JHU Women in Business NY Launch: Women of Impact
President of NY Alumni Chapter: Hi everyone my name is ____ I would like to thank you for coming. I am the president of the NY Alumni Chapter and I am also a member of the committee that put this event together. This is our first event. We are very excited to have you here. We have a great turn out and we hope to have many, many more of these in the future. Obviously, this is only the beginning. We also have many other affinity programs in NY and other general events in NY. I hope everyone has a wonderful time tonight. We have some amazing speakers and an amazing moderator. I’m just going to give a little background on Erin Reilly, who is our moderator tonight. Erin Reilly graduated from the Kreiger School in 2012 with a bachelors in International Studies and History and a master’s in American History. While at Hopkins, Erin was very involved in student life as a member of the Senior Class council, chair of the senior class gift, president of the student alumni society, secretary general of Model United Nations Conference and a sister in Phi Mu. Clearly a slacker. Erin started her own company “College Glasses” while at Hopkins. She and her partner saw the opportunity to create custom University branded sunglasses and started sourcing boxes straight from China. Since 2012 “College Glasses” has sold over 1 million pairs of custom glass to colleges and organizations across the country. Erin, is not CEO of Pop! Promos a full service promotional products company. Her company rebranded in late 2013 as they expanded to carry a full line of promotional products. Pop! Promos has offices in Philadelphia and Shanghai with a team of 15 employees. Erin lives and works in Philadelphia.
Erin Reilly (Moderator): Thank you guys so much for coming. Tonight is going to be fun. It’s meant to just be a conversation between women in business. Lead by two very cool women in business. I’ve fortunate enough to have known Stacy for a few years now. You all have a lot to hear from Stacy. And I actually met Polly on the train up from Philadelphia. We were escorted here by some of her captains with Amtrak. So they’re two very interesting and amazing women. Before I let them introduce themselves and tell you a little bit about their back grounds, just the format of the evening: we have some questions here that I’m just going to be posing to the ladies. But if you have any questions, and you’d like to share them with the group, we’ve passed out some index cards so if you feel comfortable writing down your question and passing it up, you’re more than welcome to do that. And if at any point you want to ask a question, just raise your hand and once someone is finished speaking, we will call on you. So, first let’s have Polly introduce herself, give us a bit of her background. We want to know about you personally and professionally, how you fell into your field. Was is something that you knew you always wanted to do or was it more of a coincidence ending up in your profession?
Polly Hanson: Okay. I went to Temple University for undergrad. I had a degree in Radio, Television & Film. And when I graduated from college, women were not anything other than weather girls. They were not broadcasters, newswomen. I know this may be hard for the majority of you to remember, so I’m certainly dating myself. But, it was a very challenging field to get into. Women weren’t even doing sports. But that’s what I wanted to do was be a radio broadcaster. So, I’m from Washington DC. I grew up there. I had my first job in high school. I was going to be a waitress at Hot Shops, but my father who was a road builder, had been in a meeting with the director of the national park serviced and they started talking about a program that they were going to have. They were going to hire 250 college kids for the bicentennial to direct traffic. And they had a pilot program with 25 kids in 1975. So my father came home and I thought “Well, both jobs you’re standing on your feet and wearing a uniform.” The one job was standing outside, they paid a night differential, Sunday differential and overtime so I took the job helping the US park police at the national icons. So now fast forward 1977. I graduate. I come home. I have enough an FCC third class license, which was actually really difficult to get. I’m directing traffic. And at 21 they give me a job and I’m tell grown men where to be and what to do in their dispatch unit. I’m actually one of the first people in Washington DC with metro traffic control. I was going to end up getting the suburb beat, and my father, quite honestly, had built the majority of the roads in DC so I wasn’t sure how the girl got the suburbs. I did an interview for a secretary position, and ended up getting an interview to be an on-air personality. So when my dream didn’t look like it was going to happy for me, I started looking at police women. Of course this was the 1970s and police women were only allowed to drive the police cars with men. So I decided to be a police woman. My brother worked for the transit authority, and it was a brand new department. So I signed up to do that. I spent 27 years there. I worked my way to being the chief of police. I was the vice president of the company for a year. I went to work for the female chief in DC. I served her for three years. I worked in the federal government as an 1811 special agent for two years. And then an opportunity to return to transportation policing happened.
