law. Ensure attendance is mandatory for men and women alike.

In law, like most professions, it’s important to keep a diverse and balanced playing field; since gender, race, and cultural differences will give your firm much needed variety in its strategy for winning cases and improving firm management.

Also, include “persistence” in your firm culture. Remember to reward employees who demonstrate, in addition to natural talent, the ability to accept failure and try again for better results.



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