When we discussed the themes for this Deep Dive Delaware roundtable on Women in Business, we decided to focus not on “diversity and inclusion,” but on bringing together successful women professionals who could offer their thoughts on navigating the often-choppy waters of building a career. They talked about finding mentors and being mentors, helping each other succeed, and about the challenges they face and the challenges future generations face. This discussion has been edited for length and clarity and we welcome comments to our moderator, editor Peter Osborne or in the comments section.
Bridget Paverd: I recognized a professional PR need and tenaciously went after it. And regularly worked a 70-hour week for five or six years and steadily grew my client base and company.
Colleen Perry Keith: I just took a chance on applying for a job. It moved me from middle management at a large state university to senior management at a small private institution. I didn’t think I would have that opportunity, but the job sounded really interesting, and that was the chance and I just kept going from there.
Patti Grimes: Similar to Colleen, I took my first job and said I’m not qualified for it. And it just continued to open up the door for the next right opportunity. And, Bridget, hard work and tenacity are just part of the fiber of success.
Bethany Hall-Long: Piggy-backing to “the fiber of success” for myself was kind of twofold. Both in a professor/nurse role but then as lieutenant governor after being a member of the Senate and in the House prior, it really was the hard work. But also earning your stripes and learning the ropes. I was lucky to have a couple solid mentors.
Doneene Damon: I think that’s right. I often say I didn’t find the law, the law found me. From ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer and I have no idea why. I’ve found myself in a leadership position, not because I was necessarily going after it, but because I was asked numerous times, you know, to serve. And you know, I grew up in a home where when you’re asked to serve you serve because people may see something in you that you don’t necessarily see in yourself. And I think that was definitely my case, where I never aspired to be the managing partner, but I’m thrilled to be in the position.
Kate Lyons: I would have to agree that jumping in, whether you’re ready or not, is a differentiator. Women question whether they’re prepared enough. But if you take the chance, the worst you can do is fail, right That’s when you learn. And then you try again.
Jen Schwartz: And I’ll just echo hard work and drive. I’d also emphasize developing your relationships to now developing your connections, maintaining them because they are invaluable in the end when you’re trying to step forward.
Can you talk about someone who was a particularly good mentor for you and also your process for choosing perhaps a mentee and what you expect out of them?
Paverd: I arrived in Delaware with a language impediment [South African accent] and some cultural insensitivities. Shortly after our arrival, I was given the opportunity to present at a communication conference. Katherine Ward was in the audience – she was the president of the Delaware Press Association at the time. Katherine came up to me after the presentation and complimented me on the content and also gave me a few lighthearted pointers about Delaware audiences. She suggested I avoid using colorful language – Delawareans were more conservative than New Yorkers. Katherine has stayed accessible to me for 20 years. I hold her entirely responsible for the growth of my business because she was unabashedly invested in my well-being and my success. So, I was very lucky. We are very big at mentoring at GillespieHall. We look for young men and women who are curious, tenacious, eager, and who are willing to absorb and apply the information that we share. But if you don’t show up, you’re out. I’m not interested.
Damon: My first mentor was an older white male partner in the firm. I was sent to New York three months in to practice closing the deal on my own. I walked into one of the largest conference rooms I had ever seen, and it was full of white men. And when I walked in, a gentleman looked at me and told me, “You can drop those there.” He thought I was the messenger. And when I said, “Well, my name is Doneene Damon, I’m from Richards, Layton and Finger.” He said, “Well, you can have a seat in the back until the lawyers arrive.” And to say I was horrified is an understatement. I called my husband first, almost in tears, and he said, “If the firm didn’t think you could do it, they wouldn’t have sent you, so you can do this.” The second call was to my mentor and when I explained to him what happened, he said, “March yourself back in that conference room and call me from the speaker phone.” And I did. And his comment to the room was, she’s there to close this deal and she won’t close unless every comment is addressed. And that’s what I needed. I needed to know that he had the confidence in me and hearing him make that statement and knowing that he had my back made all the difference in the world. That for me from a career perspective was life-changing because I knew at that moment that I could trust him, but that he also trusted me.