Erin: Now, Stacy, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Stacy: Sure. Sometimes I really think that I fell into my position instead of having a goal and then achieving it. I am an old, boring lawyer. I head the Capital Markets practice at Skadden’s, here in NY. Skadden’s is a global lawfirm, one of the largest firms in NY, one of the largest in the world. And the capital markets team is worldwide about 100 lawyers-partners and associates. Like many people, I explored a lot of difference career paths. I went to college and wanted to do something where I could help people. I told my mother I wanted to be a social worker. My mother at that point in time was a single parents and struggling financially. And she would have none of that. From her perspective, it was very important that I do something that would allow me to achieve financial independence. She really pushed me to major in business. I went to school at the State University of NY at Albany. I majored in business, had a psychology minor. I wound up, for financial reasons, graduating from college in 3 years. So I was 20 years old, really didn’t know what to do. I knew that I wanted to go back to graduate school, but at the point in time I didn’t know what to do. So I worked for two years, and ultimately decided to go to law school. I thought that law school would give me better opportunities. I went to law school, and from that point my career was really very linear. In law school there’s a very typical recruiting season. I started at Skadden where I am today, between my 2nd and 3rd years of law school. I remember looking around and looking at the people who were partner, and I thought to myself, “I could be partner here if I stayed and worked for 8 years.” I was incredibly naïve back then. I worked as a summer associate and I worked as a first year associate after I graduated. And then one year leads to another, leads to another and you start looking around you and your start learning an incredible amount. I just felt like a sponge at that point. I had never known anything about a law firm. I didn’t even know any lawyers. But I just stayed at Skadden, just sort of putting one foot in front of the other. I kept my head down and worked hard. I worked on some incredible deals. Fast forward all these years, I became partner 21 years ago. I’ve got two kids. They both went to Hopkins. My husband and I chaired the parents council and we’re now on the campaign cabinet. For me every day I work on incredible transaction, and sometimes I feel like I’m still helping people. One of the most rewarding things I do now is, two years ago I was asked to chair the Global Diversity Committee. So I’m finally, more than before, able to give back.
Erin: As a leader, Stacy, who has inspired you the most throughout your career?
Stacy: In terms of who inspired me, I mentioned my mother, who with the cow prod made me go into business. She was an inspiration to me, when she became a single parent I watched what she did: going back to school and doing whatever she had to do to be able to support us. When I got to Skadden, I met some wonderful women. One is one of my partners today, who is several years ahead of me in terms of practicing law, but 15 years older than me because she had gone back to law school after she had children. She taught me balance, and things like “take yes for an answer when you’re negotiating”. One of the first mentors I had was someone in law school. Who took me under her wing and told me what I needed to do at that point in time. In order to succeed and get a job at a big law firm. In terms of leadership, I think that some of the examples of leadership that I’ve seen at the firm have involved promotion decisions. Which I think are some of the most important, and most difficult decisions that we make, because they really dictate the future of the firm.
Erin: I’m sure a lot of people find them important too. Polly, who has inspired you?
Polly: So it’s really positive that you had female mentors. I didn’t really have that. I was the first woman to be academically number 1 in recruit class. I was the first woman to come out number 1 in promotional exam. So this was 1985, and if I had told them that I was pregnant they would have skipped me. So I didn’t tell them, but the day before my big promotion, I go to my mentor and I ask him, “What do you think they would do if they had a pregnant sergeant?” So, he runs and tells the deputy chief and I get promoted. I keep doing things, because no one is telling me not to. I felt a lot of pressure, because not only am I the first woman I’m also the first mom manager and I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing. So this deputy chief found out, and the training division captain gets called in and he says, “You don’t understand the thing about this job, is that this isn’t who you’re really going to be. This isn’t how you’re going to be measured. If you’re a mom, you’re going to be measured on being a mom. That’s the most important thing that you’re going to do.” He had an incredible career and I get teary to this day and I have my baby and I get it. So the other thing I would say is our chief was charismatic and a tremendous leader, and I did learn a lot from him about leadership. He had an opportunity to create something, and with watching someone like that I had the opportunity to learn about leadership, manners, decorum, protocol, how you treat people, how you treat yourself and how important it is when you’re wearing a badge. So those are the kinds of things I learned about leadership from the men and they were only men who taught me to be who I am today.
