'Price you pay for being stupid is a lot higher,' says global leader

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A highly respected industry leader has told Australasian Lawyer she believes that many of the problems women in law firms face are the result of “unconscious bias” rather than malicious intent. 
The recently retired senior partner and immediate past chair of US-based multinational firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, Mary Cranston, believes that men and women need to be aware of this bias and their inadvertent actions in order to rectify them.
Cranston, said that women should employ practical strategies to get ahead, and that female lawyers who are interested in making it to partnership level should look at research by consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, dubbed Centered leadership: How talented women thrive.

“It shows that women don’t speak up as often.  They have to be very certain of their answer before they’ll speak in a mixed environment,” Cranston said.
“And it’s not even paranoid.  In a gender-biased world, the price you pay for being stupid or wrong is a lot higher than men. So while speaking up feels risky, it’s your only choice,” she added.

Cranston also argues that female lawyer should devote energy to being very conscious about what they choose or choose not to do.
“If you have a clear vision of where you want to go, you have a much better differentiator between whether you want to do something or not depending on whether it’s going to move you forward,” Cranston said.
Networking is a third key element of professional life that female lawyers should focus on.
“Every successful woman learned the importance of quid pro quo networking, where you help somebody and they help you and you just reach out more broadly all the time,” Cranston said.

“Fortunately, for women, there’s starting to be such an ‘old girls’ network that it’s actually easier than it was ten years ago,” she added.
Finally, Cranston said that women are often inclined to see more problems surrounding any kind of risky behaviour or actions – a tendency that needs to be overcome in the legal business.

“What I did in my own life was figure out early on that I could change things by having a clear vision for myself. When I set them, the first thing that happened was I had all of these fears that I didn’t even know I had, mainly because I hadn’t pushed up against that envelope before,” Cranston said.
However, Cranston explains that as she pushed against her fears she went after her professional goals even more, and things ultimately turned out better for her as a result.