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| 22 minutes read

CMO Series REPRESENTS - Embracing Equity: Carving a Path in Professional Services Marketing

Celebrating leading female voices during Women’s History Month and beyond, we caught up with a brilliant group of women in professional services marketing and business development to hear how they have built successful careers and the importance of planning ahead when carving your path in the industry. 

From balancing family life and career progression to knowing the right time to move on, we’re honoured to hear personal experiences and helpful insights from Shirin Hamidi, Senior Marketing Manager at Simons Muirhead Burton, Sophie Bowkett, Chief Marketing Officer at Bird & Bird, Laura Toledo, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Nilan Johnson Lewis, Kim Rennick, Director of Client Relations at Covington and Burling, Archana Venkat, Chief Marketing Officer at Trilegal, Alison Swenton Arjoon, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Fragomen, Natalie Stephan, Chief Marketing Officer at Adams & Adams, Molly Klein, Chief Marketing Officer at Davies Wright Tremaine and Laura Desjean, Head of Client Relations and Education at Tyson & Mendes.


Charlie: Welcome to CMO Series REPRESENTS, brought to you by Passle. On today's episode, we explore how female leaders in professional services marketing have carved their paths in the industry by listening to their personal experiences and advice on how to build a long and successful career.

Our first guest reflects on the inspirational women that have paved the way in the industry and highlights the need for equal representation across the board. We welcome Shirin Hamidi, Senior Marketing Manager at Simons Muirhead Burton.

Shirin: My experience as a woman in professional services marketing has been overall really good. I think that's thanks to the army of women before me that have, you know, worked so hard to change how women experienced the workplace. And I think in marketing and professional services, it seems to be these teams seem to be quite female lead anyway, from my experience. So I've had a lot of, you know, inspiring women to kind of look up to worked with incredible women and you know, working now to kind of be one of those inspiring leaders that other women hopefully can look up to two. But then on the flip side of that there is still this, like, you know, battle for equality. And I think it comes with the more unconscious bias side of things and you only really notice it when you've got a male peer at, you know, a similar level to you. And you just see the differences and attitudes to you and, you know, your male peers. But, you know, for the most case, it's been fine and I think people just need to be a bit more self-aware and, and you know, as a woman, sometimes I've had to work a bit harder to gain that respect that my male peers seem to just get with the territory of being male. But hopefully things are changing. 

I think law firms can embrace equity and really embedded in their culture by making sure women are represented in equal portion. I think at all levels, I just don't think it's enough anymore to have the token woman on a board or, you know, the token woman on a panel, half the world of women. I think I should just be reflected in the workplace. And to achieve that we need probably more fair hr practices around flexible working specific to issues that women face obviously equal pay and becoming active bystanders in the presence of inequality. You know, calling each other out when we see things and making it a fairer workplace. In that sense to my advice for women entering the industry is I think there's a lot of advice out there that suggests, you know, women be louder and be confident and be bolshy and, you know, all of these things. But I think for me, my advice is look for a firm that doesn't quote-unquote force you to act like a man to be heard. You know, you don't need to be more brazen or brash than you naturally are. You should be respected with the kind of, you know, energy you bring as a woman. And yeah, I just think as a woman, your, you know, your natural way and being are enough and they're really important qualities to any role or team or firm and a great firm, I think will just value that not force you to kind of behave any other way to be respected equally. And I think there are lots of firms out there like that. And I,I'm quite lucky to be at one.

Charlie:Next up, Sophie Bowkett, Chief Marketing Officer at Bird & Bird discusses the challenges of starting a family and progressing her career, and how reassessing a work/life balance throughout your career is imperative to longtime success.

Sophie: So my experience as a woman in professional services marketing has been really positive on the whole. I've experienced that classic issue of having children at the same time as getting senior role opportunities. So it all came at the same time for some reason, I ended up being pregnant, taking on the CMO role here at Bird & Bird and starting an MBA in 2020. But I've experienced firsthand that a supportive can really help make that possible if that's what you want. I think a huge part of a positive experience is being able to have an open dialogue about these things. And I think that firms, where that is just part of the culture, will reap the rewards in terms of retaining talented and loyal people. And personally, I'm quite proud that my experience and others in the firm have helped a little bit to normalise and maybe de-stigmatise people going off on parental leave and the impact that could have on their progression. I don't think people necessarily see that as the barrier to progression that it once was perceived as in the past. So that's something that I think has been a really positive experience. 