Erin: I want to circle back to obstacles. Obviously being a woman in the work place there are a lot of them. Polly can you continue a bit about some of the obstacles that you faced in your career?
Polly: My experience is a little different. I came from a neighborhood where girls were doctors of lawyers or they married them. Law enforcement, at the time, was perceived as a blue collar career, and I was not brought up to be a blue collar worker. So I will tell you that I experienced sexual harassment before there was even a name for it. We were at the range learning how to shoot at night, and there are no women firearms instructors. It’s dark and we’re on the line and to the right and to left of me there were firearms instructors. They were goosing people. They were feeling up the women on the line. So when the guy comes up to me, I turned around and I stuck my gun in his chest, and said “Can I help you?” He said “No turn around.” And to be honest, they could have flunked me right there. So that’s Friday night, and Monday we went to drive cars one guy says, “Who’s Hanson?” So they knew who I was from that point and not to mess with me. The obstacles I had were not as overt, but there were a number of times that I had to stick up for myself, which was hard to do because it was me and bunch of guys. And women now don’t have to put up with that. If that happened today, they guys would be fired then and there, but we had to put up with that, and it is what it is.
Stacy: Really, when I started at the firm, I looked around and while I had people who I started to develop relationships with. There were not women corporate partners in the firm. I was the first woman who had a baby and they came back and made partner. In terms of obstacles there was still more over bias. People wouldn’t articulate, “You’re a woman. What does your husband think?” But they would wonder, if you could be a mother and a leader, if you could be a woman and succeed. Those are sort of the second generation issues that we deal with. I knew early on in my career that I had to work. I would look around and the obstacles that I saw was that the men took each other under their wing in a different way and they would go out and socialize. There was this informal network where information filters down and I just wasn’t part of it. So I continued to work, harder, better, faster and longer. Obviously deciding to have a baby as an associate, people just hadn’t seen that. They hadn’t seen someone come back and continue working on the partnership track. Working all night, which young lawyers often do was a physical challenge. I was dealing with a husband who had real problems with that and then also some partners at work who had never seen it. Yet I didn’t want to relinquish the high profile assignment that I was working on when I was pregnant with my older son. But I have to say listening to your stories; my problems are white collar problems. My firm has been a wonderful place to be a woman lawyer. But these issues, you don’t see them. And when you look at a younger woman who is facing these issues, she can’t say, “I think you’re not giving me that assignment because you’re questioning how serious I am as a woman.”
Erin: Now that you are on the other side of all of this, you still must face some obstacles as a woman in business in your current role.
Stacy: Well, I am as you are, working in a male dominated industry. And when you go into our client’s community our clients are big corporations and investment banks, and when you walk into a meeting and you realize you’re the only woman in the room, sometimes it’s difficult. Or if I have a woman working with me then it’s, “Oh! You brought the all-female team!” And I’ve actually gotten that.
Polly: What I would say is there are still family dynamics that come into play. I’m in transportation and transportation in addition to law enforcement is heavily male dominated. It’s not uncommon to have a female attorney. The communications person is sometimes a woman. So, I have to be extrememly assertive sometimes, and I know what I know, I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years and I don’t have a problem telling you. Some people have a hard time hearing that, because, you know, at their house their wife doesn’t tell them what to do. Even with subordinate employees. So I do think that with some of my colleagues sometimes they’re shocked when a woman is strong and passionate.
Stacy: A lot of times we have to act in ways that are inconsistent with how people think a woman should be acting and that’s one of those second generation issues.
Erin: What’s the worst decision you’ve ever made?
