Allies Help Minorities, Women Advance Their Careers
By Jason Fujioka
American Bar Association
Aug. 6, 2011
TORONTO — Sudevi Mukherjee-Gothi has an Asian-West Indian upbringing that she applied to her work. In “Allies, Influence, Power and Politics in the Office,” a program of the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Toronto, she said that those values did her a disservice. They isolated her from her law firm colleagues and, after two years of hard work, Mukherjee-Gothi decided to leave the practice, thinking she wouldn’t advance at the firm. It was only during her exit interview that she was told that she had been on the partnership track.
Mukherjee-Gothi’s experience taught her the value of having allies in the workplace, and she applied those lessons to her next position at Torkin Manes LLP in Toronto, where she is now a partner. “I made a concerted effort—which was very hard for me, given my cultural mores—to be more open about myself personally, so people felt invested in me,” she said. “I realized, who really wants a partner that they don’t know on a personal level?”
“It’s very difficult to be successful, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to be successful if you’re not going to ‘work’ your own identity,” said program moderator Susan Letterman White of Letterman White Consulting of Philadelphia, Penna., who pointed out that being a woman or part of another minority group amplifies the need to market one’s identity.
It’s more difficult to advance your career or develop business when you’re a woman or part of a minority group because power rests with the majority, White said. “All the talent in the world is wonderful, but unless you have somebody in a position of power who can help send business your way, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have the kind of opportunities to advance.”
Carol Hogan of Jones Day in Chicago found such a mentor early on in her career by following the example of her sister, who had proactively sought a woman role model to help guide her career. “She said, ‘find someone who you can learn the most from,’” Hogan said of her sister’s good advice. “Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone and say, ‘I want to work with you.’”
Building a broad network is important, noted White.
Panelist Anthony Davis of Hinshaw and Culbertson, in New York, agreed, saying that for him it was important to meet as many people as possible who might hire him or know of someone who would hire him. “It’s about networking, in every sense of the word.”
“The networks you create, you never know how they will help you,” said Mukherjee-Gothi, telling the story of how her leadership position in a South Asian bar association connected her to someone who eventually helped to find her business. “It wasn’t something that I strategically sought out, but the hard work [creating a network] definitely pays off.”
“Allies, Influence, Power and Politics in the Office” was sponsored by the ABA Women Rainmakers of the Law Practice Management Section.