Throughout March, our firm celebrated women professionals at Much and around the world. As part of Women's History Month, we are spotlighting two of our firm's outstanding attorneys: Camille Khodadad and Ursha Magajne, co-chairs of the Much Women's Initiative.
Camille is a principal in our Labor & Employment group and Ursha is a principal in our Corporate & Finance group. They are both dedicated to the support and development of Much's women attorneys.
In our Women's Initiative spotlight, Camille and Ursha share insights as women leaders at Much.
What compelled you to take on the role of co-chair of the Much Women's Initiative?
Camille: My passion for gender equality can be traced back many years. When I was in grade school, my friends and I wrote a letter to the then President of the United States (I won't date myself by telling you which one) and asked him why there were different standards for the number of sit-ups that girls and boys needed to complete to receive a national physical fitness certification. We thought it was unfair that girls were subject to a lower standard. To our surprise, the President wrote back and told us the administration would make sure the sit-up standard was the same for girls and boys going forward. From this experience, I learned that my voice could make a difference. I accepted the role of co-chair of Much's Women's Initiative so I can lend my voice and take an active role in the Firm’s strategic efforts to increase the hiring, retention, and advancement of women.
Ursha: I was compelled and excited because our firm's Women's Initiative is a fantastic group of women that has spearheaded a wide variety of initiatives. It is very supportive and has organized some of the most interesting and memorable events at Much. The group normally organizes four large events each year. One is a charitable event focused on giving back to the community. The second is an educational event focused on any topic the members are interested in, from legal questions to work-life balance and nutritional education. The third is an event with our clients that has included fun cooking classes. The fourth is primarily a social event where we get to know each other and share advice in a less formal setting. I was honored to be considered for the co-chair role and am excited to be doing it with Camille.
Who has been your most influential woman mentor?
Camille: Hands down, my mom. When I was growing up, my mom was one of the few mothers in our neighborhood who worked outside of the home. I watched my mom get her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Northwestern University followed by postdoctoral fellowships in cell biology. She became a preeminent scientist and a professor at Rush Medical College in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy. My mom achieved all of this while raising three children and actively participating in social causes aimed at the betterment of society, such as gender and racial equality. She modeled the behavior that I have tried to emulate.
What is the biggest challenge women face in the workplace and how can they confront those challenges?
Camille: While the number of women entering the workforce has increased over the past few decades, there are still few women in leadership. Study after study shows that organizations that have diverse leaders outperform organizations that do not. I am proud to be part of a firm that recognizes the value women bring to the table and has made it a priority for women to be represented in leadership roles.
Ursha: The legal profession has come a long way in the past 20 years but, like many other professions, still involves challenges for women. The biggest one is the lack of work-life balance, especially once women have children. Much, like many other firms, is now open to part-time and flex-time arrangements, which is helping but does not remove the challenge completely because attorneys' hours remain unpredictable. Recently, firms have also started rethinking the traditional ways of how law firms are structured and how client credit is awarded, which has been disadvantageous to women. One of the proposed solutions is to consider splitting client credit based on each person's contribution to become more inclusive.
For International Women's Day, you invited Anne Doepner to our firm to discuss her experience as one of the first woman executives in the NFL. Anne stressed the importance of uplifting women and "sending the elevator back down for others" when you achieve success. What does this message mean to you?
Camille: It means that anyone – regardless of gender – who achieves success in their organization needs to use their power and authority to actively advance the careers of others who have been historically underrepresented, such as women and people of color. Her message stresses the importance of having an "abundance mindset." There are enough opportunities to go around, and by helping others achieve advancement, we elevate our organizations as a whole and establish a culture of support.
Ursha: To me, it means mentoring and teaching the younger generations of lawyers and other colleagues. I have been teaching as an adjunct professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and have spoken to several generations of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law students. I have been a formal mentor to a female associate in our group, but I also make a conscious effort to mentor our attorneys and paralegals informally.
What is one piece of advice you would give a woman at the beginning of her career in law?
Camille: As you begin your career, actively seek out sponsors. A sponsor is someone who has power within an organization and uses that power to actively advocate for others. A mentor, on the other hand, is someone who provides guidance and advice but does not necessarily actively advocate for others. While mentors and sponsors both play important roles, sponsors help individuals advance. And when you rise to a position of power, sponsor others. I have been fortunate in that I have had both male and female sponsors. Those individuals have played a critical role in my career development.
Ursha: Don't be afraid to ask. If you do not ask, people may not even know that you want something.