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| 22 minutes read

CMO Series REPRESENTS - Embracing Equity: The role of mentorship in professional services marketing

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, we reached out to women across professional services marketing and business development to learn about their lived experiences in the industry.

We were overwhelmed by the response. Having spoken with more than 50 women about their careers, and how firms can embrace equity to level the playing field for everyone in the profession, it was clear there was so much more to discuss and many more groups that are still underrepresented.

As a result, we’re excited to launch CMO Series REPRESENTS, a platform for discussion with marketing and BD leaders on key issues relating to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion within the industry.

We begin by celebrating female voices and experiences throughout Women’s History Month (March 2023) and beyond.

We invite you to join us as we talk with marketing and business development leaders from top law and professional services firms to shine a light on inspirational leaders, and game-changing initiatives, as they share their insights, discuss the challenges, and best practices to support others making their way in the profession.

First up, we speak with Alessandra Almeida Jones, Global Director of Marketing and Communications at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Alicia Mack, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at Nutter McClennen & Fish, Barbara Bell Malin, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Jackson Walker, Beth Huffman, Director of Marketing at Nelson Mullins, Eleanor Smith, Chief Client Officer at Barnes & Thornburg, Lauren Whittemore, Vice President of Global Marketing & Group Digital Strategy at Intertek, Lisa Azzuolo, Chief Marketing Officer at Bennett Jones and Samantha Maher, Marketing Director at Stewarts to learn about their personal experiences and the strategies and practices their firms are adopting to truly embrace equity and embed it in their culture.

The conversation covers the importance of mentorship for professionals at all stages of their careers, the impact that positive role models have on creating an inclusive and equitable workplace and advice for women entering the industry.


Charlie: Welcome to CMO Series Represents, a new podcast brought to you by Passle.

I'm Charlie, and today we're so excited to celebrate International Women's Day 2023 by exploring this year's theme of embracing equity with leading women in professional services marketing and business development.

This formidable group of women span the globe and all bring their personal experiences and unique perspectives to the conversation around what it means to be a woman in the industry, the approaches being taken to embed equity at the heart of firm culture, and the importance of mentorship and empowering women throughout your professional career.

We're so grateful to all of our guests for bringing their authentic voices and personal viewpoints to this discussion and to get us started we're honoured to welcome Alessandra Almeida Jones, Global Director of Marketing and Communications at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner...

Alessandra: To talk about my experience in professional services marketing and business development, I'd like to start a little bit with my background because I think that frames everything I'm going to say next. You will notice an accent. I am originally from Brazil and I've been living and working in the UK for the past 24 years, which means I pretty much started my career here and very early on went into professional services. I am a non-native English speaker and I am a woman of colour who - in my forties - I have been diagnosed as being ADHD. So I will approach inclusion and diversity from this background.

And I think for me it's been a great experience. If it hadn't been, I wouldn't be in professional services still. Having said that I think the things that made the most difference for me in professional services have been an ability to adapt, mentoring and sponsorship from a lot of people I met along the way, making a choice to work in firms that had a global and diverse environment where I felt I could fit in, but also ultimately knowing and owning my worth.

I think there is still a tendency to associate marketing with something and business development with something that is perhaps a-nice-to-have, or largely administrative or largely executional, and sometimes as a woman, you can get associated with that reputation that is not about gender exclusively, but it is about how BD and marketing grew up within professional services.

So I think to truly embed equity in organisations we need to take things from policy to reality. And I say that actually with great hope because a lot has changed in the past 24 years. So the fact that we're talking about it a lot doesn't mean that things have actually changed, and equity is not just about the percentage of partners, male versus female, white versus minority background. It is really embedding this across the entire organisation so that everybody has an opportunity to participate equally and equally valued regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, gender, neurodiversity, background or anything like that.

My first tip to any women entering professional services marketing and business development is to look for mentorship and sponsorship upfront, professional services firms are notoriously matrixed and they can be very difficult to navigate. And by having mentorship and sponsorship in place, not only will it speed up your learning curve, but you build the relationships you need to be successful and the understanding you need to be able to flex within the culture of the organisation.

