Charting a career in legal marketing is not unlike other professions: it comes with many great, and some not-so-great, elements. It’s an interesting career path—one many don’t purposefully choose, but often discover. And often, once you’re in, you’re in for life. Well-established legal marketing circles are tightly knit and highly collaborative. The unique experience of working in, for, or with law firms and lawyers is the foundation for many career-long relationships.
In an industry that remains dominated by men, legal marketers overwhelmingly tend to be female. A 2018 ALM Intelligence study showed that 71% of C-level marketing and business development positions and 72% of director positions are held by women. Further, 85% of managers in marketing and business development departments are female. These statistics continue to outpace the general business community (although it seems to be catching up).
Until very recently, I have worked exclusively for women in my marketing career, which is not surprising given the statistics above. In my experience, the best female leaders are those who are direct, challenge us to rise to the occasion, and who support our growth – both inside and outside the confines of our current professional situations. I have had the privilege to work for some tremendous female leaders who have simultaneously been my mentor, friend, coach, and colleague.
At the same time, through my nearly 20 years in professional services and legal marketing, I have had my share of ups and downs when it comes to female leaders. Along with so many of you, I could share stories of negative experiences working with and for other women. Women who took credit for our work, who badmouthed us to make themselves look better, or who stepped on our backs to further their own careers. However, these stories truly are the exception, not the rule, and that’s not what this article is about.
Rather, this is about what I have learned from these encounters, and how we can all foster a supportive and uplifting community for the women in our lives. Through these challenging episodes, I discovered a rich and amazing network of female colleagues and peers who, like me, are determined to change the experience for the women we know. These are women who embody the spirit of a professional partner, whose efforts are altruistically focused on supporting one another’s growth and professional development.
We have a duty as women to support one another and create opportunities rather than barriers for those following us. What’s more, evidence shows that nurturing relationships with women can support your own career trajectory. Society is riding a female-led wave of change that is permeating popular culture and professional businesses alike. It is recognizing the many ways strong female relationships in business benefit not just each other, but the organization at large.
Why should you be a supporter of the women you know, and how can you become one?
Give and receive candid feedback.
Studies continue to show that women are not given the same level of feedback as their male peers during professional review cycles. Evidence indicates reviewers are afraid of how women will take the feedback, among other reasons.
In every positive female relationship I experienced, open and honest communication is paramount. Delivering candid feedback can be uncomfortable. It requires both the person sharing the comments and the recipient to be vulnerable about the other’s reaction. And it also demands the person receiving the feedback to be open to what is being said and to assume good intent in the message.
One of the greatest gifts I have received is feedback that is difficult to hear. Do I love it in the moment? No. But on reflection, knowing that the feedback has come from a place of genuine concern for my growth helps me open my mind to what is being said. Having that experience has, in turn, taught me how to deliver feedback to others in a constructive and thoughtful way.
Feedback, whether it be between peers or leaders and subordinates, has to be a two-way conversation that relies on open communication and consistency. Like a muscle developing memory, the delivery and receipt of candid feedback gets easier each time you do it.
Help expand each other’s relationship networks.
Helping women gain visibility in professional circumstances is not merely a nice thing to do—it’s our responsibility. By introducing women in our networks, we help those women gain visibility and create new opportunities for mentorship and collaboration.
“Engaging in networking is crucial for career success,” according to a study by SAGE Publishing. Yet women fall behind when it comes to networking consistently and effectively. The study indicated that women tend to be victims of their own self-imposed obstacles. Women generally undersell their value and are reluctant to mine their networks to further their careers.
How can women overcome these barriers? By fostering a strong, tight-knit, and diverse group of peers to support and create opportunities for one another. We have the power to welcome women into our organizations and networks and help them feel included. With great power comes great responsibility.
While we have many shared and similar experiences, our lives are very different and distinct. The ability to understand and share in the feelings of someone whose experience does not directly mirror one’s own offers an opportunity to see a situation through a different lens.
If I have learned nothing else in my career, I have at least learned this: diversity of perspective creates stellar results. I often joke, “Of course I think it’s a great idea—it was mine.” What I’m really saying is, without seeing the situation from someone else’s perspective, it would be very difficult to improve. But by simply inviting varied perspectives to the situation, the possibilities are limitless.
Just because we are women, doesn’t mean we’re the same. We must respect what the other person brings to the table and celebrate individuality. This support is incredibly empowering and helps others to see what we see in each other.
Coach each other.
A great coach challenges you to think outside of your own perspective and come at the situation from a different angle. Coaching also helps you see the best in yourself and project it out into the world. In my experience, coaching often centers around how we can advocate for ourselves.
I genuinely love to coach. One of the most rewarding experiences of my recent time as director of marketing at an AmLaw 100 firm was coaching the new managers on my team and teaching them how to coach their own teams in turn. I also often find myself coaching amazing women you’d think might not need it, including C-suite executives and high-powered leaders of large organizations. Even these women need help dissecting a situation, working through their approach, and identifying the strongest talking points. The result, in either case, is a leader confident to enter the fray armed with the knowledge that she has someone in her corner who believes she can take on the world.
Finally, be resilient.
Resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress… As much as resilience involves ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”
Resilience is built upon all the elements I’ve described here. It begins with being open to, and learning from, feedback. It comes from putting yourself in another person’s shoes and seeing the situation from her perspective. It develops out of new and varied interpersonal relationships. And it is fostered by the coaching we receive from a person who always has our best interests at heart.
Legal marketing as a profession has seen tremendous growth and diversification, especially over the past decade. Marketing and business development leaders at law firms are being measured against constantly evolving expectations. The more we—as women, as executives, and as leaders—can do to support one another during this evolution, the better we can all serve our firms and the industry as a whole.
About the Author
Robyn Addis is chief operating officer of Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated (LISI), a Philadelphia digital marketing agency focused on the legal market.