“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” — Madeleine Albright
Even after decades of progress toward making women equal partners with men in business, there is much work to be done. The Women in Business Law Initiative, now in its fourth year, highlights Berkeley Law’s commitment to helping achieve this most urgent call for equity at work. As Delia Violante, the initiative’s Program Director explained, “Our goal at Berkeley Law is to act as a catalyst for change in the fight for gender equity.”
The launch of the program’s quarterly roundtable series organized in collaboration with Kirkland & Ellis and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, convened an outstanding group of women, each of whom has achieved great professional success.
A “First Woman” Headliner
The program began with University of California President Janet Napolitano speaking with Berkeley Law Professor Abbye Atkinson about the professional choices she made and why she made them. She encouraged the women in the room to be open to new opportunities by believing in themselves and their abilities. She debunked the notion that a career is a straight line, emphasizing that for most, a career is a series of twists and turns. Her career trajectory certainly underscores her point. In addition to being Governor of Arizona, her career is filled with “firsts”— the first woman to serve as Attorney General of Arizona, Secretary of Homeland Security, and now President of the University of California. In each instance, when the new opportunity came to her, she said “Yes”. And she said “yes” in spite of the enormity of each of these positions. In telling her story, she did not shy away from sharing her moments of self-doubt. She also shared her antidote—face your doubt and go for it anyway! As for fear of failure, her attitude is straightforward—best get over it. As Napolitano noted in an early conversation with me about the need for women in leadership roles: “I think fear of failure has held a lot of women back and we need to change that mindset.”
A Rock-Star Panel
Next on the program was a rock-star panel that included Katharine Martin, partner and chair of the board at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; Phuong Phillips, general counsel of Zynga; Priya Pai, the incoming general counsel of Even Responsible Finance; Samantha Good, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis; and Deborah Kang’s Startup@Berkeley Law director and the panel’s moderator. In sharing their successes and career journeys, they provided a primer for those wanting to take on leadership roles. Here are four key takeaways on how to succeed like the best:
On Being the Only Woman in the Room.
Each of the panelists, at one time or another, experienced an “only” moment. Their advice is to be prepared, enter the room with and take your seat at the table. Speak with confidence and authority.
Cultivate a deep and broad network the includes your work and industry colleagues, clients and potential clients, and members philanthropic and community organizations. Others mentioned how they used LinkedIn to expand their network. All focused on the importance of raising your hand at work to lead or join a high impact initiative. The same applies to opportunities in industry groups.
On Sponsors & Mentors.
All the panelists noted the benefits of mentorship. They also agreed that having a mentor is only half of a two-tier support team. The other half is having a sponsor. A way of thinking about it is while a mentor speaks to you, a sponsor speaks about you publicly and behind the scenes. Another way to look at the benefits of mentors and sponsors is to think of a mentor as someone who will help you navigate your career path while a sponsor will use her organizational capital to help lift you to the next level.
On Playing It Safe.
There was no debate about the importance of taking calculated risks as an element of achieving success in business. Accepting a promotion has risk. Leading a high-profile initiative has risk. Moving to another company or law firm has risk. But with each risk comes the opportunity for growth and advancement. So, the advice is to face the fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt and go for it anyway.
A Final Note
Listening to these accomplished women share their journey and advice, I realized that Napolitano, Atkinson, Martin, Phillips, Pai, Good, and Kang were talking about the process of becoming. And becoming anything is both exciting and scary. It has ups and downs, but boy, when you get it right, it makes it all worthwhile.
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