Expanded interview with Stasia Kelly

Transformative Leadership Award presenter discusses the importance of mentoring women lawyers.

Anastasia D. “Stasia” Kelly, a partner in the White Collar, Corporate Crime and Investigations practice at DLA Piper, was a trailblazing women general counsel, holding the post at Fannie Mae, Sears, MCI/WorldCom and American International Group (AIG), where she became vice chairman. In honor of her lifelong commitment to mentoring women, a Transformative Leadership Award is named for her, and she co-hosted this year’s awards dinner with Allstate CLO Michele Coleman Mayes.

Q: What does mentoring mean to you?

A: For me it’s a combination of mentoring and networking. I think of myself as the mother of all networkers. Women know how to network the personal stuff, like where to find the best hairdresser, but when it comes to making connections for business purposes, it always has seemed harder for women, like they are taking advantage of friendship when they ask for business or get professional advice from a friend. I always thought that was a mistake. We were missing a huge advantage that the guys were getting out on the golf course. The boundaries between mentoring and networking fall away when I am doing what comes naturally to me, which is saying “Gee, I think this person would be great doing X, or I would really like you to connect with Y, or this is a team where I think this person would thrive.”

Q: How did you get involved in mentoring?

A: It goes back to my experience at a law firm (before going in-house) where I realized that one of my strengths, and not one that was particularly valued by law firms, was the ability to build teams and to give people honest feedback, even if that feedback was not entirely positive. To me that is part of mentoring, realizing that not everyone does a great job in every job and finding the right place for that person.

Q: How would you assess the progress of women during your 30 years in law?

A: It doesn’t bowl me over. You would have thought given the number of women lawyers you could have 50 percent of the general counsel be women by now. And we are not even near that. Why is it that after all these years we haven’t cracked that glass ceiling—we have moved it up a floor or two, but we haven’t cracked it. There’s a million reasons, but a lot of it is that women don’t mentor each other in a positive way.

Q: Do you see that changing?

A: I’ve seen in the past three to five years a focus on women networking with women and women mentoring women for the purpose of doing good things. Doing this mentoring and networking is not about a quid pro quo. If you do it to get something out of it, it’s not going to work. If you do it because it’s the right thing to do, it is going to come back to you in a hundred different ways, though you never know when, where or how.

Q: What should the powers that be in corporate American do to advance women lawyers?

A: I don’t think we can rely on the powers that be to do it. We need to give the guys the compelling reason to let us advance.

Q: What do women need to do to advance women lawyers?

 A: In the corporate world there’s a competitiveness and a jealousy [among women] that spills over from the personal side to the professional side. The most successful women I know understand that is something they had to leave behind in adolescence. They figure out there is power in numbers and power in coming together. I did not have a lot of women in my peer group, and those I did have never wanted competition—they liked being the only women in the boardroom, the only women on the senior executive team. That’s what is changing. Women see the benefit of having other women on the management teams they are on. They see how powerful it can be to have other people who think like you because you have more ability to transform behavior. We have to encourage that change and recognize that we can be our own worst enemies.

Q: What is your message to women lawyers?

A: The message to women is, the guys know how to do this better, and it’s about time that we as women figure it out and get ourselves into the boardrooms and the C-suite offices. Because if we don’t direct it together, it will be another 50 years, and our grandkids are going to be talking about this. That would be a shame because we have the critical mass of numbers now, but we don’t have the numbers in the right places. It’s about time that happened.

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Mary Swanton

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