I am so lucky to have this blog as a platform to share content and even more importantly, to share the spotlight with some amazing women in the legal industry. One such woman is Jessica Grayson, the Chief Business Development Officer at Phillips Nizer LLP. Jessica and I were introduced to each other by a mutual dear industry friend Trish Lilley, and we hit it off immediately and had so much in common.
Jessica has a strong background in the legal industry, having worked at Morgan Lewis in lateral partner growth and integration, and at Stradley Ronon as Assistant Executive Director.
Learn more about why Jessica is a woman who wows.
Tell us about a woman you look up to and why.
There are several women I’ve looked up to over the years and each one has given me a gift that I’ve incorporated into my own brand and style. I have fond memories of a manager who once pulled me aside after learning that I had skipped a holiday celebration at my (then) six-year-old daughter’s school to support a client meeting. She knew I wanted to be a team player and the meeting was with an important client.
She said, “Next time you have to make a decision like this, you must ask yourself – in five years, will it matter if I was here for a meeting or will it matter that I was present for my daughter?” I’ve found myself repeating those same words countless times over the years to my colleagues and friends (and I never missed another event).
Do you have a mentor?
I’ve had several mentors throughout my career and learned from each of them. Early on, I worked for entrepreneurs and start-up companies because they offered flexibility. I had three young daughters and the company leaders recognized my potential and gave me opportunities to manage large projects for top clients while working a 75% schedule, which allowed me time to be home early enough to run a Girl Scout troop or get to the softball fields.
I was brought up by leaders who valued culture and servant leadership, which made work fun and engaging. I’ll never forget the time the president of one of these companies put me in charge of marketing campaigns for a relatively new line of business. We were using a formula that similarly-situated companies routinely utilized.
During a planning meeting, I suggested trying something different. I saw the hesitation on his face while I made my case. He resisted at first, then finally nodded and said, “Okay, let’s try it.”
A few months later, we met to review the various marketing expenses and my new campaign fell flat – literally zero return on the investment (and we were on a shoestring budget at the time). We reviewed the reports and when we got to this particular campaign, he asked how it performed, and I boldly stated that it didn’t work, despite our best efforts. He looked at me, smiled a little, and said, “okay, on to the next!” and it was a defining moment for me. If he would have ranted about how he “told me it wouldn’t work” or shown disappointment, I would have been crushed.
At the time, I was 26 and gaining confidence. That day, he taught me a lesson about empowerment and trust that has been a guiding force for my leadership style.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Embrace the discomfort of growth. When we find ourselves in a routine that’s overly comfortable, we aren’t growing or gaining new experiences. Seek out opportunities for growth – personal and professional development, a promotion or new project, running a marathon, writing an article or speaking engagement, etc. If it seems scary, it’s probably worth doing!
How do you achieve work/life balance?
This response is so much different than it would have been a year ago! These days, work/life balance is more blurred than ever. During these cold winter months, we would normally enjoy Broadway shows, the Philadelphia winter opera season, movies and lunches with friends. Since March last year, I’ve been 100% remote and my college-age children are back home and taking virtual classes. This has been a tough 12 months for so many people and I’ve taken comfort in looking for silver linings.
I never thought we would have had this extended time as a family under the same roof, which has been a gift. I’ve been blessed with the bonus time I have with my beloved senior golden retriever. The frantic pace of life has slowed, and while I am busier than ever with work, I’m not rushing off to grab a car, a train or run across town. I appreciate the little things, like a birthday picnic in a park or enjoying my first cup of coffee while watching a peaceful early morning snowfall.
What do you think is the key for success in a role like yours?
Resilience is a necessary muscle that has to be flexed and strong. Bad days and disappointments are inevitable; even the most seasoned and energetic leaders have to dig deep and draw on that resilience to be the force driving their teams or projects across the finish line. The way we react and respond sets an important example and tone for the culture we want to achieve and maintain, especially during challenging times.
Any advice to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
- Get to meetings early to make sure you get a seat at the table – and when you get there, take up space.
- Speak up – your ideas and opinions are not only valuable, they’re crucial.
- Have your colleagues’ backs and cheer each other on – publicly!
- Know your stuff – be an expert in your field.
- Feedback (from reliable sources) is a gift.
- Invest in your own professional development – beyond what your company or firm provides.
- Build a strong network of colleagues, peers and friends.
- Every season of life brings its own unique challenges and rewards; slow down, enjoy successes in the moment and embrace opportunities for growth.
- You got this!