Interview with Jacqui Marshall

Sarah Ingwersen International Women's Day, Career Advice

 I find that immersing myself in doing the job and learning something new is an enormous help and confidence-builder. 

We interviewed Jacqui Marshall, Executive Vice President, Legal Affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment as part of International Women's Day 2019. We wanted to understand the role confidence has played in her career.

How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace? 

I would sum it up as resilience, self-belief and an ability to see that failure is acceptable. 
How do you think the confidence gap affects women?

I think what we call a ‘confidence’ gap is in part a ‘sense of entitlement’ gap. Sometimes this means that women do not feel entitled to push their point of view in meetings, particularly when ignored or interrupted, or we do not push for career progression or change in working practices to accommodate our lives, because we do not feel entitled to a successful career as of right.  

Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.

Change is happening slowly because the working world was designed by men for men. I think there is no doubt that confidence has improved as ideas about women in the workplace have evolved, but to make real steps towards parity of confidence levels we need to address the issues on a daily basis.  

How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why.

A certain amount of natural extroversion, and an occasionally naive self-belief, have been factors in my career progressing in a manner that wasn’t always as planned as it might appear. My willingness to engage with people at all levels of organisations and to turn my hand to whatever turns up on my desk, both of which are borne in part, of those traits, have been hugely helpful, but I have also just been in the right place at the right time sometimes, so those traits are important yes, but certainly not the whole story.  

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”)? If so, how did you overcome it?

I have imposter syndrome on a regular basis and have had it persistently during some periods of my career. I believe that in the legal profession (and in other careers) a significant dose of self-doubt is very useful if put to the right use. When I feel this way, I simply work. I find that immersing myself in doing the job and learning something new is an enormous help and confidence-builder. 

How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development?

Lawyers are not normally natural risk-takers and I am no exception. I have taken risks on new roles and in being assertive in circumstances where I have felt that the best course of action was not risk-free. I have also made mistakes at times, not because I took a reckless risk, but because one of the plates spun too slowly and fell, or because I took my eye off the ball for a second. I believe that one of the most important things women need to take to their hearts is that the response to failure has to be positive. We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, learn from the mistake and turn it around, even if that takes some considerable time. If risk-taking loses its immense fear factor in women’s assessment of their work, then that will change the game.  

Can you give an example of a risk you’ve taken that has paid dividend?

Six years ago, I took a chance on stepping up to lead the corporate legal team for EMEA for Sony Pictures. I had two children of 1 and 3 at the time and did a lot of soul searching before I took this step. It has been the most challenging and fascinating role and has taken my career to somewhere I never expected. 

How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?

Mentoring and coaching are about sharing – we need to share our stories of success and failure and accept that our careers are equally worthy of the air time to do so. I think there is a very broad church within the words mentoring and coaching and we should embrace all of those activities, accepting that it is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. I also think we should not make assumptions about who is appropriate to mentor and coach based on gender, seniority or any other factor. Sponsorship is, if anything, even more important. What we say about each other when we are not in the same room is vital to improving profiles, succession planning and adjusting perceptions generally. We can’t do enough on this front.   

How can confidence-building be built into career development strategies?

There are so many small adjustments that we can make to facilitate change that it is hard to know where to begin! I think that formal leadership training, both for male and female managers who may not be alive to the impact of certain approaches on female reports, mentoring, coaching, sponsorship, empowerment and creating a safe space for discussion and learning are all big-ticket activities we should engage with. However, there is also the day-to-day mindfulness of the issues – did that sole woman in the meeting get shouted down? Did the woman returning to work feel able to apply for that promotion? Did someone assume that the women did not want to go to the football with the clients and/or that they know nothing about it? 

What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her?

This is a really tough issue. There is a great truth in the assertion that women are expected to be relentlessly pleasant in the workplace, and the tolerance level for assertive behaviour does seem to be in a different place for women than for men. However, using greater intelligence, success or power as a weapon is inexcusable for all genders, so we must be assertive and stand our ground without succumbing to lazy and unpleasant tactics. I think coaching for and practising conflict conversations is key to this issue. I also think there is an easy mental exercise to do in any situation where we are about to label a woman as bossy or something worse – we should simply swap her for a man in our minds and see if a different emotional response results. For good and bad, I think it works.