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Q&A with Emily Smith, General Counsel

June 6, 2022

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As part of Women’s Month 2022, CSH hosted an innovative webinar: Stories of Women in Leadership and the Path to Progress.

Over 500 people attended this webinar and heard women leaders of CSH talk about how their career journeys have led them to where they are today.

Webinar attendees asked several dozen questions, many of which our speakers didn’t have time to address. We’re going to keep the conversation going with Emily Smith, JD, General Counsel at CSH.

Listen to the webinar here, and reach out to us if you want to ask a question to one of our women leaders.

Q&A with Emily Smith, General Counsel

How do you gain respect in a firm of “good old boys” in leadership positions?

It may be hard to believe, but I’m bearing witness every day to the “good old boys” club going by the wayside. Not everywhere or all the time, but it’s definitely less prevalent. 

First, don’t judge a book by its cover. It has been my personal experience that when I engage I find the vast majority of the time that what looks like a club is actually a group of people who will gladly work with me. 

Second, be the smartest person in the room or at least the smartest person about your job. Work hard. Earn respect. If you add value, it’s hard to discount you. 

Finally, if your value consistently isn’t being recognized or rewarded, reevaluate your situation. It may not feel fair, but if the obstacle is insurmountable it is your choice to accept it or find a new path.  

How should someone select a mentor and then initiate the mentoring relationship?

You can connect with potential mentors every day!

  • Find people who you think are successful and engage.
  • Seek people who are different and get their perspectives.
  • Ask questions.
  • Ask for advice.
  • Request to work with them.

If you click and they are receptive, mentoring relationships can form organically. Will some people not be receptive? Maybe, but that’s okay. It might be a timing issue or just not a good match. Personally, if any person at CSH introduced themselves to me and engaged in a conversation or asked a question, I would love it! You would be surprised how many people are receptive.

What advice do you have in dealing with male colleagues who treat you in a passive-aggressive or bullying manner?

Unfortunately, passive-aggressive or bullying behavior is not a male trait. Anytime a person treats you in this manner, the best way to address it is politely, directly, and calmly. Address the facts. Identify a legitimate goal they are trying to accomplish, point out where they are being ineffective, and provide an alternative. For example, “My manager assigned this project to me. I understand that you have been directing your communications to him. It is more efficient for you to communicate with me directly moving forward. If you have any concerns about that course of action, please tell me and I will schedule a meeting that involves you, me, and my manager and we can discuss them.”

What steps have you taken to break through the glass ceiling? What were your key challenges throughout the journey?

I work hard and I do good work. I am valuable and dependable. I am approachable and collaborative. I know my worth. I earn respect. I also know when a situation isn’t working and I’m not afraid to effect change through hard work and perseverance. If you don’t accept the glass ceiling, you won’t be limited by it.

My biggest challenge was calibrating my own expectations. I wasn’t going to be the president of a Fortune 500 company without working crazy hours, including weekends. That’s not a glass ceiling—that’s reality. When I understood my personal goals and what I was willing to do to achieve them, I felt empowered to make choices versus feeling constrained by circumstances.

Cell phones have altered work life balance, both positively and negatively. Do you have an “it can wait” or another rule you follow after hours?

Absolutely, although I advise all of my clients and business associates to call or text me if there is an emergency. Do I sometimes work late, or very early in the morning, or on weekends? Yes, but I do it when necessary and I am definitely more balanced. I am surprised at how my clients and business associates accept that I have reasonable boundaries as long as they know they can reach me when needed and the work is getting done.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a Clark Schaefer Hackett professional. Clark Schaefer Hackett will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.

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