The second thing is don't be intimidated by the technical experts you're going to encounter, you have been hired for a reason and you've been paid a salary for a reason, so your expertise is as valuable as the expertise of those you work with and you will work for and you need to come to the table with that attitude. People hire you for a reason so don't forget that, I think that's a very important thing as well. I think the third thing is to be prepared to be very, very flexible. Professional services organisations, they're not corporate, so they tend to lend themselves well to those who can follow process, but also can read the room and can be a big maverick in the style and the approach. Find what is the best way to get things done within the organisation.

Charlie: Next up, we're lucky to hear from Samantha Maher, Marketing Director at Stewarts who talks about the importance of positive role models in the workplace and shares her tips for professionals beginning on their journey.

Samantha: So my experience of being a woman in professional services marketing has generally been a really positive experience. I say that because my career spans 20-plus years and during that time I've had different roles in very different firms and my life experiences have also changed too. As a working parent, I'm grateful to have had fantastic support during my career, over balancing my work and my home life, which on occasion has been really difficult and I think in the firms where generally it's been better, it's largely been because of supportive managers and a firm where really there's probably a better culture around this.

I've got a really good example of a few years ago when I worked in a firm and closely with a group of fiercely successful working parents, which personally really empowered me to work harder and smarter and always consider that sort of value add, you know, I might be leaving you know, the office to go and collect the children, but actually, you know, have I added the value that I wanted to in my day and have I moved something forward. And I think collectively as a group of people, it also led to some very creative and innovative marketing solutions and a really good sense of achievement among us as a team.

I don't particularly want to dwell on any negative experiences I've had. There have been a few but I think most females in professional services marketing BD would probably say, you know that they've had them too. But I think, you know, that the value in those is turn those negatives into positives. And I think these experiences have probably helped me to become much more resilient throughout my career, and I hope a better leader because of them.

So I think law firms can really embrace equity and embed it into the culture by ensuring that diversity and inclusion are at the fore of any sort of people strategy and not only is part of a strategy, but actually, it's about educating, everyone in the firm and making sure that that is transparent and inclusive. At Stewarts we're in the process of refreshing that strategy at the moment and making sure that it isn't just around people, but it feeds into all areas of the business. But, you know, again, the key to the success of this will be around the education across all levels and making sure that there's some real buy-in across the firm.

So, my advice for women entering the industry is really to have confidence in your ability. I think, you know, everyone talks about, if there's a job being advertised, a woman will only, you know, apply for it if they can tick everything off on the spec and a man, I don't know, potentially 10% or something, I can't remember what the figure is, but I think, you know, that that is something that I think still exists. I think there are some very confident male figures in the industry, but actually, I think you know, have confidence and find a female mentor to really help you guide you through your career. I think you know, there are some fantastic female leaders in marketing and BD and they're generally prepared to share insights, will always find the time to discuss issues, best practices and opportunities and I think reaching out and having the confidence to do so is really the first step for that.

I'd also encourage anyone to join all the networks that are available because again, connecting with other people who are doing similar jobs, it's really incredible to understand that you know, other people are experiencing exactly the same issues that maybe you're having and certainly, I've, over my career, have got a really good network of females that I can turn to and have those discussions. So I think really just you know, consider what you want to do in your career, you know have the confidence to do it and really make sure that that you've got some incredible people around you to help support and encourage you to do so.

Charlie: Legal marketing has come of age and has evolved dramatically since its origin several decades ago. We're so lucky to welcome Eleanor Smith, Chief Client Officer of Barnes and Thornburg, who has lived the evolution and shares her insights with us today.

Eleanor: I have been in law firm marketing and business development for almost 20 years and you know, most law firms in the legal industry and most partners that we’re working with the majority of which are males. And there are a growing number of diverse women and diverse partners. But by and large, you know, we're usually working with men in the industry and so our currency, no matter whether you're a woman or a man, as the professional services marketer, is trust and communication but also knowledge of the partners or any of the attorneys really what they do for a living.

