On January 22, Fordham Law’s Stein Center for Law and Ethics and Feerick Center for Social Justice presented the fourth annual Women’s Leadership Institute, held virtually.
This year’s theme was pivoting through difficulty, professionally and personally—a timely theme given how women disproportionately suffered from pandemic-related job loss in the United States last year. The virtual event was organized by Kristine Rose Itliong ’20, Kara Krakower ’19, and Molly Ryan ’15, and co-sponsored by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, Fordham Law Women, Black Law Students Association, Latin American Law Students Association, and Media & Entertainment Law Society.
The first event of the Institute was “Building Relationships in 2021: 2020’s Silver Lining,” a presentation by Debra Forman, executive coach at Pinstripe Coaching. Forman delved into the details of building and maintaining relationships. She noted that while 2020 had been a particularly difficult year for professionals in most fields, “the people who have survived and thought quickly on their feet have been pivoting.” Despite the seismic shift in how work is done during the pandemic, she explained, people retain their value, intellect, and relationships, and she suggested leaning on those things when considering a career change or shift. “This is a cycle that begins and ends with rapport, which is how we build relationships.”
Next, Shadé Quailey ’19 moderated a panel discussion entitled “Women Leaders in Law: Advice & Discussion,” which featured four female lawyers at different stages of their careers. The range of panelists was a conscious choice, Krakower emphasized, remarking, “A goal of ours was to make sure we’re showcasing a wide variety of who is a successful lawyer.”
Panelists included Sheila S. Boston, president of the New York City Bar Association and partner at Arnold & Porter; Palmina Fava ’97, partner at Vinson & Elkins and president of the Fordham Law Alumni Association; Janet Sabel, attorney-in-chief and CEO at The Legal Aid Society; and Linda Tieh, partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
Quailley, who serves as a judicial law clerk for Judge Peter H. Moulton, New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, engaged the panelists not only about their respective career paths, but about how they have handled challenges and adversity.
When Quailley asked the panelists how they have handled failures in their professional lives, Fava responded, “I have a rule that I don’t live with regret, and I don’t live with failure, either. If I’ve made a conscious decision to do something, I own it, and I learn from the experience.”
The other three panelists echoed the importance of viewing failures and frustrations as potential learning opportunities; Sabel also noted that it requires a certain level of confidence to say, “I was wrong” when learning from mistakes. Boston recounted a story about being passed up for a fellowship early in her career that she felt she deserved, and she queried the fellowship’s administration as to why. “They said, ‘Quite frankly, the main mission of this program is to increase diversity in the legal arena, particularly in Big Law, and we believed that you’d be able to do that on your own… in the end we felt the need to concentrate on those whom we could help give that extra push,’” she recalled. The experience has shaped her own leadership tactics at the City Bar, reminding her how necessary it is to stay true to a mission when making difficult decisions.
In previous years, the in-person event is a daylong affair with a number of panel discussions and a keynote address. This year, as necessitated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the event would not only be online, but it would be shortened somewhat to prevent Zoom fatigue.
Although the online format widened the audience and presenter base, translating the event from an in-person one was no small challenge. Luckily, conference services was able to assist, with nearly 11 months’ experience of organizing online events. “Shanelle Holley and Morgan Benedit have been hugely helpful especially as we have been trying to figure out how to do this event remotely,” noted Krakower. “We would not have been able to do it without them.”