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But What if I Brought My Whole Self?

4 minute read
    Also authored by: Orna Dobner

    There comes a time in your professional life when you look at where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go, and you have the opportunity to make certain decisions.

    For me, this was and continues to be a journey of self-discovery of sorts.

    I am a communications and marketing professional by trade. I work in the legal industry, a sector marked by high performance, competition, stress, intellectual challenge and significant reward. I don’t have an MBA. I struggle with mental and physical health issues. I have a “shoot from the hip” approach that can be both charming and off-putting. I don’t look like the PR/business/c-suite archetypes that my colleagues and competitors throughout our industry do. These are some of the biases I had to break. The ones in my head, that said I don’t have what they have. The ones that don’t make space for outliers. The biggest bias I challenge every day is the one that is perpetuated by my own imposter syndrome, borne of being female in a world built by, and for, men.

    I’ve not broken these biases in every role I’ve held, but every role has helped me collectively meet the challenge. I began my career in this industry as a court reporter, then became a legal assistant and a law clerk, eventually marrying my legal career to my communications training and entering legal marketing. I’ve had the privilege of working at a few excellent law firms with some fabulous lawyers, legal administrators, and business people. I’ve had professionals who mentored me, took an interest in my career, appreciated my efforts, and championed my career path as well as my causes. I am indeed fortunate.

    And in the spring of 2019, I found myself at a new firm, with new challenges and on a quest to redefine themselves. And after nearly two decades in law, I was ready for some change myself. So, I did something unlike me. I put down my burdens, my fears of being different, and instead brought my whole self to Lerners. I brought my sense of humour, my vulnerability, my strategic thinking, my damaged self-esteem, my work ethic and drive to excel, and a commitment to doing things differently. And what I found was that this was okay. That I had arrived at a firm with an entrepreneurial spirit, that is dedicated to legal excellence, and has an appetite to evolve and stand out. And although I never believed that I would fit in, I realized after some time passed, that I actually do.

    Like every other law firm and business, we’ve had to contend with the pandemic, and all the rapid change, anxiety, fear and frustration ushered in its wake. Our firm leadership had their hands full – they were tested daily. As part of the senior administration, I was now weighing in on decisions and issues well beyond a typical marketing person: safety, morale, finance, technology, and so on. And I brought my whole self to the table. I worked on the communications to the firm to try and inform and lift spirits. I facilitated initiatives and programs to support the communities in and around where we live and work. I helped develop our office protocols. It was equal parts frustrating, rewarding and scary.

    And it’s in this context that in the fall of 2021, I assumed a new role at Lerners – one that was new for the firm, and new for our industry more generally. Chief Brand and Culture Officer, leading the firm’s Human Resources, Marketing, Professional Development, and Learning & Development departments. It’s a role that addresses two things: (1) that what happens inside a firm, matters outside the firm; and (2) that our people are our business. It requires strategic thinking, long-term planning, resilience and creativity. And it requires support, which I have in abundance. Staff that are loyal, smart and energetic. Firm leadership that is willing to encourage change and make difficult choices. Colleagues (administrators, lawyers and partners) who are supportive, collaborative, and brilliant.

    So, that’s the end of my tale. For now. If we are to reflect on the achievements of women for International Women’s Day, then I confess to thinking about what I have done. How I broke bias in my own small way, by making room for myself and my career. Discovering it was okay to be myself professionally speaking (on a personal level, this is still very much a work in progress), with my faults, frailties and many strengths. And how I did it with the support of my colleagues, my firm and my mentors.

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