Paverd: That’s right. That he absolutely trusted you.
Damon: Mentors come from every gender, every race, age, you name it. And I think to the extent we find ourselves limiting our search for a mentor to someone who looks like us, we disadvantage ourselves. The goal is to find someone who you have a relationship and a rapport with who’s willing to invest in you and your career. And I think it’s my responsibility at this stage in my career to mentor as many people as I can. And I tell young professionals all the time that it’s about opportunities and possibilities and leaving yourself open to both of those and understanding your worth and having the right support along the way.
Doneene, you have a very large firm. How do you decide whether to mentor a person A, person B, person C? Is there something you look for or do they need to approach you first?
Damon: Our firm has a requirement that associates wait until their second year to choose a mentor to give them an opportunity to meet people and see who they might have a relationship with. I mentor lots of young lawyers, both inside and outside of the firm. I never say no. And here’s why: If someone approaches me and says, “Doneene, would you mentor me?” I’m not going to say no to that person. The relationship may differ from one mentee to the next to the next, but I hope I can give some value to each of them, in whatever way is most valuable to them. If a young person says, “I look up to you, I’d love for you to mentor me,” I view that as an honor quite frankly. And you know, I make the time to do that because I think it’s incredibly important for us to develop that next generation.
Keith: The term “relationship” has come up a ton. I don’t think I’ve ever had a formal mentoring relationship. There’s usually been somebody who I’ve had a strong relationship with and that evolved into more of a mentoring relationship. It’s that authentic relationship that’s key. And sometimes I think that’s where the formal mentoring programs in various organizations fail because we’re putting people together and there’s no authenticity.
Paverd: And those relationships can be reciprocal because we can learn so much from each other. And as women we should be teaching the life-work balance. A lot of young women are just not prepared. They understand how to do the job. They know what’s expected of them professionally. They’re putting off having a family. Some are too nervous to even talk about it and we’ve seen this. We should be talking about life holistically – work-family-social-faith.
Damon: In fact, I’ve told them not to think about it in terms of work-life balance because I tell my mentees all the time, it doesn’t exist. Balance implies that the two sides of the scale equal out and they never do. It’s about managing your life and prioritizing and understanding the ebb and flow and that those priorities are going to change.
Paverd: And don’t be scared about being vulnerable.
Damon: That’s exactly right.
Has the #MeToo movement helped or hurt women in terms of the mentoring process?
Damon: I think it’s had somewhat of an impact on the willingness of some men to mentor, and the relationship between senior men and more junior women in organizations. Some men are confused. They’re like, “Well, I’m not quite sure what to do now. I’m concerned about having young women in my office and shutting the door. I don’t intend to do anything. But is that inappropriate now?” I had a client actually say, “Well I don’t know, when we travel should I ask her if she wants to have dinner with me? Is that appropriate or is that inappropriate?” So, I think what it’s done in some respects is make people start to question some of what were just normal interactions. Questioning, “Is it still appropriate for me to do that? Or is it inappropriate for me to do that? How will it be viewed? How will it be perceived by her and how will it be perceived by others?” So, I think it started to raise a level of questioning that didn’t exist for some people. Not for everyone.
Grimes: I think that awareness has really just grown so much so that we’re in conversation. Whether it’s, “Should I go to dinner with someone? all of that and more. And I’d say, of course it’s helped.
Hall-Long: I have an office with young men and with young females. When we treat each other with respect and equality, those issues go away. I will confess, as an elected official, I get a lot less hugs and kisses from men now, which was OK, but I’m a nurse and we hug. Right. But there has been this zone around people’s spaces, I’ve noticed.
You rarely see a man asked the question about work-life balance. Does that bother you?
Schwartz: I don’t mind the question. It is frustrating if it’s only asked to women. I just had a one-on-one with somebody who reports to me, a young woman with two young kids and I said to her, “So, how are you doing with the kids?” Because I know it’s hard. It’s very hard. And I said, “By the way, if one of your male colleagues was sitting here, I would have asked that same question.” I said, “I just want to be clear on that. I’m asking you because I know how challenging it is.” So, I think it’s a fair question. How do any of us balance it whether you’re a male or female? But is it being asked equally?