So the ins and outs of their practices, the specialities, the markets that they serve, the clients that they serve, the industries they serve in the sectors, what their personalities are, how that plays into it, what their personal goals are for their practice. And the more - whether you're a man or a woman - the more that you can know that inside and out, the better you're gonna be at servicing them and they're your clients. When it is men, and I think historically, years and years ago they might have seen women marketers as just the women who make plan events and make things look pretty. So put the logo on the pdf or put a powerpoint together and make it look pretty. And now we are, all legal marketers, are so much more than that, they’re strategic advisers, they are not order takers and to get attorneys to see that takes confidence but also takes, you have to be in and out and right because every minute that we take up their time is non-billable time. So if we know their practice really well and we can get in and out and bring them productive solutions and then push things forward while they go back to their billable hour day job, then we have done our job. When you were a woman and you were going into a man's office over and over again, or presenting to a majority of men, you know, you've got to be able to show them what your value is and that you're not just the marketing ladies, which I have been called before, who sit, you know in the basement and make powerpoints look pretty because it's so much more than that. But you have to teach them that it is more than that. So I have been called the marketing lady more than once in my career. But over time no one would ever call me that anymore. And that's about being confident enough to show them your value.

So Barnes and Thornburg has done an amazing job of this. So 72% of the Barnes and Thornburg C-suite are women. Having put women in leadership roles helps from the top down. So our firm is absolutely embracing equity and embedding it into our culture by putting and trusting women in the top positions to lead teams to make strategic decisions and by doing so, they encourage us to build diverse teams, Barnes is Mansfield certified. So not only do they encourage it, but it is actually a process by which we manage the firm.

So for every leadership position that opens up, it has to be analyzed and offered to all staff and including diverse candidates and it is strategically done that way, you know, so that we can adhere to that certification. Let's say my piece of advice for women is to look around you and see who the women are around you and pull them up as you go. So rather than hold them back or feel competitive against anybody around you, you know, it's our job to look around and pull them up as we go and you know, I have been lucky enough to work with several women and meet several women who are chiefs in their own institutions.

They are helping me and pulling me up as they go and that encourages me to then turn around and look to see who's around me and I tell my staff this, my team this, all the time. And whether it's a man or a woman on our team, you know, I want them to be better than the person they sit next to or than I am at my job. I mean we all want to strive to be better than the next or to want for more or to want for that higher position or that next step and you know, I want to help them get there and if that means they're going to get there inside Barnes, that's great. But if that means they're going to get there outside of Barnes, that's great too. I'll help support them and pull them up regardless of whether they're on my team or whether they're going to find happiness and professional satisfaction somewhere else.

Charlie: Our next guest opens up about her career journey and the biases she's recognised along the way, sharing the importance of empowering and advocating for one another. We're delighted to welcome Lauren Whittemore, Vice President of Global Marketing and Group Digital Strategy at Intertek.

Lauren: I've been very lucky in my career. I've managed to get a seat at the table, so to speak. And some of that was due in part to my talent and skill set. I would like to think a lot of it does. But the truth is it was luck, you know, and knowing the right people and connecting the right people that gave me the right tools and put me in front of the right people at the right time. So having grown up in this heavily male-dominated industry, I didn't even really notice what was happening around me. I just thought it was another person at the table. But that wasn't the case. For the longest time, I thought that this was the truth for everyone. If you work hard, you get rewarded. It's that simple. It didn't matter what your background was, it didn't matter what resources you had. You work hard, you get it.

It's difficult to say that there's a one size fits all. But I think the first step is for a company to embrace equity in the workplace by recognising that it's a reality. A lot of people want to say, 'of course I'm okay, I'm diverse. We want diversity in the workplace. We want these things. We want equality.' But do we truly understand what it is. And I think to foster an equitable workplace, it begins with cultivating that safe environment for people to have these open discussions and to understand truly what this means. Companies need to be very transparent, very transparent, very vocal and making sure that you’re taking your employees with you on that journey and focusing first on the areas that matter most to the majority, so meaning, prioritising wage equity, looking at cross-level representation, making sure that gender representation is there not just at mid-level management but all the way up to the C-suite.