Stacy: I think one of the worst decisions that I ever made related to sort of how I assumed my current management role. I became practice leader. I became partner 21 years ago. I let myself fall into being practice leader.
Polly: What’s a practice leader?
Stacy: I head my department.
Polly: You’re like a deputy chief. (laughs)
Stacy: Yeah. I was too concerned with whether people liked me, because in a law firm, partnership is very flat. There are 400 of us and all of us are partners and for the most part all partners are equal, and then there are practice leaders. And I was really concerned with how I was going to be viewed, and I really wanted to be liked and was ineffective as a result. Because I was really afraid to take a stance and assert that authority. It took a while for me to recover from that.
Erin: What was the best decision you ever made?
Stacy: Well, best decision, you know, has to be personal. For me it was the decision not to wait until I had achieved career success to move forward with having a family. That enabled me to keep everything in perspective. I remember the 6 months to a year before I was made partner that was not my entire life. And I looked around at a lot of people who had put their lives on hold. I decided to take the risk, have a baby, come back say I could do it and it just helped me put everything in perspective. For me that was an important decision, and I realized it at that time and was very glad. My older son was almost 2 and a half when I became partner.
Erin: What about you, Polly?
Polly: I’ll start with the best first. The best decision I made, well I had this wonderful career and realized that I had done everything I wanted to do. I was on TV all the time people knew me and they loved me. But I knew when to go. Sometimes you see people and they don’t know when to go. My worst decision was… (gives examples of blizzard when she had to leave her son with a friend because she had to go to work at 4 am and mentions September 11th, when her and her husband were both law enforcement officials and no one was able to pick up her son from school).
Erin: How have you created balance between your professional and personal life?
Stacy: For me, it was just a matter of priorities. At Skadden or at any kind of law firm, you could literally work 24 hours a day 7 days a week and no one will tell you, “Take some time off.” You just have to decide what you’re priorities are. There are going to be things you’re not going to miss and you just have to speak up. You have to assert yourself. You have to do it in a positive way. There are some habits that I’ve developed that I laugh at myself for. Every day I leave work and if there are things I haven’t gotten to, I take a bag full of papers and books and psychologically it enables me to go home. But how do you get balance? You have to realize that you’re flexible. I know that the most important thing to me are my kids and my family. But on a given day, my kids may not be the priority in terms of my time, my flexibility and what needs to be done that day. It comes down to cutting yourself that slack and realizing that every day is a different day, and some days family is just going to have to give because on that day family can be more flexible. And on another day I can take from work and focus on the family.
Polly: I do something called “de-policing”. I keep working until the end of the day and then when I’m done. I’m done. I don’t take work home. I would tell people well “I have to go home to my other job now.” I wanted to be present and focus. We’ve always taken a vacation and to this day we do things together. It’s about being present. You turn one thing off and you go to the other.
Stacy: I agree with you about being present. I talk about taking this bag of paper home with me every night. I never look at it. It’s like a crutch. It lets me leave my office. I have to take it; in case someone calls I can respond. But I do compartmentalize. I have found that it’s a little harder to do that now with technology and the expectation that you’re always available. The demarcation between work and no work, it’s certainly going. But I think that what you say about being totally present in what you’re doing, it’s very important.
Erin: It’s really interesting that both of you have sons. If you had an 18 year old daughter, what would you tell her?
Polly: I would say, “What the hell are you wearing? Is that supposed to be a top??” A couple of things that I would say is just have three things and have them be quality. Having inappropriate attire, I don’t care what you see in fashion magazines, no one is going to take you really seriously. I was in Philadelphia talking to someone who was taking an internship and I asked her, “What are you going to do about the guy in the office who hits on the interns?” And I told her, “What you’re not going to do is go out with him.” This is coming from someone who is in a man’s profession. I think girls now try to keep up with men in very unattractive ways, and it has to do with alcohol consumption and some other behaviors that we just don’t need to do. And I think with Facebook and texting, people have become so mean and quick to judge. So I think I had five things: don’t try to keep up with the boys, really think about how you dress, not judging and I think sometimes we’re losing the ability to really communicate. One of the characteristics that are really important in a leader is the ability to confront. There is a generation of people who are unlearning the art of this. You can’t be a leader if you don’t have the ability to stand up in front of a group of people and inspire, lead them and also correct behavior that is not so great.