Grimes: I also think that the question is a setup for failure. Because what is great work-life balance for me may or may not work for you. I think women just being able – Bridget, you said vulnerability – to put it on the table.
Paverd: How do you measure success? We have to encourage young men and women to define success for themselves.
Grimes: We don’t need to be burdened by some formulaic approach to this. What works for you? And in the workplace, what can we do to support that? Whether it’s flexible hours or work from home, all these things are essential to people finding success and joy in their life and that’s a great retention tool for us to have with our employees.
Keith: I think it’s important to remember the life cycle, to give that person who needs to pick up for daycare or whatever. It’s remembering that and being able to support one another.
Hall-Long: When I first ran for office 20 years ago, the first door I went to they assumed I was campaigning for my husband. And talk about work-life balance at the third door, the person said, “Your poor child, he’s going to be neglected.” It’s not about work being work, but it’s about doing what we find our passion and our life and what drives us. Dream more than what people think is possible and expect more than what is practical. And I think those are the messages my mentor instilled in me. And that helped me to understand when people judge that, you know, my child was not neglected. He had much better life experiences.
Damon: I think it’s also about giving ourselves permission to do the things that are necessary and that we find joy in. And quite frankly, that help us with our professional development. I grew up in a home where my mother didn’t work. So, when we got home from school in the afternoon there was a snack on the table. Mom was cooking dinner. You did your homework. There was a structured routine and my son didn’t have that. I had Christopher when I was a third-year associate in the firm. And I remember my first thought was, “Oh my gosh, have I derailed myself? Have I ended my career?” I hadn’t even been told I’m on partnership track yet and I’m starting a family. How is this going to be received in the firm? And I just remember saying, “Doneene, family is not a problem and if it is a problem then this is not the right place for you.” It’s about managing and prioritizing and balancing and making sure you’re in the right place where you can do those things. And if you’re not, finding the right place that feels like home.
I know you all still have mentors, but is the conversation different now than it was 10, 15 years ago, the conversations with those mentors?
Schwartz: I don’t think I’ve ever sought out specifically a mentor. The law firms that I was in before didn’t have the formalized program, but every boss that I’ve had is a mentor and they should be. I feel like that’s what I should be. I’ve probably had five or six male bosses and now I have a female boss for the first time, Dr. Janice Nevin. So that’s a whole different experience. And she mentors me in a different way than other people did. Some because she’s a different person but also because I’m at a different place in my career. So, I would expect her to call me out when I’ve veered off track or really give me advice and talk about how I get to that next step. I think that there’s many different types of mentors. I hope I always have a mentor in my career.
Keith: I think the conversation stays the same, but it gets deepened in new ways. When I talk to one of the presidents that I worked for a long time ago, what he will usually do is say, “Hey, I read something. I’ve been meaning to run this by you.” It may not have anything to do with whatever I’m dealing with at the moment, but it’s something that I need to be thinking about.
Paverd: One of my most valuable mentors is actually a forty-something CEO of a very successful agency. He is extraordinarily smart and intuitive, and I trust him. He is generous with information and follows up, and I so appreciate that.
How important is it for women to support each other? Rather than treating each other as competitors?
Paverd: Competition is healthy. But we can be civil. We don’t have to be cunning and manipulative.
Damon: There is a huge difference in competing in your field and competing with a colleague in your organization. So, I do think there are issues and concerns when a woman is unwilling to help another woman because she views her as a competitor internally in the organization. My own personal view is we have an obligation to support one another and sometimes that means someone is going to get a promotion before you do. Someone’s going to get the job that you have your eye on. Then the question is, how do you develop yourself to get to the point where you, too, can be elevated? I choose not to look at it as exclusionary because I think to the extent we can support one another, look at the message that sends. I also think there are some organizations where male dominance is still very, very strong. And for women in those organizations, if they don’t support one another, think about how isolating that experience can be when you’re in that organization and you can’t even get the support of your female colleagues. It’s something that we need to actually highlight for young women, the importance and the significance of being supportive. Understanding how to compete professionally but also understanding the importance of having a network and supporting one another and developing those relationships along the way.