Lift each other up. We cannot afford to fall back into outdated ways of thinking and acting by pushing other women down. We are our own worst enemy, by really being not always so nice to each other, right? So by holding one woman back, we're holding us all back. We need to really applaud each other's successes. Take the time to rest, understand that we all have our own individual things going on outside of work and making sure that if you are the only person in a room full of opportunities, that you wouldn't hesitate to give another woman's name knowing that that person could supersede you. That is how we're going to fix this situation is when we do this with each other and for each other.

I think the other piece of advice I would give to women entering the industry is to make sure that you connect with, not just the leadership that happen to be women within your organisation, connect with, you can see there are many males also that help pull people up. A lot of the men, they're not the villains here. You know, they've got wives and daughters and things at home. They want this in many cases as much as we do. So I think that it's important to recognise who those standout mentors are, connect with them and just keep working hard and keep looking for those opportunities and keep advocating for not only yourself, but for women in general.

Charlie: It's easy to underestimate the influence our environment has on our experience. Our next guest discusses how her own journey and experiences have led to her role now as Chief Marketing Officer at Canadian law firm Bennett Jones. It's a pleasure to welcome Lisa Azzuolo to the series.

Lisa: My experience as a woman in professional services marketing has been much more positive overall than my experience as a woman in law. However, I believe this has more to do with my own mindset and age and stage in life than it does with either the profession or third-party influences. Our mindset can make all the difference in how we respond to a situation. As a young and naive lawyer, I think I lacked the confidence to lean in, so instead I backed out and while being a woman did impact how I fit into the environment I worked in, I had male colleagues who face their own challenges and female colleagues who seemed to have no fear and fit in just about anywhere.

What I will say though is that our environment influences our perception of things. Throughout my entire youth and education, never once that I feel that being a woman was a factor that might impede my career ambitions in any way. That thought simply never crossed my mind. If it had, I probably would have chosen a different career path at the time. Did I witness examples of discrimination once I entered the workforce? Absolutely. Was I ready for it? Absolutely not. To be honest, I'm not even sure I realised or acknowledged certain moments as discriminatory at the time, like being told by a judge no less that I should not be wearing pants under my courtroom robe and should always be sporting a dress or skirt suit. But I also had the privilege of meeting and working with highly successful women and men who helped me through those early years. I chose to take a different path, but I never attribute my decision to being a woman. The challenges of a profession in law apply to all genders and some of us forge ahead and find our way while others choose to apply our education and experience differently. My education in early years as a lawyer proved to be incredibly valuable in my career in professional services marketing, and this career now spanning more than two decades has been incredibly rewarding thanks to the inspiring and hardworking mentors and colleagues I have met along the way. I feel privileged to be in the role I am today with a team of outstanding women and men and I strive to provide a safe environment where they can share their views openly. This leads to diversity in thoughts and perspectives and ultimately a stronger, more unified team and better work product.

My one piece of advice for women entering this industry, and obviously it's going to be a little bit more than one, but its reach out for mentorship, stay true to your values, and, if and when, taking time to raise a family, don't see that as digressing from your career ambitions. Those experiences are what makes us better and stronger. It might mean pressing the pause button on one aspect of life for a short period and that's okay. As a wise woman once told me you can have it all, just not all at the same time. I credit that quote to our fearless and brilliant Toronto office Managing Partner, Dominique Hussey.

Charlie: Striking the right balance between work and home life is key to success and happiness. Alicia Mack, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Nutter McClennen & Fish, joins us to share her wisdom for cultivating an equitable workplace.

Alicia: So I am very much focused on diversity equity and inclusion. I have always been as what I would refer to myself as a recovering attorney, where I practised at a time where it was up and out and if you started a family, you were considered out. So I am first of all very proud of sort of the advancements in law firm diversity and inclusion efforts and I think it's one of the most noble and respectful priorities firms can have. In order to make it work however, you have to think about it almost that making every decision you have, whether it's who to invite to a pitch, it's who's going to be on a panel who will be part of that leadership committee that you're putting together. And so I would encourage folks if they're going to do it right at every decision-making point, stop yourself and ask the question, am I thinking about this through the lens of DEI? And I think if people were actually taking that pause and asking that question at every significant decision, I think we would definitely as an industry vertical benefit on a macro level. Mentorship. Have many mentors, um not just women mentors, mentors of all shapes and sizes. Not just within your industry vertical but outside of your vertical. So find many mentors and then importantly - become a mentor. It's important for us to be an effective leader to be inclusive but to also sort of take it on as a responsibility to help the next generation sort of advance and hopefully potentially further than we are currently at today. So find your mentors and be a mentor.