Stacy: I think all of those are great suggestions. The first thing you said about how you carry yourself, too often we shy away from those conversations, because they are so difficult. Some things that I would say are, you have to be working in a place where you can be your authentic self. It’s the only way that you are going to really be able to succeed and lead. You have to find a place where you can bring your whole self to work. You have to start developing and using political capital. Part of it is knowing when you can ask for something and how to negotiate on your own behalf. One way is to go out of your way to make other people look good and to do favors for other people. If you think that someone you know would benefit from meeting somebody else, make the introduction. If someone did something really well and you have the opportunity to tell someone about it, go out of your way and do that. As you start going out of your way to help other people, you’re going to realize that it will start coming back to you, and you will be more comfortable negotiating for things for yourself. The other, is what Polly said, it’s about relationships. You have to be able to develop relationships. And you heard before, don’t be afraid to take risks.
Erin: I think we should take some questions from anyone who would like to pose them.
Audience member 1: What are you tips on making it work with your children?
Polly: I had a pseudo spouse. She had a key to my house, I had a key to her house, and I also had a babysitter. So I had a team of women. Behind every woman there is a team of other women. I had a very supportive husband and a wonderful father. But I found that you need to have plan A, B and C. It’s hard, you just need to develop a network and be very organized.
Stacy: Whatever you’re doing now, do it as well as you could possibly be doing it. Develop that good will so that when you tell people you’re pregnant or when you go on maternity leave people want to help you. People want you back because you’ve made yourself an important part of the organization. And at that point you can negotiate for yourself.
Audience member 2: What did you do to get over the moments when you wanted to throw it in?
Stacy: I almost threw it in once. I was working for a wonderful man, who was my practice leader at that point in time. I went into him when my son was 9 months old and I told him, “I can’t do this anymore.” And he had enough confidence and enough faith to not let me throw it is. I think it’s really about developing those relationships. Because then you can tell people what you need.
Polly: So why do you want to throw it in?
Audience member 2: I don’t want to throw it in. I’m just talking about those moments when it feels like you want to.
Polly: There are times when you need to change the situation and there are times when you need to change yourself. Sometimes our hormones come into play, and you just have to be real with yourself. And realize that maybe you’re just having one of those days, and it will be different tomorrow. Sometimes you just need to think about things tomorrow, because maybe today isn’t the best day to look at that. And once again, sometimes you need to laugh at yourself and have a sense of humor and things look different in the morning.
Erin: One more question.
Audience member 3: (Paraphrase) I just started my own business, and it’s very difficult to balance that with having a personal life. What do you think about the dialog with respect to the different expectations women in the workplace and at home?
Stacy: It’s one of the things I worry about for the next generation. One of the things I worry about is that people will think there are no issues, and that we’ve moved past all the gender bias issues. But the other is that people are going to take themselves out completely. I don’t have a good answer for you. I think it’s terrific that you took the risk to start your own business. Because it’s tough now, but that is going to give you more control over your life. As hard as it is, in a big organization you need to do what they twll you to.
Polly: What I would say to you if I had the magic wand is, “It’s okay not to be perfect.” I think it’s okay to cut yourself to cut yourself some slack. I can tell your whole life you’re not used to doing that, so the idea of shifting to not doing everything perfectly or extremely or to the best, you may not be able to be that person anymore. But the new you is going to be just as fabulous. Just give yourself a break.
Stacy: I think that’s incredible advice. I say that I wouldn’t trade either part of my life, but I say I probably am not doing as good of a job in being a mother or a lawyer. And I had to come to terms with that. The world didn’t come to an end when I wasn’t doing both things 100% and you get over it.
Erin: Well I’m going back to work tomorrow with a lot more confidence and feeling a little bit taller. And I hope all of you do as well. Thank you so much for all of your insight!