Grimes: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it really starts with self-confidence with women. Because when we’re confident about ourselves, there’s room for everyone else to be supportive. All the stereotypes that we’ve had to overcome over the years to just run your own race. To me it really starts with self-confidence and that eliminates this tearing other women down or not supporting women and you don’t usually see that with men.
Am I wrong to ask that question? Do you have the same view of competing internally between a man and a woman or is it important that you think along gender lines a little bit?
Damon: It’s an interesting question to ask. It’s almost like the “Is it wrong to only ask a woman about work-life balance?” I do think those same issues exist with men to some degree. I think the reason it’s highlighted more with women is because there aren’t as many of us. I think as we become more senior in our professions and in our careers and as more young women join our organizations and move up the ladder, I’m hopeful that the question will no longer be a question. The question for me is, “When can we stop asking it? When will we get to the point where it’s no longer an issue?” No one even thinks about whether women support one another because it’s automatic.
Kate, you’re in a relatively male-dominated industry; how do you address this?
Lyons: When you go into a meeting and you’re the only woman … there’s such a loss to an organization when you don’t have both sides represented, when you don’t have that different direction of thought coming in. In my industry, there’s a push to see more women leaders. It’s still a struggle within these larger organizations. But, in my firm, we’ve always had women managers. We’ve always had that.
Schwartz: My obligation is to know how to work with every single person and support every single person on that team. I think it’s in part how I’ve been successful. So I don’t really see it as, “Oh, I need to support the women more than the men.” I want to support them all. I think it’s an obligation. And I think, if you work for an organization, I don’t understand when people say, “I just couldn’t work with so-and-so.” I’ve never had
that experience. Because I feel like that’s a capability you have to have if you want to be successful. I have an obligation to support everyone. I get Doneene’s point, though, that if you’re at an organization where there’s only a handful of women and they could feel isolated, then I think you do go out of your way to make sure the support structure there. I just don’t happento be in that situation right now.
Hall-Long: We have so many young women who are bright but are discouraged from going into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers so women need to mentor one another. I also come from the academic side. In the nursing profession, the shift has gone from “eating the young” to really making sure people are present and our young men and women have that confidence. I’m a mom of a millennial, and they sometimes want to bypass and jump without always having that experience and learning the ropes and earning their stripes. There’s that healthy balance to making them more successful. But for young women, I always remind them, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. We are often labeled differently. I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and work hard. I occasionally believe that if I were a male, I don’t think I would be called energetic. I think I would be called extremely productive. And so sometimes, the labels that we use with our young women are really important.
Grimes: I was so busy getting everything done and getting established and being successful that I didn’t focus on building supportive networks. A few years ago, my boss, Michelle Freeman, told me about a book called “The Stiletto Network,” that is about how women can come together and support one another. And I actually created a network of women they called WISE – women in support of each other – and they’re all leaders who aren’t competing with each other because we’re all in different types of industries or businesses. But we come together once a month not just for socialization but to talk about what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing. We need to do more of that as women. It’s not something that comes natural to me because I’m so independent. We’re so busy getting things done, organizing in the world, making sure we’re five years ahead of where we need to be, that we forget what it takes just to be with one another.
In a world where people are changing jobs more often and in a lot of cases going to different industries, is it harder or easier to build a good network that’s effective for you?
Paverd: I think easier. It really is easy to build a network of people you can trust. You just have to make that investment. I work with women all around the world. American women have the reputation of being willing to ‘leverage this relationship only if I get something out of it, what’s in it for me?’ That has not been my experience at all. But I think building a network is essential. I couldn’t agree with you more, Patty.