In terms of how law firms can embrace equity and try and embed that in their culture. There's obviously a fine line to walk between making adjustments for imbalances and positive discrimination which any law firm is going to be very attuned to. And that said, I think firms have been able to find ways to take action to create a more level playing field. And a big part of this is just about culture and awareness initiatives like the Mansfield roll can really help raise this awareness and internally for us when we talk about D&I within the firm, we kind of emphasise that senior management and partners can make a huge difference in applying this lens to lots of everyday situations. It's things like who you'll have a coffee with to talk about career progression or even just to get to know a bit better which team members you bring along to climb meetings or networking events, which causes you're going to focus your pro bono or community engagement programs on etcetera with awareness-raising activities and senior management support. Over time, this lens can be applied by more people to everything that they do until it becomes a bit more of a natural part of the fabric of life at a firm. You really want people to be able to just say, ‘oh, it's just what we do here and then it becomes just such an integral part of that culture’.  

In terms of advice for women entering the industry. This isn't really my own advice but came from one of our female partners. So I can't take the credit for it, but it certainly really rings true for me. And it's to realise that you're going to have to keep assessing how you get that right balance between work and home throughout your career. I remember so clearly preparing to come back from my first maternity leave with a kind of all-or-nothing approach to a flexible working request without a real understanding of how the needs of my family, we're obviously going to change over time. I think I thought I had one shot to create the perfect working arrangement that was going to see my son through until he was about 18. And of course, now over time, I've realised that the kids’ needs and the needs of my family are going to change over time. I think more generally, if we're going to keep people with caring and family responsibilities in the workplace over the long term, then we need to have that dialogue about flexing work arrangements over long periods of time. We need to celebrate role models who have gone from full-time to part-time back to full-time. Again, all those who have had a career break and been able to come back in the workplace and pick up their career. Again, we work for such a long time now that I would just advise women entering the industry and their employers actually to try and view career progression within the context of that wider period of time to help avoid anybody make any knee-jerk decisions about their career based on what's immediately in front of them and what they're going through at any one particular time, employers and employees need to leave the door open for an ongoing dialogue about working arrangements that helped give the best shot of work life balance. And I think thankfully, the rise of remote working due to the pandemic has also helped with that massively.

Charlie:  Many women have experienced some form of discrimination during their lives. And our next guest shares the negative experiences she has encountered and the importance of finding a firm that has the right cultural fit for you. We welcome Laura Toledo, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Nilan Johnson Lewis.

Laura: My experience as a woman in professional services firm has not always been great. I think early on in my career, I would get cornered hit parties. You would ask, you know, as a marketing person, you would get asked to do all the committee work. It was very sexist. Like you were kind of an anomaly and a very sexist, very hierarchical, you know, as opposed to now, which I don't, I feel very comfortable and I guess in this environment, I don't, I don't feel excluded in that way anymore that is, you know, having to do projects that aren't in your real house just because you're good at marketing. So, like I've known people who have had to plan a partner's wedding, stuff like that, like personal parties where it would kind of cross the line. Here at our from our and I've had somebody say something odd to me once and I reported it and it was very much taken care of like I felt safe, you know, it and they listen to what I have to say. So it, there's a big night and day difference, I think from my current firm to all of the other ones I've been at, you know, I talked a lot about having hard conversations and, and that's still true. But I think kind of taking an audit of where you're at and then again, bringing everybody to the table asking literally everybody who works there, you know, making sure that everybody has heard, you know,taking those complaints seriously and then have a plan, having a plan and being transparent about that plan is really important because I think that really shows the commitment piece.

My advice is don't feel like you have to stay.I know that's a terrible piece advice. But, you know, I talked to a lot of people who are dealing with things that really nobody should have to deal with and, and just from a really deep moral level, people using antiquated words to describe people's colour. You know, I still know shareholders who leave their firms and come back and have no book of business. As a woman, you're worth something, right? Don't, don't settle for less because you think you have to do it this way. So, you know, don't stay because you think you have to, there are other workplaces out there for you,

Charlie: Kim Rennick, Director of Client Relations at Covington and Burling joins us to celebrate the female successes she has seen in the profession and how firms can proactively tackle under-representation. 

