In my office I keep a picture of three women who Inspired me growing up: Bella Abzug, congresswoman from New York, author Betty Friedan, and journalist Gloria Steinem. These women and many others fought for equality, a fight that I followed closely and believed in throughout my childhood, teenage years, and now adult life. While I am sure people told me “No, girls can’t do that,” I apparently failed to hear those voices. I was one of the first girls in my New Jersey town to join the boys’ Little League, the first in my family to graduate from a four-year college (let alone earn two graduate degrees), and now I participate in women’s amateur boxing.
Both of my parents told me I could do and be anything I wanted, so they were most likely the cause of my deafness to the naysayers. They cheered and encouraged me at Little League, my attempt to use the newfangled computer that turned up at my high school one day, the acceptances to college and law school and business school, and more.
Unsurprisingly, I found a husband who supports me and has invested time in others who are prevented from reaching their full potential. One effort that makes me very proud was his work on the litigation to co-educate the Citadel, the last single-sex public military school in our nation. My favorite anecdote from that time was when an elderly male lawyer declared at a deposition that women can’t do pull-ups; my husband responded “my wife can do pull-ups right now and she is seven months pregnant.”
Finally, I am in a work environment that promotes and supports excellence. No one in my office has ever assigned excellence to a particular gender and no one ever will. The most important thing is to surround yourself with the most supportive people you can find. Some are lucky and have those supporters from the beginning, but once you are able to choose who you can spend time with, look for those who build you up. Remember, too, the cost of that—as you move into positions of leadership, you owe that same support and encouragement to those around you.
How has education affected your career?
Education comes in many varieties. The schools, degrees, and grades may help you acquire a first job or two, but after that it is the informal education you seek from the people and opportunities around you that keep you vital and vibrant. I embrace the opportunity to have lunch with my colleagues, attend seminars and, simply, to read things; this education impacts my career significantly both by allowing me to grow, but also to share with others knowledge that may be helpful or relevant to them.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
No matter what else is going on, always create time for yourself. A woman’s journey through life often involves caring for others outside of her professional life—from partners to children to parents. The actor Will Smith once said that he believes it is his job to make his wife happy because he knows the strength and overall happiness of their family life is fundamentally dependent on her. Make sure you find your own happiness.