With over twenty years in law firms, I began as an entry-level billing position, moved to project manager, then to national director of administration for a multi-office firm, to now, as executive director at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP responsible for all operational and administrative functions. In an industry that values Ivy League educations, I snuck in on them.
My life could have been different, but I never allowed other’s lowered expectations to dictate my path. While I dropped out of college, married at eighteen, and was divorced with three young children before age twenty-five, I also harnessed my thirst for knowledge and my deep-seated values of family, service, and respect to help me rise to leadership.
Even at the entry level, I connected what I was doing to the firm’s larger goals. I realized that learning the business of law would make me invaluable to lawyers who focused on their clients. I listened to business needs and applied my empathy, compassion, desire to serve, and natural ability to find and implement solutions. After each success or failure, I took the time to examine how I contributed and how I would react the next time, asking myself what the lesson was. In this way, I honed my personal leadership style and built trust.
My willingness to take risks and critically examine outcomes was crucial to my leadership success. My father embedded this willingness in each of his seven children. Each Thanksgiving, we discussed our challenges, how we helped each other, and what we wanted next in life. There were tears, but we learned that if we believed in ourselves and supported each other, we could never fail. We might make mistakes, but we could take risks and follow our own paths to success.
As a leader, especially during this time of evolution in business, I encourage my team to take on innovative projects, collaborate, and critically assess progress. While we strive for excellence, I also recognize the bravery of accepting new challenges.
Because of the support I received as I made my non-traditional climb to leadership, I am personally committed to opening the pipeline to high-prestige careers such as management and law to women, minorities, and economically disadvantaged children.
What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?
A strategic mindset, flexibility, humility, paying attention to business trends through a variety of media and across industries, and producing tangible, measurable results
Has discrimination affected you as a woman in the workplace? How did you deal with it?
I wish I could answer no. What I can say is that while I may have been shocked and frustrated, I always found a way around it by demonstrating my capabilities and exercising compassion. I have great empathy for the human condition, including for people driven by a fear of difference.