Kim: My experience has been overwhelmingly positive it's pretty well known that women dominate if you will, the legal marketing and business development profession. And it's an area where women have not just thrived but greatly succeeded. You know, it's a tremendous concentration of women in the C-suite, and a lot of women in the pipeline. And I think that's a good thing. I think that if you saw an all-female deal team or an all-female trial team, it's something that we would readily celebrate and just to be frank I think that business development and marketing is an area of tremendous female success in the legal profession. I think that one of my big thoughts on embracing equity is to not overthink it. Representation matters and sometimes it's just simply a numbers game um when you promote more women or people of colour rather than dwelling too hard on, do they deserve it or what will this other person think who might be more deserving or, or have more merit? Sometimes it's a matter of taking a chance on someone and just putting them forward because the sheer numbers and representation matter and potentially create a flywheel effect that allow for greater equity and representation. So that's my big takeaway. Don't overthink it just do it. My one piece of advice and it's my advice that I give to anyone asking a question about career is play the long game. But in tandem with that, be curious, if there are things that you're curious about, seek them out and that might mean, taking an interesting different twist or step in your career, or trying a different job outside of your immediate skill set, and again, with taking the long view, careers are long, they're not necessarily linear. If you're curious and earnest in that endeavor, there's lots of opportunity to take a meandering path uh in whatever direction you choose and all the way to the top of the C-suite, if that's what you want. So rather than having goals of I'd like to achieve this by this age or that by that point in my life. If you take the long game and try to be true to yourself, I think that you ultimately end up achieving what you want and have a rich experience along the way.

Charlie: Our next guest reflects on her experiences in the industry and the progress that is still to be made to help firms foster equity. We welcome Archana Venkat, Chief Marketing Officer at Trilegal.

Archana: My experience as a woman in professional services marketing has been frustrating and rewarding in equal parts. Professional services marketing is still a niche area, at least in India and except for large firms, most organisations don't employ marketeers. Interestingly, most of my colleagues have been women and I think that's because many women are okay with the degree of ambiguity around their roles and would prefer flexibility in exchange for a very rigorous schedule. Men in contrast, I feel prefer clear roles and responsibilities and of course very clear pay packages. So I've seen a lot more men in business development and go to market roads which are very transaction-focused and a little sales-y if I could say so. Unlike other industries, if you're stereotyped in professional services, there are very few avenues for you to up skill and demonstrate your suitability. For another role, the systems and processes are in that mature and you have to be lucky that a partner notices your abilities and gives you a chance. This is why you will often see marketers with different career parts that can't be replicated and made available to others in the organization, equity is not a value you can cultivate overnight, you cannot get up one morning and say from today, I'm going to be equitable. It is a deep-rooted value that anchors your life if you aren't there yet, personally get there and then think of whether it should be considered at your firm. The problem today with many organisations is that a handful of people think that they should embrace equity as a value and then they foisted down everyone's throats which does not result in a culture of equity to firm starting out on their equity journey. 

I have three suggestions to perhaps fast-track the good behaviour aspect. One, stop differentiating between revenue-generating and other roles. It helps to think that all rules are transient. If a lawyer were to take up the role of a general counsel in future, they would be in a non-revenue generating role on similar lines. If the in-house marketing team which is currently non-revenue generating, should they join a marketing agency? They would all by default be revenue-generating. Encourage internal job rotation. Let lawyers and non-lawyers understand what each other you know does and therefore how can they work together effectively. The last thing that I want to say is put clients first, put your people second and put yourself last. I don't know anyone who has remained relevant in all their career to their clients without introducing new colleagues peers to continue that relationship. So if you focus on what's good for your clients, you will automatically focus on your people's welfare because the next generation of client relationships will be managed by your people. Not you. 

My one piece of advice for women entering the industry is take risks and punch above your weight. You don't know what you're capable of if you don't aim for the stars.

Charlie: Alison Arjoon, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Fragomen shares experiences in the industry and why taken the time to hone your skills will pay dividends in the long term.