Charlie: Although legal marketing is perceived to be dominated by women, there are still disparities when it comes to issues such as the gender pay gap. We're lucky to welcome Barbara Bell Malin, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Texas law firm Jackson Walker, to discuss her experience and the progress being made in the industry.

Barbara: My experience as a woman in professional services marketing actually goes back to my prior life as a lawyer. I've been around the legal profession as a lawyer for roughly the last 30 years and when I began practising law, there really wasn't a legal marketing field, it was very much in its infancy. There's been a lot of change in the professionalism of the field over the time that I have been a member of the legal profession. But one thing that really has not changed is the gender balance in the profession. It has always been a field that has been dominated primarily by women and I think that that is a tremendous opportunity for women to have a seat at the table, and so that's the good news part of the evolution of the profession of legal marketing. But there's also a flip side to that. And that is that a recent survey data as recently as the fall of 2022 shows that men in the field continue to outearn women by a considerable margin, particularly as you get up to the more senior positions in the field and the pay gap is not narrowing. It's increasing and there are also racial and ethnic disparities and compensation. So there are still opportunities for the profession to advance.

There are a number of things that law firms can do to embrace equity and embed it in their culture. At Jackson Walker, the first thing that we try to do is listen to our colleagues, learn from them and engage with them. We do that by doing things like encouraging people to share their stories and their reflections on current events and historical events. We do that in a number of ways. We have diversity equity and inclusion hours that are open to everyone in the firm, law firm and the professional staff alike. We do a program called Together We Dine and again bring together the lawyers and the professional staff and engage in a series of conversations around a meal to talk about who we are and where we come from and how that affects our view of the world.

A final thing that I think is really a way that law firms can help embed DEI in their culture is by partnering with charitable, civic and professional organisations that support and advocate for DEI. So all of those are ways that firms can take specific and concrete steps to ensure that their culture becomes a culture of inclusion.

So one piece of advice I have for women entering the industry is that you can't make it to the top on your own. Every successful woman in the legal marketing industry and really in any industry is standing on the shoulders of those who came before her. And so in turn it's incumbent upon the women who are in positions of leadership today to help others on the way up.

Charlie: Our final guest on today's show in parts how her firm is embracing equity and how her personal experience inside and outside of the industry has influenced her approach to mentorship and the development of her team. We welcome Beth Hoffman, Director of Marketing at Nelson Mullins, Riley and Scarborough.

Beth: I've had actually very, extremely positive experiences. I've been at two firms where I felt like I was respected and that I had a voice and I was always able to say I don't understand and people explained it to me and did it in a nice manner, or they were willing to take my advice as really the person in the room with the most experience around things like media relations, marketing to clients and client satisfaction.

I actually think nowadays law firms are looking to do this at all levels, whether it be attorneys or staff. My law firm is currently doing the Mansfield certification and I think it has really made everybody at all levels think about, are we not only hiring and being equitable in our hiring, but are we being inclusive totally in our culture? And I've seen a huge shift in that in all law firms in the last 20 years.

It is my hope that a woman entering the industry can find a mentor. In the first half of my life. I was a sports writer and really for the most part was the only woman in the room. During my career in law firms, I have made it a mandate for myself to help younger people. I'm proud to say that Robyn Addis who is the founder of #FollowFriday, started working with me when she was just out of college and I've seen her grow so much and I try to work every day with not just the young women, but everybody in my department who, nowadays everybody is younger than me, in making sure that they have a growth path.

Charlie: A huge thanks to all of our guests for sharing their open and honest insights on this first edition of CMO series REPRESENTS and thank you all for listening.

You can subscribe to Passle’s CMO Series REPRESENTS via Apple podcasts, google podcasts and Spotify and join the conversation on LinkedIn. We'd love to hear your thoughts.


e2e, professional services, marketing, represents, cmoseries