This is part two of a two part article about women lawyers and self-promotion by Rachel Brushfield , Career strategist and coach.
Part one explored the factors affecting how women lawyers find promoting themselves difficult and the effect this has on their careers. In this article, part two, she explores ideas and solutions to help them promote themselves. Addressing this issue would help to stem the talent drain of women solicitors through opting out of the profession.
Women have qualities that are different to and complementary to men’s. Rather than trying to copy men, acknowledging the differences and utilising and celebrating women’s qualities would boost their confidence. Women’s skills are great for building relationships, key to happy clients. They can also be used to bring down the bridges that stop cross selling within firms.
Women can help men to be more empathetic and men can help women to take more risks. Identifying the individual qualities of all employees and playing to their strengths would achieve a greater result, as well as provide the potential for skill mentoring in firms.
I find that people have limiting beliefs about themselves or about self-promotion e.g. often women think that singing their own praises is pushy. Examining and changing beliefs is the best way to change behaviour and to boost self-confidence for long-term change. More and more personal development is taking place, especially for women in law firms and the payback will be that women stop stopping themselves. Huge untapped increases in productivity can be realised if procrastination for example was minimised.
A major trend in the war for talent is creating tailor made packages for each individual. The world of work fundamentally needs to change, away from outdated practices such as nine-five and Monday to Friday. Law firms are more traditional than many sectors, and cautious by nature. In addition, resistance to change is normal and natural. Wise law firms will make a huge leap and reap the rewards, motivating women lawyers who want flexible working, and Generation Y who expect it. The reward for biting the bullet and removing outdated working practices will be stealing the best of the cream of talent.
The quantifiable nature of billable hours can make marketing tasks feel fuzzy by comparison. When people don’t feel clear, often they procrastinate, and then feel bad for not being focused. A clear goal or outcome from investing the time in self-promotion is motivating and acts as impetus. The goal will be individual and needs to be compelling and then broken down into simple steps to achieve it.
Time is lacking in our modern world, especially in busy law firms and even more so for working mothers. Creating a regular time each week to focus on promoting yourself can keep the momentum going to raise your profile or get more business from existing clients for example. Reminders can be helpful, for example, using reminder settings on your SMART phone or in Outlook
Some people love networking and others hate it. Anybody can learn to enjoy it if they change their perception of it in their mind. For example with one client, we examined and reframed her original belief of ‘I hate networking’ to ‘I love connecting with people’, which changed how she felt completely. She went from dreading networking to relishing it.
A coaching session is time in your diary regularly e.g. fortnightly or monthly to focus on you with someone who is trained to champion you and stop you from stopping yourself. Coaching transforms someone’s confidence levels and supports them in pushing out their comfort zone to promote themselves. It also creates simple actions on a regular basis to make self-promotion easy.
A mentoring scheme with women partners or senior managing partners who have mastered the art of self-promotion can help and support younger women solicitors. Sharing support, tips and examples of how they overcame their blocks about self-promotion and be confident, not arrogant are very useful. Women’s networks such as WLD through their meetings, newsletter, LinkedIn group and other initiatives provide a supportive environment for women to shine.
Often if you look good on the outside, you will feel good on the inside. Addressing how you feel about yourself on the inside is essential for sustained change. Creating a distinctive look that matches your character and personal brand also works wonders. Feeling good on the inside comes across as an attractive natural confidence, which is very engaging.
There are many techniques that can help you with self-promotion including visualising how you want to come across. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) tools are very useful to enable you to feel confident. Its bizarre sounding description belies practical simple tools to help people to be aware of how they feel, and change and improve how they feel in any situation to a more resourceful state. This is especially useful in situations when people feel less comfortable than normal, e.g. dealing with a bullying boss, an unreasonable client or promoting themselves to secure partnership. Simply by accessing memories in the past when you felt confident or comfortable, even in a completely unrelated context, you can promote yourself more comfortably. By acting confident you can make self-promotion second nature – fake it before you make it!