Alison: So overall, my experience in professional services marketing has been very positive. I've pretty consistently felt that I am respected and my opinion matters. And I'd say one of the things I'm most proud of is that my first job as a CMO was I was hired when I was eight months pregnant. So I really have seized many terrific opportunities and I really tried to build strong relationships up down and horizontally. And I think that's a really important part of the recipe for success. I love that book by Malcolm Gladwell. One of his books is Outliers and one of the key messages of that book is that success is a combination of hard work talent or intelligence and then luck or happenstance. And so I really agree with that. I've always focused on working very hard and honing my talent, my skills. And then the luck piece in his book says you can't really control that, but I've always try to increase my chances for luck. So increasing your chance to have more visibility, helping others so that people know who you are getting into the right networks and just taking all opportunities that are put in front of you. I wouldn't say it's, it's that it wasn't without or that my experience as a woman in professional services marketing has not been without challenges or occasional unpleasant experiences. Occasionally, I think back to the early days, maybe when I was more junior in my career, not having a seat at the table. Literally like being in one of the seats that was around the table or being talked over, potentially sometimes or having an idea that I raised someone scoops it up and, and makes it his idea and that has happened and I think the most important lesson there is to not let that destroy you and also to do what you can to change that. So I literally, and I know it was a little cliche, but I would literally ask people, could you please move over and make some space? And I would bring another seat into the table if I was around the periphery because you want to be at the table, there's a reason, there's that expression. And if I had an idea that was someone took, that was mine, I would go back and say like oh yes. Right. So we agree. Excellent and not make a big thing of it, but make it clear that is, it's something I raised. So I think it's important to have that focus and to not get distracted by things that could be obstacles in your way.

It has to be a conscious effort. And I'm not necessarily talking about quotas, but having targets and a concerted effort to truly achieve those targets. I always think about the visible versus the invisible equity. So a lot of firms will focus on the things that we, the employees or the wider public sees. But what about the things that are less obvious things such as pay? If you're really committed to equity, then you have to look at equity in all areas. By definition, things are not equitable, there's not equity if there are pieces that are still off kilter and, and imbalanced. So I mentioned pay in particular because this is one area where I've seen and I hate to say this, but it's true. Women through the years sell themselves short.

So my advice for women entering the industry, first thing is to make yourself invaluable. The second thing I would say that's really important is Building networks and figuring out what your key stakeholders and your gatekeeper, what those people are looking for do not be afraid to speak up and do so within the first, I'd say 10 minutes, 15 minutes of the meeting. You don't have to apologise, ask your question. And then my final thing Is to not be shortsighted, take a long view, be in the moment too. So have you have one eye in the future but also be in the moment and take those opportunities and take the time to learn the skills and to get really good at your craft.

Charlie: Natalie Stephan, Chief Marketing Officer at Adams & Adams reflects on the challenges she has faced and how she has pushed against stereotypes to demonstrate the strategic role that marketing professionals can play my experience of being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry has had its fair share of challenges. But I think any rewarding career, this is not uncommon. I use these challenges as a learning opportunity to help me grow, to help me improve. But I think the most difficult thing as a female marketer throughout my career and which every industry find ourselves in is I have to constantly push against the stereotype that we do only provide promo items for our teams. Marketers are then overlooked when it comes to business strategy. When in fact, CMOs are perfectly positioned to help drive the strategy. We know the business. We know the clients. I find success overcoming these by ensuring I'm always over-prepared, be it in meetings, presentations or reports, making sure you've done your research to offer the best possible solution and lastly surround yourself with the best people possible. This includes not on your team but agency partners as well. They can help fill the skills gap and bring freshening ideas to the table. Cementing the success of the team. I think leaders must not be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations. We should be ready to explore differences from peers and colleagues who have different perspectives to what we have to say and then find innovative ways to embrace these differences within their work environment. It's important to not only focus on diversity which is much easier to manage because there are tangible stats attached. We need to move to the next level to ensure we purposely drive inclusion and equity by listening to these conversations. I also believe that strong membership roles within any organization and in any position go a really long way to ensure that equity and inclusion are embraced by the firm in my market career. I think some of the best advice I've received is to say yes to as many opportunities as possible. Don't count yourself out because you don't have experience, put in the hours, learn as you go and produce good work careers are not built overnight. So take the risks and don't be afraid to fail. If the role you find yourself in doesn't fit you move, but make sure you have given it your everything. Secondly, build your network, never underestimate the power of a really good relationship.

