The best way to stand out in any group is to become a part of it. I work and live in Riverside, California, where I have become very involved in local organizations—as president of the Riverside County Bar Association and as a member of the City of Riverside Human Relations Commission, which works to ensure equality to all. I am currently a member of the Raincross Group, an assemblage of community leaders who promote important Riverside issues, and serve on the boards of the Library Foundation, the Riverside Art Museum, and the Riverside County Dispute Resolution Service. Early in my career, I participated in Leadership Riverside, a year-long chamber of commerce program that allowed me to get to know some of the city’s leaders.
However, it takes more than just joining groups. It is important to get to know the other participants and build personal relationships with them. I find that my friendships gravitate naturally to women I meet professionally, and I would recommend the same approach for other women. Another way to stand out is to work harder and be better than anybody else at what you do. For women, especially, there are still barriers. But if you prove you are the best, it is much more difficult for anyone to discriminate against you.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
To be successful and stay competitive, you must take risks. When I started working on the legal aspects of Habitat Conservation Plans, it was very intimidating. Ultimately, though, you’re not going to get good—or great—at something until you do it. It is important to immerse yourself in the subject: Research and talk to senior people in your profession. It’s also vital that you find something you feel passionate about. I consider these Habitat Conservation Plans to be my biggest career success and what I’m most proud of, as they allow important development, but also require planned conservation.
Michelle’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Women starting their careers can distinguish themselves by working very hard, becoming “go to” experts, and developing personal relationships with other professionals. As a female attorney, I’m especially grateful for the friendships I have formed with women clients in leadership positions. As women assume more leadership positions, the opportunities to develop such relationships will grow. Additionally, women should seek leadership positions within their organizations and not just let the men do it. I was one of the first women at my firm to serve on our executive committee. I am very grateful to practice at a firm that values diversity.