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‘Women are looking for different ways to do BD’

In the age of social media, more women are choosing to network on LinkedIn – as, according to this principal’s research, more find business development harder as women.

user iconLauren Croft 04 January 2024 SME Law
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Sue-Ella Prodonovich is the principal of Prodonovich Advisory. Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, she discussed whether business development is more difficult for women in the profession – something female firm owners have previously discussed with Lawyers Weekly.

Ms Prodonovich recently put out a survey asking if women found it harder in terms of business development – the overwhelming response being yes.

The survey received approximately 100 responses, and the majority of respondents were women with more than a decade of experience, and over 80 per cent were from law firms in Australia.


This issue, Ms Prodonovich said, is something male professionals are “well and truly alive to”.

“It’s still a numbers game. They’re still outnumbering women in partnerships, but have a look at the number of leaders and men and women who are supporting different policies, different styles of engagement, so they’ve become a lot more creative,” she opined.

“There was one comment which I thought was pretty funny in the research, and it was from a female lawyer with quite a lot of years of experience. She said, if I get encouraged to attend one more women’s event talking about flexible work or menopause, at which there are no decision-makers for the work I do, I’ll go postal. But I find it rare that firms aren’t alive to it and doing good things.

“But I’m mindful that if these things aren’t handled with sensitivity, it can become weaponised in a way that women are therefore not as capable. And that’s not what we’re saying; it’s just different. But it’s working around those differences.”

In the current market, BD is also something firm owners need to continually prioritise.

“Thinking about understanding your market, understanding how people are making decisions, making sure you have connections, that you’re growing, that you’re building your reputation. And building your reputation helps the people who already know you,” Ms Prodonovich said.

“You want to make someone who refers you or speaks well of you feel good because when someone looks you up online, [they] think, gosh, that’s pretty impressive. It also reflects back on the referral. So, take sales out of it and think about that ecosystem and the platforms you’re building.”

In a digital age, this also applies to social media – and business development on platforms like LinkedIn.

“If we just look at LinkedIn, for example, and the engagement there, and the sort of unfettered access, let’s say, that we have to our whole ecosystem, not just clients, but others who are influencing, and maybe women have been more adept at that. If there’s the argument, I don’t have this to back it up, but if there’s the argument that they’re putting more time in it, I think they might be being more thoughtful about what they’re putting online, about acknowledging others,” Ms Prodonovich confirmed.

“And women are looking for different ways to do business development. I don’t think they’re shirking it. They just don’t like the sales pitch, and they want to do something that’s – I hate the cliche – but that’s authentic, where they’ve got their own voice. And I think social media absolutely provides that. And that’s why we’re seeing this surge back on LinkedIn.”

Looking ahead, however, Ms Prodonovich said she was “worried for everyone” in terms of economic uncertainty and BD moving forward.

“I think it’s going to hit everyone pretty equally. For me, anyway. I don’t see it as a gender issue, but I do see it as an identity issue. And what I mean by that is women in professional services firms, everyone in professional services firms, there’s a tendency to look up to your boss or to the successful ones, the ones that might have a bit of swagger, or the ones who are technically excellent and respected by all and try to copy that behaviour,” she added.

“And having been through a recession before, I’ve seen how people can start to react. They start playing with sharp elbows, and that’s probably what I’d be more concerned about, those behaviours that the younger professionals are watching and emulating.”

NB: This transcript has been edited slightly for publishing purposes. You can listen to the full episode here:

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