Damon: And you won’t connect with everyone and that’s part of the experience as well. I mean there are some people you meet, and you realize that there really aren’t enough commonalities, or you didn’t click with that person for whatever reason and that’s OK.
Paverd: At least you put yourself out there.
Damon: It is about putting yourself out there, that’s exactly right. And that’s what the end goal is.
Hall-Long: And it doesn’t mean you’ll never help that person.
Paverd: My concern for the next generation is that they are very limited when it comes to proactive social engagement.
Damon: Limited is an understatement.
Paverd: They are uncomfortable making eye contact. At our firm for example, we’re vigilant about teaching our employees international protocols and etiquette. We also do a lot of encouraging about phone use. Dial, don’t text. Have a conversation.
Damon: Because they’re used to this. They’re so comfortable with their thumb sending text messages and …
Paverd: … To the extent that it’s actually inhibiting them. It’s a barrier to further engagement. It really is a barrier. I think universities should be tackling communication deficits head on.
Damon: It’s a struggle.
Hall-Long: It’s a real double-edged sword.
Paverd: How do you resolve anything if you can’t sit down and talk about it? When you have the influence of technology from pre-K on up, you have to retrain them by the time they get to college and they are tied to their phones legitimately, because they’re using them in class a lot of times before they ever get to the university level. How do you undo what’s coming to you after 18 years of conditioning? I walked up to
a lead designer the other day, and she was listening to up to a podcast while she was designing and doing something else. And I say her, “What the hell are you doing?” I did some research and found that podcast use was up, more than 70% in a year at the workplace. I think that’s bizarre. But her work is beautiful. I had no idea that’s what she was doing though.
Damon: I have a millennial son and we have to meet in the middle because there are aspects of how they’ve grown and matured and learned that we could learn from and vice versa.
Paverd: And would you like to share some of those examples with us.
Damon: Well here’s a prime example. My son is very much tied to technology and communicates with lots of people through text messaging and Instagram and everything else. When he first got his phone, he would send me text messages. I would say, “If you can’t send me a message in a complete sentence, I refuse to respond.” He’s like, “Mom, this is crazy. No one does this.” I actually learned from him how better to relate to and correspond with and communicate with people of his generation just like he’s learned from my husband and me on the opposite side. My son is in law school now and he says he’s different. He says, “You and dad used to make me do all of these things that I realize a lot of my classmates haven’t done.” I’m happy that he recognizes that. I had a situation just a year and a half ago where a young female associate in the firm was literally in the office next door to me and she would send me emails all day long. I finally walked to her doorway and said, “Stop sending me emails. My door is wide open, just come in and talk to me.” And she said, “I’m really much more comfortable just sitting here and sending emails.” So we altered our orientation program to start focusing on a lot of what people call the soft skills, to really focus on that communication, eye-to-eye contact, having a conversation versus sending an email. And it really is a learning curve for them because they’re so comfortable with technology and completely uncomfortable with this.
Paverd: Human contact.
Damon: The human contact. I wonder how many of them would be comfortable sitting at this table and actually opening up and having a dialogue like this. I think they would shudder at the thought of it. Many of them.
Lyons: It’s not all millennials. We’re a sales organization so people are always talking and engaging and that’s the kind of personality that our …
Paverd: But I think that the common courtesies and these basic social mores that everybody should understand and there are some that have been neglected. And we’re using technology as an excuse. I don’t think that’s OK.
Schwartz: If you’re continually pushing yourself to move ahead and learn new things, you’re going to have moments of uncomfortableness. I’ve been at ChristianaCare now for a year and a half. ChristianaCare is much more on a national stage than my prior health system. I’ve been going to some really prominent health care conferences in California where you’re meeting all the people that wear the skinny suits and they’re all private equity backed. Some of those conferences have been uncomfortable for me because I don’t feel like I have the connections there. It was a confidence issue. I told my mom I felt like I was in eighth grade again. But I’m going to go back this year and I’m going to feel a little bit better about it. I pushed myself, I’m on a bigger stage than I was. I have a different role, but I still can stand in my hotel room and go, “OK, get yourself up for this.” You know? It’s part about building the network. It’s part about being new to a new state, a new organization. Having that confidence, is so important and thank goodness I have some things that I can fall back and then say, “OK, I did this and this and this.” But there are still uncomfortable moments.