Charlie: We're delighted to welcome Molly Klein, Chief Marketing Officer at Davies Wright Tremaine, who shares her personal experiences in the legal marketing industry and how coaching has helped her navigate a successful career. My experience as a woman in professional services has really been an evolution. I've been in this industry for over 15 years now and I've seen it shift dramatically in terms of gender equity it started out, you know, this is an example of a sort of bad practice, you know, early in my career and professional services, it was common for someone to come barging into an office and yelling obscenities and that was that, it just, was not uncommon for that to happen. And that is just absolutely not the case anymore. I'd say, especially over the last five years, there's been maybe more than that, maybe more like eight years. There's been such a focus, especially in our industry on, on raising women up and making sure that women are, there are more women in leadership positions and, and I am, I'm really lucky in that our firm is sort of the gold standard and has been the gold standard for a while now in um in our industry, in terms of number of women partners and women in leader leadership positions. I have co-founded a women's initiative with my firm about seven-ish years ago with one of our leading female attorneys called project W and the initiative essentially supports female founders, get the access that they need to build great companies. So we do accelerators and mentorships and other programming. How law firms can embrace equity and embed that in their culture is really by being incredibly mindful of it. And it's interesting in the legal industry, women are considered, I'm here quoting right now, diverse. So, you know, most in most of the real world, that's not the case. You know, a white woman would not be considered diverse. But that is the case in these more heavily male-dominated industries.

My advice for women entering this industry is to be aware that it is still a heavily male-dominated industry. Even though I'd like to say, you can be your, you know, your true authentic self and just be who you are and you'll naturally get, you know, be raised up that that isn't necessarily the case yet. I've been working with an executive coach for many years who helps me sort of straddle that double edged sort of like behaving like a male leader while also still bringing sort of that authentic, you know, supportive, nurturing woman side of me. So that I can, you know, sort of work with a full, the full spectrum of genders and um diverse individuals at the firm. So I think just expect that you'll still need to do a little work, you'll still need to do a little work on yourself too. And I always say authentic authenticity is a journey. It's not some static thing. So just be open to that, be open to a little bit of change and to sort of like finding your place at, at your firm because it might not just be like plug and play.

Charlie: Our final guest today joins us to share her perspective on how firms can promote equity and why women should focus on where they want to get in the industry to help build a path to progression. We welcome Laura Desjean, Head of Client Relations and Education at Tyson & Mendes.

Laura: I've had the opportunity to work with numerous women who I considered mentors. One in particular, I was originally reporting to her. And over time, we had very similar roles and ended up becoming confidants and mentors to each other. Best practices, I would really say revolve around things like transparency. Having a transparent team has been great, I try to be a transparent leader but also transparency in your work and in your interactions, I think is very important, particularly for women. So many firms now are looking for ways to be more supportive of women, attorneys and staff. And one of the ways our firm has embedded in our culture is our remote work model which benefits all our employees, but especially women who tend to take on more of the responsibilities of the home. So over the two-plus years of working from home, you know, people's lives have really shifted new routines were formed. And many people, I think especially women found it easier to balance home and work when they're physically at home. So, you know, with many firms now requiring their people to return to the office, at least in a hybrid model, if not full-time. I think has been challenging for um for firms to really say that they're embracing equity in their culture. So for us as a way of embedding this in our culture, our firm's opted to allow people to continue to work remotely if it suits them. We have our offices open for those who'd like to come in. But we do want to support our workforce and um and allow them to work remotely if that's what suits their life. 

My one piece of advice for women entering the industry is know where you want to get. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this just in general in my career. But so often I've mentored women or I've had women who report to me say things like I've been here so long. I do a good job but I keep getting overlooked for promotions or for key projects. You know, why or worse, they don't ask at all and resentment builds for being overlooked, you know, sometimes they just become complacent with their role and end up stagnant for too long. Really the question they should be bringing to their manager is I want this role or I would like to be considered for projects like this. What are the gaps you see in my skill set that will get me there when the questions reframed like this, then the person can work with their manager to develop a plan to close those gaps. Get them where they want to be and help with advancement.

Charlie: Thank you to our amazing group of guests for joining this edition of CMO series REPRESENTS. Stay tuned for the next instalment of Embracing Equity, where women in professional services marketing discuss the power of networks and forging relationships within the industry.

You can subscribe to CMO series REPRESENTS via Apple podcasts, Google podcasts and Spotify.

Thanks for listening.


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