WLN Event Outlines How Female Lawyers Can Take a Seat at a Boardroom Table

Women's Leadership Network event Women, including female lawyers, are woefully underrepresented on the boards of public companies and not-for-profits. To help change that, Brooklyn Law School Women’s Leadership Network held a May 20 event titled, “A Seat at the Table: Empowering Women to Boardroom Success,” putting the focus on advice, inspiration, and encouragement.    

It was the latest networking and educational opportunity developed by the WLN’s advisory arm, the Women’s Leadership Circle, and it offered attendees 1.0 continuing legal education (CLE) credit in the category of professional practice along with a wealth of sage advice and tips. 

Women’s Leadership Circle chair Meeka Bondy ’94 opened the event by stating the importance of board representation and leadership positions in business.  

“A lot of us, early in our careers, don't even imagine that we could be a general counsel somewhere or on the board of a for-profit company or a not-for-profit company,” said Bondy, whose own career has included being an in-house attorney at HBO.  “I think it’s time to start thinking about those possibilities, because we all have incredible skills. We all have incredible networks. And we can all be contributing to a larger enterprise.” 

President and Joseph Crea Dean David D. Meyer, in welcoming the attendees, shared data from a Deloitte report which found that only 23 percent of board members worldwide are women. While that figure is growing, it is projected that gender parity will not be reached until 2038. “So, this program to encourage more women to consider serving on boards is a contribution towards trying to make greater progress in that regard,” Meyer said.  

The event then turned to moderator Elizabeth Zessman, a former practicing lawyer who is currently a partner at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles and a member of the firm’s global financial services, CEO & board of directors, and legal, risk, compliance & government affairs practices. She introduced the three Brooklyn Law School alumni who have successfully landed board seats: 

Stacy J. Kanter '84, an independent board director and audit committee chair and the former head of the global capital markets practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Jodi F. Krieger ’88, partner at Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen, who has served on the national board of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation; and Ann MacDougall ’83 chairperson of the board at Mazzetti, impact investor, advisor, and general counsel.  

Much of their advice was highly tactical. Kanter started serving on corporate boards at age 59, after taking advantage of an early retirement program, trying to decide on a second act. She advised attendees to develop a board biography to outline what they bring to the table.  

“Start writing down what you think you can offer to a board,” Kanter said. Networking and letting associates know that you are looking for a board position is important and talking to people in all stages of their careers, including those who are junior, is also critical. Even an unexpected message on LinkedIn could help lead to a board seat. For those who are still working full-time, she recommends starting out by serving on one board, because of the time commitment.  

For Krieger, the decision to join the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation board was out of a personal knowledge of the disease space and wanting to help, but her credentials were bolstered by the legal work she had done with tax-exempt firms. “One of the things that I do with the organizations that we represent is police the board,” Krieger said, explaining that that includes explaining what the boards can and cannot do.  

She advised those seeking board positions to know that they can be a good fit even if they don’t check all the boxes.  

 “We are our worst enemy,” Krieger said. “I truly believe that we are a critical voice, and we are desirable as board members. But when we are asked to be on boards, and it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you know, we make excuses for reasons not to put ourselves out there.” 

MacDougall, who was unable to work on corporate boards while she was at PwC, said that she regretted not doing so sooner after she left.  

“If I had one thing to do over, I would have started my search earlier,” MacDougall said. “Start early, especially now, because public boards in particular are putting in mandatory retirement ages, which come sooner than you think.” 

She also said those seeking board positions should not be put off if they’re not familiar with the business of the board. Her own first for-profit board position was in the pharmaceutical industry.  

“I remember sitting in the interview with the CEO, and saying, ‘I don't know anything about pharma. But I know what I don't know. And I'm a very quick student. So, you have to give me permission to ask the dumb questions. And he said, please do.’” 

Panelists discussed the many advantages and benefits to being on boards, including getting paid to participate, supporting a nonprofit cause that one believes in, and having the power to direct actions at a for-profit company, such as controlling who is CEO. 

“I do like being in the oversight role, rather than in the day-to-day trenches,” MacDougall said. “I like business, and I like being in business and making strategic decisions.” 

Kanter said she enjoyed the committee work and the leadership work with the communities which allowed her to use her business expertise in a different way than she did while working as a lawyer. 

“I love being the one to ask the questions and think of the issues and I don't have to draft the documents and find the answers,” Kanter said. 

To see photos from the event, click here. To learn more about the Women’s Leadership Network and Women’s Leadership Circle, click here.