So I lied. Yesterday I said I would give you the solution about how women can drum up clients in a boys' world. To be honest, I haven't the foggiest.
And neither does anybody else. I asked some smart, accomplished women--partners at major firms and business development experts--and no one came up with a satisfactory answer. I knew the situation was bleak when Ellen Ostrow, a well-respected career coach, said to me: "There are systemic problems, and creating women's initiatives and giving them money won't do much." As for coaching individual women about client cultivation, Ostrow says, "That won't address the systemic problems." And this is coming from a career coach!
Then there's this comment from a new Am Law 100 female partner who's been getting training and mentoring from her firm on client development for the past year: "Men seem to have an easier time at it--and the firm's not sure what to do about it."
So women are trying, and (some) firms are trying to help them--and it's still not working. Until the revolution arrives, is there anything women can do to change the power dynamics?
If you ask me, a good start would be for women to get greedy. A lot greedier. Truth is women have not completely shaken the good-girl syndrome. One manifestation is their reluctance to get dirty about money issues.
Remember that intriguing factoid from the Am Law New Partner Survey--how 15 percent of new female partners are unable to describe partner compensation at their own firm? Well, I was floored--embarrassed by my own sex--by that lapse. But that kind of ignorance didn't surprise a lot of people in the trenches.
"I get calls from women who are up for partnership, and I'll ask them about the compensation system and what capital contribution they need to make," says career coach Ostrow. "And they'll say they don't know because they think it's not polite to ask."
The head of Women in Law Empowerment Forum, Elizabeth Tursi, spells out another reason women don't ask about finances: "It's called F-E-A-R, and fear is a major obstacle to women's success."
That squeamishness to talk about money might also be why women find it difficult to be up front about asking for business--even from their best source: in-house women. “Women interact differently from men, and in my conversations with in-house women, we tend not to talk about business development,” says the new Am Law partner. She says women will chat about the substance of their work and their families.
But when she does broach the subject of business development, she gets a positive reaction. "It's something I have to make a conscious effort at, but I found [potential clients] to be receptive."
So go out there and dip your hands in the money. That's why you're sweating to develop business--and why you are where you are. If you're doing it for any other reason, don't bother.
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