This blog is part of our ongoing Women in Technology series.

Kimberly Lerman is a Talent Manager in the Atlanta office of Consilio. She works primarily with attorneys, placing them in a variety of positions in corporate legal departments across numerous industries as well as at law firms.

Prior to the start of her career in recruiting in 2015, Kimberly spent 15 years practicing law in Atlanta, and she was involved in hiring attorneys throughout that time. In her last legal role she served as Vice President & Associate General Counsel for a large company in Atlanta. In addition to seven years of in-house experience, Kimberly also worked as a litigation associate at local law firms, including several years at both King & Spalding and Eversheds Sutherland. Throughout her law firm tenure Kimberly was involved with interviewing law students and lawyers at job fairs, on-campus interviews and onsite interviews. She also was a member of the Hiring Committee at Eversheds Sutherland from 2005 – 2007.

Kimberly currently serves as Co-Chair of the Duke Atlanta Women’s Forum, and is a Member of the Duke Law Atlanta Board. She also volunteers with Emory Connects as a speaker and a mentor for current Emory students considering a career in law, and serves as an Interviewer for the Emory Alumni Interview Program. When not working or volunteering her time, Kimberly enjoys swimming, biking and running, having completed 20 Ironman® triathlons. She is also an avid scuba diver and enjoys standup paddleboarding, nature photography (including underwater photography), hiking, yoga and cooking.

How did you get into this industry?

I began my career by following my childhood dream of becoming an attorney. In 2013, after 14 years of practicing law, I developed an illness that affected me for nearly two years. At that time, I was Vice President & Associate General Counsel at a large company, and I saw first-hand the impact that work-related stress had on my physical health, so I started to consider a career change. I was offered an opportunity to join a legal recruiting firm, and I took a leap of faith and abandoned my legal career track. This career pivot made sense for me because throughout my time practicing law, I was always involved in the process of hiring attorneys. After gaining some recruiting experience, I had an opportunity to join a predecessor of Consilio in a recruiting role, and I never looked back!

What were some pivotal moments in your career that helped to get you to where you are today?

After becoming a recruiter, I started to pay more attention to LinkedIn, and I began to see many articles and posts about personal branding. As a result, I realized the importance of developing and communicating my brand to gain visibility in my professional network, so I began creating a plan. At that time, I did not have a mentor or someone else to help me get a head start, so I knew that I had to work independently, which meant starting small. While planning my strategy, I watched the well-respected women in my industry get speaking engagements and be interviewed by reputable news outlets. I knew I wanted to get to that place, so I put together a long-term plan for how I could get there without relying on help from anyone else. To start, I joined professional organizations, wrote articles, attended networking events, and volunteered to serve on committees that I thought could position me for future leadership roles. As a result, I’m now a co-chair of one of the organizations I joined in 2016. I had five speaking engagements on my calendar for the first quarter of 2022, and I have been contacted by a Bloomberg reporter who read many of my articles and asked to interview me.

Have you ever noticed a time in your career where your gender proved to differentiate you?

Yes, and that was a very eye-opening experience for me. When I was a child, I never felt different from the other kids in my neighborhood, who were all male. Whether it was riding dirt bikes through the woods or playing soccer in someone’s backyard or a game of pickup basketball in someone’s driveway, I always kept up with the boys.

It wasn’t until the start of my professional career in 1999 that I began to perceive gender differences. I started as an attorney at a huge law firm when I was 24 years old but looked younger. It quickly became clear to me that there was a chance I could be mistaken for a secretary, so I made sure that I always looked like an attorney (for instance, I wore a suit to work every day and never removed my suit jacket while in the office). My male colleagues never had to worry about things like that. As I worked my way up the ranks as an attorney, I often found I was the only female in the room when attending hearings, depositions, and client meetings. Fortunately, I was able to build my professional reputation by letting my work product “speak for itself.” With time, I noticed that the men at my firm viewed me as an equal peer in my work. However, it took time to build this professional reputation, and I felt like I had to prove myself in ways that my male peers did not.

Gender differences were not as easy for me to manage in the professional environment that exists outside of the physical workplace. As an adult, when it came to socializing with my male colleagues, I didn’t have an opportunity to impress them with my basketball skills. Since I don’t play golf, I felt excluded from my male peers’ many golf outings. It felt awkward when my male co-workers always held doors open for me. Also, when traveling with male colleagues, they always insisted on lifting my suitcase into the overhead bin, though I knew I was perfectly capable of doing that myself. As a litigator, I often traveled with heavy documents, and when it came time to transport those boxes, the men would always insist on carrying them. These seemingly little things made me aware that my male co-workers perceived me as different because of my gender. I knew that my male colleagues were acting out of generosity and kindness. However, despite proving myself professionally, I still felt like I was perceived as being physically “weaker” because I was a woman. That was frustrating for me because, in the workplace, I wanted to fit in with male peers just like I did when I was a kid playing backyard soccer but blending in socially with my male peers was harder for me to achieve as a professional woman.

What is your advice for someone working in a predominately male workplace?

My advice for men in a predominately male workplace is to consider how their female co-workers will feel if they are treated differently from their male peers, even in subtle ways. I’m not saying that men should never hold open doors or offer to carry heavy boxes. Instead, I recommend that men be aware of how their generosity might be perceived and consider offering to take turns carrying a heavy box rather than doing all the work themselves.

My advice for women working in a predominately male workplace is to constantly be aware of how they present themselves when around others in their professional network. I’ve seen men act immaturely and exercise poor judgment early in their careers and be able to bounce back from that. In my opinion, it’s harder for women to do so. Whenever I have an opportunity to speak with women who are just beginning their professional careers, I always recommend that they be mindful of their behavior when attending corporate events or networking functions. This means resisting the urge to take advantage of the free alcohol, thinking about how they act, dress, who they interact with, and what they talk about. Your reputation is one of your most important professional assets. Also, be mindful of what you and your “friends” post on social media!

My advice for women who are experienced in their careers is to consider making an extra effort to look out for the next generation of women in your profession. Those younger women haven’t had a long tenure in the workplace to gain experience and develop maturity, so many of them could benefit significantly from a mentor. Even if you don’t have the time to take on a mentee, consider pulling her aside and sharing your thoughts if you see a younger woman doing/saying/wearing something inappropriate. Those conversations are difficult and always awkward, but there’s a good chance the woman you are counseling will heed your advice for years to come, and maybe (hopefully) she will pass that same advice along to another young woman in the years to come.

What do you think companies could do to motivate more women to pursue careers in technology?

To help foster a more welcoming environment, companies can plan corporate functions that appeal to a broad group. Also, please try to identify the men who treat their female co-workers differently than their male co-workers. Managers should also be willing to have tough conversations and make the difficult decisions necessary to ensure equality. If women feel valued and included in your organization, they are more likely to stay long enough to mature into leadership roles.