Damon: I struggle with when to say no. As I said earlier, when you’re asked to serve, you serve. But I recognize that you can’t do everything, and you certainly can’t do everything well. You have to learn to pick and choose those things that you can do and should spend your time on and those things that you shouldn’t. And I’ve also learned the difficulty in saying no when you don’t want to disappoint people who expect you to do something, but you realize either you’re not the right person or it’s not the right time. Even at this stage in my career, dealing with when to say no and to whom to say no, is still a daily issue.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Damon: When we decided to come here 30 years ago, we said, “If this is going to be home, we’re going to plant roots here and we’re going to get involved in this community and this is going to be our home.” We were very deliberate about getting out and getting engaged and serving on boards and being active in our communities. At one point I found myself on different boards, each one incredibly important, each one doing wonderful work in the community. But I recognize that me serving on six different boards was not valuable to me and it wasn’t valuable to those boards. I started asking myself when I should step aside to let someone else who can commit more time, who may be more passionate about the work that this organization is doing. At what point do you step aside and allow that other individual to take that seat because they can have a much more meaningful impact? I realized there were certain things that I needed to step back from because I wasn’t giving it all that it deserved and someone else could be a much better fit for that organization. I tell my mentees oftentimes, “No is not a bad word.” It’s not a bad word.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Paverd: Leaked intimate data. That is absolutely huge. All those “fun, flirtatious” inappropriate texts and
social media posts from college can come back and derail a career. In our role as parents and influencers, we must help them mitigate that risk. Working in reputation management, we live it every single day at our firm. And for women in particular, we’ve just seen [California Congresswoman Katie] Hill lose her position and resign. And you have to ask yourself if that had happened to a man, would we have had the same outcome? It was vicious and that should be a red flag for every young woman to take note.
Schwartz: I think we have to recognize we still have not solved the disparity in higher-level leadership roles for women or board representation. And where are the major decisions being made in a lot of larger organizations. I think even if you still look at partnership in law firms and large law firms, there’s still a huge disparity in terms of women that are partners, women that are sitting on the executive committee. I hope that that improves, but I think the women of the next generation will still be trying to reach that goal. But I think it will still be a challenge for the women in the next generation.
Hall-Long: Going along with that, pay equity. Really pushing that. And we have laws and changes in place, the (Equal Rights Amendment) particularly for women of color, Latina women – the discrepancy is real.
Grimes: The centennial for passage of the 19th Amendment is next year when women got the right to vote. And I look at those photos of those suffragettes and what courage and the passion that they brought forward, how can we be those women for the next hundred years? How can we accelerate that? Because you look at those photos and you go, “Wow, how did they get from point A to point B a hundred years ago?” I mean they were unstoppable. And so how do we continue that as a civilization?
Paverd: We also have the issues of gender neutrality. That is a very big deal right now. People are not necessarily identifying as one gender or another. All these young executives are coming up with all these other issues to deal with as well. They’re going to have to navigate and finesse these issues. How do we deal with this? How do we move forward? I mean, we see ourselves as trailblazers and this is something that they’re going to have to lock in and consider.
Damon: I believe it’s my responsibility to help this next generation understand the differences that they face, the challenges that they face. We have to teach them. We have to highlight it for them. We have to give them the tools to know how to finesse, and what to do in their professional lives and their personal lives. This blurred line between personal and professional, I think, is going to be a real struggle regardless of whether you’re male or female. Everyone lives their lives by their mobile phone now, everyone. Take a photo and all of a sudden, two seconds later it’s on social media. So, they’re not giving themselves the opportunity to think. It’s that instant upload. I view it as an obligation to talk to them about what message they’re sending and how it can affect their lives professionally. What are the things that are going to be looked at when you’re being considered for elevation? I think we need to start those conversations sooner rather than later. One of the mistakes, I think, law firms made for a very long time was waiting until someone was midlevel to a senior associate before starting to have the conversation about what you need to do in order to be elevated. We can’t wait that long because they may have made so many mistakes along the way that it’s impossible at that point to go back and undo the damage that may be holding you back.
