Andrea Collocott has worked for more than two decades in legal services, beating new paths in the marketing and branding of law firms. In this interview the Johannesburg-based entrepreneur talks about how African women should support each other in the workplace and embrace technology to find balance and get ahead.
“We women are not particularly good at supporting each other,” says Collocott, who recently opened AC Marketing Consultancy in Johannesburg, “Of course, I am generalising but women need to be better at this. We have to tread this fine line - being there for each other while at the same time fighting our own gender bias in the workplace. We can begin to address this through mentorship, skills development and networking opportunities, for example.”
Collocott has worked for several of Johannesburg’s major law firms, such as Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, Bowmans and Baker McKenzie, developing their marketing departments and building their brands.
She began her career in financial services - from the ground up - with international bank, HSBC, dirtying her hands and dealing with people at all levels. Along the way, she was lucky to have mentors who facilitated her growth and pushed her to be the best she could.
She then rolled out an international brand in Africa, guarding its global integrity while at the same ensuring it worked within the local markets. After this, she moved to London where she managed a brand for two London insurance companies.
“It was an incredibly fast-paced environment and I needed to get the hang of things really quickly.” But, as fantastic as the experience was, Africa called her home.
It was then she stepped into the legal sector.
“I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most brilliant legal minds on the continent. The exposure to various African countries has been invaluable. I have also been very fortunate to be actively involved in two law firm rebrands.”
Now, running her own company, she is finding the years of experience in legal services has enabled her to develop a framework to help other types of businesses thrive.
“It is a big shift in focus, having been in corporate for my entire career.”
Her role models are ex-president of Malawi, Joyce Banda and Graça Machel, the Mozambican politician and humanitarian.
“These women epitomize the true African female spirit of being inherently strong and yet incredibly humble,” she says.
Stella Ndikimi, of East African Law Chambers and Jen Stolp, a partner with Baker McKenzie are also women that Collocott looks up to.
“These women have become senior partners in a male-dominated environment. They are exceptional lawyers and consistently mentor the women around them. For me, they embody the spirit of African women,” she says.
She notes that working environments are becoming more flexible with the “virtual office” meaning there are endless opportunities for women to work anywhere, including throughout Africa. This flexibility is good for women who are often tightly balancing personal and career demands and need more innovative working structures. Support networks for women are also important.
“Supporting each other will make us automatically stronger and more successful. I believe that women in Africa are hard workers and we will do what it takes to be a success – not only in terms of money or status but also in terms of respecting ourselves as equals.”
The person who does well in Africa has their feet on the ground, she says.
“Africa is about relationships and, if you are not visible, you can forget about doing well.” Throughout her career, she says she has seen that the people who have been most successful in Africa are those who have taken the time to understand the complexities of the country, sector and companies they are dealing with. They are also on the ground, meeting and getting to know the people they are dealing with on a regular basis.
“I am a true African, I love our diversity, our cultural differences and rich heritage, in all its complexity. I also love the landscape, which is so vast. The bush, the beaches, the wildlife - it is unlike anywhere else in the world. I have traveled extensively both internationally and locally and I have to confess I am happiest with the African sun on my back.”
Andrea Collocott’s 5 tips for women to do well in legal support structures
Understand the pressures of your internal and external stakeholders;
Prioritise your workload – everything is urgent in a law firm – it’s how you manage that;
You are in a service environment, your job is to provide the most professional service you can to both internal and external stakeholders;
Have a clear understanding of the business and business structure – the legal platform is changing with a move to more cross-practice and cross-industry structures - and legal support needs to understand how this will impact them;
Change is the one constant, be adaptable.
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