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Women's Personal Stories Matter

Originally published in Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute Blog

· CLOC,Leadership,Personal Stories

LAS VEGAS — At last week’s CLOC Institute, the annual gathering of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, the personal story took center stage, starting at the event’s first plenary session.

At the session, “Women in Legal Leadership Roles: The General Counsel’s Perspective,” Connie Brenton, CLOC’s indefatigable CEO asked Janet McCarthy, Global General Counsel of The Santa Fe Group, and Jennifer Warner, Vice President of Legal at Columbia Sportswear Company, to share their career journeys — the good times and the bad. And both of them did in a manner that was uniquely theirs in tone and content, yet both stories shared a mix of candor, humor, and poignancy.

Their Stories

In telling her story, McCarthy shared with the audience how she had risen to the top legal position in three different companies. In each instance, she gave credit to the individual who had recognized her talent and her contributions. And in each instance, it was a man who sponsored her ascension.

She also shared more than a few experiences of men behaving badly at work. “Each of us has a story,” McCarthy said. “[Mine] is characterized by some incredible men who sponsored me along my journey, and then by some people along the way who tried to take me down a few notches.” By the response of the audience, it was clear that the men behaving badly scenarios had been experienced by some, witnessed by others, or both. Then, after sharing these string of bad behaviors, all done in the company of others, she asked, more than once, and with incredulity, “Why did no one raise their hand?”

Warner’s story differed from McCarthy’s in that she has not experienced flagrant acts of sexism. However, in a previous position, she learned that she had been paid 25% less than a male colleague doing the same job. This pay gap happened under the watch of a female GC and was righted by her successor, a man.

Warner’s story also weaved a very personal journey of family history and personal identity. She shared these personal details — her own sexual identity and her mother’s mental illness and homelessness — to underpin one of her most salient observations: the assumptions we make about another person may be all wrong.

She illustrated the point by noting how false assumptions in hiring decisions can lead to not hiring the best candidate for a position. For example, she explained, the false assumption that working mothers do not have the same level of commitment as a man or a single woman, has kept quality candidates from being hired.

Warner then encouraged the audience to follow her own prescription — a committed vigilance against treating assumptions as facts by asking yourself, “[W]hat decision would I make if I hadn’t made those assumptions?”

The personal story teaches and inspires, and clearly resonated with the attendees at CLOC. At its most profound, the personal story also challenges. In sharing their stories, Janet McCarthy and Jennifer Warner did all three.

It’s no surprise it happened at CLOC.

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