International Women’s Day: Q&A with Deirdre Harrington

Author Hannah Taylor
March 8, 2019

Carter Murray is proud to be supporting International Women’s Day 2019. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Whilst we all know that gender parity within the workplace has improved over the past decades, we all also know that there is still a long way to go.

We would like to join the discussion and be part of International Women’s Day 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign on the 8th March by interviewing inspiring women we work with and, in particular, understanding the role confidence has played in their career.

Carter Murray interviewed Deirdre Harrington, Strategic Leader of Practice Management & Business Development, Debevoise & Plimpton

How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace? ​

Having trust ​in yourself, ​your skills and knowledge, and having the courage to voice your views despite how others might judge or have differing perspectives. ​I think confidence is seeing yourself as an equal to your colleagues, and recognizing the value of the skills that you bring to the table.  ​

How do you think the confidence gap affects women? ​

While I think there are many men who could relate to this mindset, women are conditioned to be more critical and complex about how we self-assess ourselves.  Even when efforts are met with great praise, it seems that women are less inclined to feel fully satisfied and tend to focus more on what fell short of perfection compared to men who translate the same praise at face-value. This notion of striving for perfection holds us back and negatively impacts our confidence. To quote Anna Quindlen, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”  ​I will admit that I have struggled with that idea of not meeting perfection and recognize that sometimes 95% is perfectly acceptable – of course, it’s an ongoing challenge!  But, life is not perfect, and where we have fun, feel alive and authentic is by accepting the imperfections of the journey and learning how to grow from it. ​​

Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.  ​

ABSOLUTELY thanks to all the women before us who stood brave despite the challenges, and began chipping away at that proverbial glass ceiling. When we can relate to others in positions of authority, it has a powerful impact on the human psyche.  All of a sudden, what seems impossible becomes possible.  These role models encourage and inspire others to believe in themselves.  Employers are making great strides to advance this effort, although there is still a long way to go in changing some old-fashioned mindsets.  Holding our leaders accountable for fostering an inclusive culture is paramount to this effort.  The workplace should foster an environment for women (and other minorities) to speak up and to be heard; to feel safe in proposing ideas; regularly provided with constructive feedback in support of growth and advancement; and celebrated for successes along the way. ​What is sometimes forgotten is the positive contribution a lot of men have made in helping women to feel valued in the workplace. ​

How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why. ​

While we all fall ​victim to self-doubt at times, there are countless occasions where I’ve had to overcome the negative voices in my head which ​both men and women experience.  What has helped me persevere (not always, may I add!) is adopting a different frame of mind – taking self-consciousness out of the equation, and instead, thinking of how my approach or perspective will help or contribute to the greater good. ​I think I have also learned that if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to? ​

How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development? ​

Significantly!  There has been a high degree of the unknown in many of the ​roles that I’ve assumed, requiring me to build from the ground up and making myself vulnerable in proposing new ideas, getting buy-in, etc.  I’ve embraced these challenges, and viewed each experience as an opportunity to expand my horizons and push my limits, even when it felt outside my so-called comfort zone. ​

How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?  ​

I am indebted to the mentoring, coaching and sponsorship that I’ve received over my career.  Not everyone is so fortunate to find at least one professional role model who will understand their challenges, look out for their best interests, provide a judge-free perspective, and who will be there to share all the ups and downs.   Mark Twain once said:  “Keep away from small people who try to belittle your ambitions.  Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”  It is so important to surround yourself with a few people you trust, deeply respect, and who model the positive behavior that will inspire you to realize your potential and, in turn, achieve great things.