November 6, 2017

Panel Discussion: Leveling the Playing Field

Goodwin recently assembled a panel of professional women to discuss the challenges they’ve encountered in their careers and explore ways to overcome individual and institutional barriers to women’s equity. Moderated by Goodwin associate Kristy Young Coleman, the panel included Mary Cranston, Tina Lee, Judy Miles and Ani Vartanian.

Assembled in Goodwin’s San Francisco office on October 4, 2017 as part of the Women@Goodwin initiative, the group held a wide-ranging discussion on its encounters with roadblocks, ways to effect change within an organization, redefining success and how to position yourself for internal promotion.

Here are some of the key takeaways from their discussion:

The Path to Achievement of Leadership Positions

The discussion opened with each panelist describing her individual journey and how each achieved leadership positions in their respective fields.

Among the common themes panelists mentioned included setting goals and remaining true to oneself. They suggested breaking down long-term goals into “baby steps.” In order to stay focused on those goals over the next five or ten years, they suggested writing them down and reviewing them each day.

When it comes to networking, they recommended making connections in ways that come most naturally. Establish connections that are authentic. Having more meaningful connections will pay greater dividends in the long run as opposed to having multiple superficial people in your network, they said.

They also suggested surrounding yourself with mentors and other sources of motivation. Mentors can include paid or unpaid advisors. Others said they found effective inspiration by working to create a level playing field for their children and for younger generations of women.

Obstacles Overcome on the Path to Leadership

Each panelist acknowledged having experienced “imposter syndrome” in the past and sometimes even now. Some suggested the “fake it till you make it” approach can be effective. Practice speaking with strong body language and standing confidently in front of a mirror.

Several panelists said there are multiple obstacles in the workplace today. Many of the barriers for women are societal. For example, women are generally perceived as “helpers” and “doers” and less often as “leaders.” Panelists encouraged women to speak up about structural and societal barriers in professional settings.

One insight mentioned is that it’s okay to leave an organization if change is not being effected or your efforts are not being recognized. Don’t hesitate to walk out the door and find a place that will appropriately value your contributions.

Recognizing Differences Between Women and Men; Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Research has shown that women and men network differently. For example, women tend to be more reluctant to trade on friendships in the business setting.

One panelist suggested the importance of arming yourself with knowledge from the research done in this area; this will help both women and men identify instances where unconscious bias is occurring.

The need for education on unconscious bias is as important, if not more important, among men and should begin from a young age.

Closing Remarks

A significant contributing factor to happiness for career women is taking risks in the professional setting.

Women who are naturally introverted can be just as successful in a business setting as women who are more extroverted; more introverted women should try to step out of their comfort zone in ways that feel authentic.

Each panelist emphasized the importance of mentoring others, both as a way to help level the playing field going forward, but also as a source of internal satisfaction with one’s accomplishments.

They reiterated the importance of staying focused on your goals and recognizing that the path to achieving them is fluid and there may be multiple ways to achieve success.

More about the panelists:

Mary Cranston is the first woman to be elected chief executive of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and first woman to lead a global 100 law firm. Under her leadership, she grew Pillsbury from a California firm to a leading global firm with 800 lawyers and 16 offices worldwide. She is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, having defended Fortune 500 companies in cases including complex antitrust and securities matters. Today, Mary mentors senior women lawyers across the country and serves on the boards of 10 private and public organizations, including Visa.

Tina Lee is the founder of MotherCoders, an organization that provides women with education and training opportunities to pursue a career in tech. In just four years, the organization has gained national attention, winning a finalist prize in the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge and garnering media attention in USA Today, Forbes and The Guardian. Most recently, Tina was selected by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ 2016 YBCA 100 list, an annual compilation of creative minds, makers and pioneers that are shaping American culture. Other honorees on the 2016 list include Beyonce, Steph Curry and Van Jones.

Judy Miles is the General Counsel of KHP Capital Partners and served previously as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Kimpton Hotels. KHP is a real estate private equity firm focused on investments in boutique and independent hotels. KHP and its principals have overseen five funds totaling over $800 million of equity capital that have been invested or committed in over 40 projects representing over $2 billion in total asset value. Judy spent 24 years in private practice, including as a partner at Goodwin and Heller Ehrman and is a fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

Ani Vartanian co-manages Rubicon Point and serves as Chief Investment Officer. Ani focuses on investment selection and disposition, transaction underwriting and structuring. Prior to co-founding Rubicon Point Partners in 2011, Ani served in the Obama administration where she led a team responsible for the $200 billion TALF program and restarted the securitization market during the height of the recent financial crisis on behalf of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Previously, she was with Rockwood Capital, where she was involved with acquisitions, asset management, and established a $400 million separate account on behalf of a state pension fund.