While working as a deputy general counsel at RSA Security, Lalitha Gunturi told her general counsel that her ultimate goal was to become a GC.
She also shared that while she had IP and commercial expertise, she would need to further develop her corporate skills to best position herself to be competitive for general counsel opportunities.
Her GC was supportive of her ambitions, resulting in Gunturi becoming the company’s assistant corporate secretary and developing a broader skill set. Roughly a year later, she was named general counsel of Aras Corporation, a Massachusetts-based software company.
Gunturi shared the story Monday during a webinar on authentic self-promotion that was part of the Association of Corporate Counsel Foundation’s Global Women in Law & Leadership event that runs through Wednesday.
“Don't be afraid to speak up and really say what you're looking for,” Gunturi told attendees.
Other members of the all-female panel also spoke about the power of finding colleagues within your organization that will support your professional development goals and who are often referred to as sponsors.
Lauren Ingegneri, senior director at Corza Medical, said her new boss signed off on her attending a course focused on leadership and development that meant she would miss a week of work.
She not only learned a lot at the event the company paid for her to attend, but also interacted with in-house counsel from around the world. She credited the goodwill she built up with her boss for the opportunity.
“I'm just so thankful that he believed in me and that I was able to show the value to the company because that also helps my own professional development,” Ingegneri said.
Carolyn Herzog, chief legal officer at Elastic, told attendees a sponsor doesn’t have to be their boss. It could be someone within their business that they have worked on projects with and helped solve problems.
Additionally, she encouraged women in the legal profession to be more willing to actively serve as sponsors for other women and not fear doing so.
“The same way we don’t self-promote for ourselves, sometimes we hesitate to promote for other women,” Herzog said. “I think we could take some risks and put more women out there and just keep building that network.”
Growing your network
The five panelists encouraged in-house lawyers to also look outside of their companies to find supporters and build their networks.
Padma Choudry, senior corporate counsel at VMware, said she has found the coffee chats the ACC Northeast Chapter hosts to be helpful in that regard. She particularly enjoys events along those lines that feature small groups of people.
“I feel like I'm forming deeper connections with people than you do sometimes at the bigger and broader networking events,” Choudry said.
Gunturi said serving on corporate and other boards can be another great way to make connections beyond your company.
Agreeing to appear on panels for webinars and conferences is also helpful for fostering relationships across industries and geographic regions.
Gunturi said that when in-house lawyers show they are taking on leadership roles and building a strong network, it helps “build trust and reputation with your CEO, with your peers, and others within the company.”
Promoting your team
The panelists acknowledged that women often face barriers that prevent them from engaging in self-promotion at work that could advance their careers, including fears that their assertiveness will come across as aggressive.
But the in-house lawyers said it is incumbent on female attorneys to push past their anxieties about how they will be perceived and find ways to promote their experiences and accomplishments.
One way they advised legal leaders to do so is by highlighting the success of their legal departments to company leadership when appropriate.
Herzog said she has noticed that some of her business colleagues at Elastic do a great job consistently providing senior management with information not only about their teams’ achievements, but the meaning and significance of them. Doing this helps keep their units’ work visible to key decision makers.
“You could be doing the best work of all, but if the right people aren't aware, then it only goes so far,” Herzog said.
She and others highlighted that when GCs or CLOs are promoting the great work of their teams, they are also indirectly promoting their own work leading the legal department.
One other overriding point that panelists emphasized was that any self-promotion should be done authentically and thoughtfully.
“It's not about indiscriminately promoting yourself,” said Marisa Murtagh, a managing director and managing counsel at State Street Corporation. “The goal is to amplify your accomplishments that are most aligned with where you aspire to go.”