To leap quickly up the learning curve, consult experts who can help you to create a strategy that both feels comfortable and that works for you. E.g. a communication coach, image consultant, personal marketing consultant etc
Women often have many social friendship networks, including school, NCT and the gym/a sport such as tennis etc, and while these can be very useful, they can be primarily female rather than diverse. They can reinforce women’s natural understated networking style. Try mixed sex or specialist networks such as Business Network International (BNI) or even Toastmasters, a public speaking club to get specific feedback about how you come across, At BNI, an educational organisation, you stand up each week for 60 secs and promote yourself and your firm. You cannot fail to feel more comfortable with so much practice, with such a structure and support! Also, as only one member is allowed for each profession, you don’t need to be self-conscious about what you say, as there will be no competitors present.
Take an interest in areas that you are not responsible for; but that concern the whole firm e.g. attracting and retaining talent or corporate social responsibility and raise your profile indirectly. If you have a relevant cause, it can take the pressure off you and the results of your efforts are visible for all to see if you choose an issue high up on your firm’s agenda.
During your career, create and develop relationships with key stakeholders who will positively influence other key stakeholders on your behalf, so you don’t have to. Some people make careers from other people promoting them. If you choose wisely and support your supporter, you can benefit from their introductions and influence among the people who matter.
In some law firms, your colleague in your own practice group can be your biggest competitor. This structure is divisive and can be especially prevalent when there is a dominance of males, who are often more competitive by nature. It would make much better sense to have balanced teams of male and female partners working together and playing to their strengths. Men could help the women to take more risks, securing short-term deals, whilst women could help men to build rapport and relationships with clients and other departments internally, to build opportunities longer term.
Selling the benefits of their services rather than singing their own praises directly can work better for women because they feel more comfortable. Imagine being a consultant to yourself. What would you recommend then in terms of approaching self-promotion? Think about the benefits of how you can help others, by doing this it takes the attention off you. Women can feel uncomfortable blowing their own trumpet and focusing on what’s in it for them. Sharing the benefits that you bring works well. You will also find that you are doing marketing naturally, as needs and benefits are what marketing is all about.
Try different things and refine and hone your approach to promoting yourself. Law is a very ‘right and wrong’ mindset, marketing is more grey and harder to quantify. The best way to learn what works is to try different things and see what works for you. Why not attend networking events with a couple of colleagues who you trust. Support each other and give feedback to enable each other to learn and make immediate changes.
If you have an issue with the words ‘self promotion’, ‘marketing’ or ‘networking’, every time you think or speak them, you are reinforcing a negative and are likely to avoid it. Create a phrase that resonates with you. For example, if you are motivated to get a promotion because it will mean that you can afford to pay off your mortgage, then call self-promotion your ‘Mortgage shrinking’ project.
Many people fall into their career and don’t think about where they want to be or how to get there. Make time to picture where you want to be and plan your career moves ahead of time. By doing this, you can promote yourself little and often, rather than storing it all up to close to the time when you want something e.g. a promotion. This is what can make self-promotion feel selfish.
Notice which women you know who are good at self-promotion. Spend time observing them and notice how they approach it. Is it what they say? Is it how they say it? Is it how they carry themselves? Is it their smile or laugh? Try different things and see what works for you. Make it your own unique style, but take the best of their approach if it works.
Vicious circle down or virtuous circle up? Law firms need women in senior managing partner positions to help them grow and change. Relationship building is everything in life and business, especially when people are the only differentiator between firms
You can become comfortable about promoting yourself, I promise. The cost of not promoting yourself is too much to contemplate; getting passed over for promotion; being paid less than men; others taking the credit for your hard work. At a profession level, the cost of women solicitors not promoting themselves is unthinkable. The drain of female brains from a profession that needs a paradigm shift kind of change cannot continue. It’s time for women to lead the way.
Finally, here’s a self-promotion tip from Fiona Woolf, past president of the Law Society:
’Always show an interest in people and share an idea or suggestion that might help them. People like to know what you have done that’s interesting and relevant to them and whether they’d like to work with you, so share what you’ve done in an engaging way and be bubbly and enthusiastic.
Writing a short well-constructed article based on research is a great way to get in front of people and post this on your web site. Also, make sure that sources about you are up to date when people Google your name on the web.’
Want to understand what your transferable skills are? Download this free report: Personal skills audit for women lawyers
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Energise are launching a programme of workshops beginning in July 2016 to help you to take stock of and plan your career, and market yourself.