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Breaking Through Bias Andrea Kramer

‘Everything you do is marketing, even if it doesn’t feel that way’

4 Questions with Andrea S. Kramer

I recently visited with Andrea S. Kramer, co-author of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work (along with her husband, Alton B. Harris) and a longtime partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. She’s an expert on issues affecting women in the legal profession, so I asked her about challenges women lawyers face when developing business.

Here are some highlights from our discussion: 

What challenges do women lawyers face when it comes to business development?

Let me give you an example. A male friend who read our book said, “I have a woman partner who does the same sorts of government regulatory work that I do, and when she talks about herself, how important she is, and her successes, it just makes my skin crawl.” I asked him, “Do you think it’s OK for a man to talk about his successes?” He paused and said “Of course… Oh my God.”

We all think we’re bias-free.

This is the problem women have. We’re trained since we’re little girls that we must be modest. If women have success, we downplay it. Well, how can you market yourself as a lawyer without shining a light on your accomplishments? Women face what we call the Goldilocks dilemma: too tough, too soft, but rarely “just right.”

How can we combat bias, particularly unconscious bias?

Knowing it when you see it is the first step. When my friend realized that a woman – but not a man – who talks about her success is unseemly, a lightbulb went on for him. We can’t overcome bias if we don’t see it in the first place.

So you have to call it for what it is.

A woman I was coaching was up for promotion. She didn’t know the head of her local office very well, so I said, “Why don’t you give him a copy of your promotion memo, schedule a meeting with him and talk to him about your hopes and promotion objectives.” She had prepared a fabulous promotion memo, so she went to talk to him. He had her memo open on his desk. He looks up at her and says, “Don’t you think you should be more modest?” She said her first reaction was that she wanted to jump over her desk and beat him. But, she took a deep breath and said, “I can prove every word in it. Let’s start from the top.” Before she got very far into it, he said, “Yes, I see. I wouldn’t change a word.”

That’s what women have to deal with and men don’t. No man has to prove every word in his promotion memo. Only women have to. Is that fair? No, it’s outrageous. But if you can identify bias, it gives you important information. And information is power. It helps us figure out how we’re going to deal with a particular situation. That’s what we call “attuned gender communication” in our book.

In the marketing context, it’s not about you. It’s about what benefit your client or potential client can get from what you bring to the table. A woman can be very effective in talking about how she can help the client accomplish what the client wants because her skills would help the client in such and such a way.

If a woman is seeking a promotion, she needs to convince her career gatekeepers that she brings something to the table that’s in her firm’s best interests and will help the organization advance her career. A little modesty goes a long way. But women have to be more ‘aw shucksy’ than a guy does.

To make your mark in a particular area of the law, you better get out there and write and speak, or do something that can set you apart from others.

Your accomplishments need to speak for themselves. You don’t need to be talking about yourself in the way that men are expected to promote their talents. You can use your representative transactions. You can use that stuff without looking unseemly.

Marketing isn’t just about getting your own clients. It’s also about getting on the right team and building your own skillset. Sometimes we’re reluctant to raise our hands to get on teams or to ask to be put on teams. Women need to practice asking to get on the right teams.

What’s the best way for women to develop relationships with male clients? What’s the gender-neutral version of a hunting trip or a suite at the football game?

If a woman doesn’t hunt, she isn’t going to go on a hunting trip. Same with golfing. But she might like hockey or another sport. You don’t have to do it the way that other lawyers do it. And you don’t have to build relationships one-on-one.

I know a lawyer who hates cocktail parties, but at a table with eight or 10 people, she becomes the point person. This tells you we should do what we are comfortable doing to give us a chance to shine. Try buying a table at a charity event and invite clients there. I’m involved in a charity that provides high school scholarships to inner-city kids. I invite clients and prospects to events that allow them to see me as a leader.

But, the best way to market is by providing such a top-quality product they keep coming back for more.

What’s the key to schmoozing male clients or prospective clients when you don’t want to suggest it’s something other than business?

Do lunch in a place where there are a lot of people you know or you can invite a colleague or two to join you. I wouldn’t go for drinks after work with someone who might get the wrong idea.

There’s also the charity lunch. Find a way to include clients and prospects where it’s not just you and they’re not going to get the wrong impression. Say, “I understand you care a lot about the Dallas symphony. I hear they’re doing a lecture about a topic that might interest you. I’m putting together a small group to go. Would you like to join us?” Or, “I hear you’re chairing the United Way. I’m going to have a table at their luncheon to root you on.”

If he does proposition you, it is often best to try to laugh it off and treat it like a big joke. Then he saves face and you’re done with it. But obviously, each situation is unique and requires a unique response.

Women need to understand that they’re marketing their skillset. Everything you do is marketing, even if it doesn’t feel that way. It’s a way of showing other people what your capacities are. If it’s speaking or writing or participating in a charitable event or taking someone to a hockey game, that’s marketing.

You don’t have to do it alone. If you feel uncomfortable being one-on-one with some of your client prospects, find situations where you can invite them where other people are involved where it’s not going to get misconstrued.

Andrea Kramer is one-half of the Andie & Al website, where they promote gender equality. You can follow them on Twitter at @AndieandAl. Their book, Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, is available online and at local retailers.

Muse Communications helps lawyers, law firms and legal services companies tell their story and grow their business through content marketing and highly targeted media relations. For more information, contact us at info@muselegalpr.com.

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