around the bar
August 6, 2011

Allies Help Minorities, Women Advance Their Careers

By Jason Fujioka
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 _’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?”

Annual-republication“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.

Comments (2)

  • James Paul Beachboard
    4:18 PM August 8, 2011

    Just more of the same “poor, poor me” silliness– get your nose out of your navel– stop feeling sorry for yourself– work hard– show some self respect– and you will do fine– and hopefully happy– and by the way, where is it written that making partner is the raison d’etre of the practice of law?

  • sunforester
    6:05 PM August 9, 2011

    All this garbage about sex, race and so-called ‘culture’ in the workplace gets in the way of the achievement and competency that really matter. Skills, experience and attitude are the only real factors that make or break a career – your demographics will affect you only when YOU choose to make them affect you.

    When sex, race or ‘culture’ are cited by those who know very little about business as primary reasons for business actions (whether hiring, educating or promoting) then you KNOW that those claims serve only as a political justification for self-serving ends, not as a credible reality.

    It is a LIE that power rests with the majority – power in business rests with those who are competent and the achievers. People who know how to work get the opportunity to run things; if you want to run things, you need to know how to WORK. Anyone who tells you differently doesn’t know business (which makes money), but knows lots about politics (which steals money).

    If you think your sex, race or cultural background is interfering with your career, blame your own attitude and your understanding, not your workplace or some mythical conspiracy. If you don’t like adjusting your attitude to reality, start working in advocacy organizations that foment distrust and ignorance among the people in order to threaten and shake down businesses for continued funding.

    Learn how to be a good worker, no matter what your sex, race or cultural background. Don’t lean on your demographics as a crutch, excuse or threat – nobody will want to hire or keep you with that extremely poor, counterproductive attitude.

    If learning to network is a skill that you must have to succeed, then learn that skill without all the associated hand-wringing and recriminations detailed above. Get the skills and experience that you need to have, but DON’T pretend that they have anything to do with your demographics – that pretense simply makes you less desirable because it means that you are begging for patronage, not a fair, honest deal.