Let’s talk about firsts. A few of you in this room are “the first woman to …” What responsibilities come with that?
Damon: It’s a challenging conversation. I made partner in 1999 and I didn’t realize that I was the first African-American to make partner in a major Delaware law firm. When I came in the next morning after celebrating with my family and my office was decorated with streamers and balloons and it said, “Congrats on being the first,” I said, “The first what? I’m not the first woman partner.” It was completely lost on me, and when someone said, “You’re the first minority, first African-American,” I said, “That can’t be, it’s 1999.” And they said, “No, you’re the first.” I said, “Well what’s wrong with this state if I’m the first?” Fast forward to 2019 when I became managing partner of my firm, and that same conversation around “the first.” And my same reaction was, “What’s wrong with us with that in 2019,” I’m one of only a handful across the country. For me, it’s a difficult conversation because someone has to be first. But it also highlights that there’s so much more work that needs to be done. The question is, “What am I going to do about it?” I attended a conference where former Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke, and she said something that will be forever etched in my mind. She said, “If you sit in a position of power and influence and the spaces that you inhabit don’t change, why are you there?” That stuck with me. I didn’t seek to be the first partner. I’m thrilled that I was elevated in that role. I didn’t seek to become president of the firm. I’m thrilled and honored that my partners thought of me in that way, but it makes me ask the question, why am I there? And so I don’t look upon it lightly at all. I still feel today that I can’t afford to fail because being the first means you have a huge responsibility and if you screw it up, then all of those following behind you are going to have a much more difficult time because you screwed it up. And I think about that on a daily basis.
Keith: I didn’t think being the first college president here – at three different colleges – was a big deal until I look in the faces of my students and in the younger women that work for me. That’s when I know I am called to something greater in terms of making sure that I’m elevating them every chance I get.
Bethany, you probably meet a lot of firsts. What advice do you give them?
Hall-Long: What I usually find among the firsts is a sense of humility and respect for those who’ve gone before them, whether they were men or women. I recognize that in these capacities, using their talent and their skillset in this state, whether I’m dealing with my first entrepreneur or scientist, whether it’s one who’s created one of the first patents, it’s how we can tap that. We all have a first story. I was the first in my family to go to college. I share that story, so other young women who perhaps haven’t had that experience … I’m also the first to be president-elect of the National Lieutenant Governors. Nobody else has done that. I often say, “Step out and think about how you can also be the first.” I think that is a role that we all play here as women and why not you? Why not you?
Grimes: I was always successful, driven, but it was hard work. It was overcoming a lot of challenges throughout my life and making those decisions, having folks to support you through those tough times. Somehow when you magically become at a different level or echelon, people don’t see you in that light. Being able to be authentic and humble about how you got to where you are today really gives a lot of possibility, I believe, to a lot of other young women.
How much time do you spend thinking about how to frame your narrative?
Grimes: I think it depends on the audience. I think one gift that I’ve learned over the years is to be present. When I can hear what someone else is going through or what they’re asking, it gives me an opportunity to respond in a way that I think will resonate better for them.
Paverd: I think intuitively, though, when we’re at this stage of our career, we’re very comfortable sharing the narrative and tweaking it according to our audiences. Successful women can be intimidating. We have to remove any barriers for young men and women to engage realistically and authentically. I keep coming back to the word vulnerable. The more vulnerable we are, it gives them permission to be vulnerable as well, and that’s how young grow people.
What’s the best workplace advice you’ve ever been given?
Paverd: Stick to your knitting.
Keith: Most people don’t come to work to fail.
Damon: I think from a leadership standpoint, be consistent. People need to know what they’re going to get when they deal with you. I try every day to be consistent.
Hall-Long: You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. The other thing is what Maya Angelou said: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
What’s the worst workplace advice you’ve ever gotten?
Schwartz: Early on when I was at a law firm, I got the advice, “Put your head down and do the work.” And I don’t think that’s terrible advice, but it’s very limiting because at early parts of my career you say, “OK, I walk into the office, I did 10 things today, I did this agreement, I checked that off and I can leave.” But you can’t keep your head down and just do the work. You have to be aware of the dynamics around you, the relationships, the politics around you. And I think if you just put your head down and do the work, you’ll be a very consistent, good worker, quality work. But if you want to advance in a different way, that’s not going to be enough.
Keith: I think the best and the worst that somebody once said to me, “Don’t make any changes for the first year.” Sometimes that’s good advice, but sometimes it’s bad advice.
Bethany Hall-Long: [I was told to] just “take a walk.” And what that means is you don’t have to vote yes or no, and that is not good advice. You have to be willing to make a decision. You have to show your side. And I’m so glad I didn’t take their advice. But that’s what was given to me.
Grimes: Mine was, it’s just not your time.
Grimes: Well I just want to say, I’m still there and that person isn’t. But I really think that instinctiveness about trusting your gut.
What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career? The one that most sticks with you?
Grimes: Be authentic.
Damon: Be authentic.
Grimes: Be you.
Hall-Long: Be yourself.
Schwartz: I have two things, authenticity and consistency. Those are my two mantras. Early in your career, it’s very hard to be authentic and have the confidence to do it. Many times I was like, “I need to be this way. I need to act this way.” I like to make jokes about things and I was like, “I can’t do that. I can’t make jokes. I need to be buttoned up and serious about certain things or going into a particular meeting.” I think that’s just part of going through the beginning of your career. And I love now that I can just be the person that I am. I do hear people say, “You don’t want to be a different person at home than at work.” I think some of that’s true. You obviously are going to, in your personal life, there’s just going to be some barriers down. And I think people respond much better to me when I’m being authentic.
Hall-Long: Following the golden rule is always so important. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I mean really treating people … meeting each person where they are has helped. Kindness.
Damon: I was going to say, respect. I agree with the authenticity, but I think respecting everyone. I think leaders who don’t do well are leaders who focus on their leadership and don’t focus on everyone else and respecting others. And so I think that’s a huge part of what we do and why we’re sitting here today.
What advice do you have for women who are aiming for leadership positions?
Lyons: Go for it.
Paverd: Find your voice. And you’re not an imposter. You have a place here at the table and you have every right to be yourself.
Schwartz: Take the opportunities when they’re offered to you. And don’t think “I don’t know how to do that. I’m not qualified to do that.” When I took on the chief strategy role at ChristianaCare, I said, “I’m just going to be the lawyer. I’m not going to do anything else.” And then I got the opportunity to be the chief strategy officer. I’m not trained in strategy and planning on a technical basis. I have folks that are working for me that are, but I could have said, “Oh, I have not done that. I don’t …” And I’m still anxious about it. I kind of have this nervous feeling and I thought, “Oh gosh, what did I say yes to?” You have to take those chances. Doesn’t mean you say yes to everything. Things that you don’t want to do. But if it’s like, “Oh, I want to do that,” you need to say yes to it. I think it’s been proven that men tend to obsess less about whether they’re totally qualified to do things, whether they have every skill they need to do this.
Paverd: Women are far more risk averse.
Schwartz: Yes, that’s very true.
Paverd: And women also are evolutionary. We’re not revolutionary. We will evolve and improve the process. And I think some of our male colleagues are revolutionary. And the combination of both is fantastic.
Schwartz: Yes, yes. Be bold.
Paverd: But we do it strategically. We do it with thought, and within a process.
Damon: I do tell young women all the time, preparation is the foundation for success.
Paverd: 1 million percent right.
Damon: You have to be prepared at all times.
Preparation is the only thing over which you have total control.
Damon: Exactly right.
Hall-Long: Like the waves at the beach. Right? Cause I’m a surfer. We can’t control the wave – when you said control, this immediately came to mind – but you can control how you ride the wave.