Marsha Anastasia is Vice President, Deputy General Counsel of the global technology company Pitney Bowes. We recently sat down with Marsha to discuss her career trajectory, her involvement with the National Association of Women Lawyers and what advice she has for women starting their careers.
Q: What was your career path before you arrived at Pitney Bowes? Has each career step all been part of a master plan?
“Master plan…” Ha! That makes me laugh. You often hear speakers tell you that you need to take charge of your career and to think of where you’ll be in 5-10 years and how you’ll get there. It’s great advice, but that never happened for me. My career happened without me planning it. I was at my prior law firm, and they kept “loaning me out” to clients, including Pitney Bowes. At the time I thought, “I don’t know anything about Pitney Bowes,” and yet here I am 19 years later. I kept getting new opportunities and ended up loving it.
At Pitney Bowes, I started out as a junior lawyer, and then eventually I got my own business unit. Almost out of the blue, the General Counsel called me in and said “Would you be interested in managing people? I know you have young kids, if this isn’t the right time, I understand.” She saw something in me that maybe I didn’t see in myself. I accepted the position, and the General Counsel taught me how to be a manager. Then after a year, she promoted me to Deputy GC. If you’re taught by someone great, you can really learn, excel and love what you are doing. I’ve always had teams working for me, and I’ve loved that part of the job.
Q: How and why did you first get involved with the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL)? What was your path to becoming President of NAWL?
Michelle Mayes, now the General Counsel of The New York Public Library and an icon of women and mentoring, suggested that I attend the NAWL General Counsel Institute. The event had amazing women speakers and role models and I loved it! After the event I reached out to the president of NAWL at the time, Cathy Fleming, and Cathy invited me to join the planning committee for the next year. I ended up chairing that committee and eventually I was asked to join the NAWL board. Time flies, and I’ve now spent 10 years involved in NAWL and it’s been so rewarding.
Q: What was your favorite moment or achievement during your time as President of NAWL?
My work with the NAWL Supreme Court Committee in vetting President Obama’s nominee was one of my favorite experiences. In my term as President, Justice Scalia passed away unexpectedly, and I convened the NAWL Supreme Court Committee to vet President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. We had people from all around the country on the committee, and together they reviewed all his opinions and, most importantly, his track record on women’s issues – all in 28 days. They concluded that Judge Garland was well-qualified. As we were going through this process, the White House and other organizations saw what we were doing, and before I knew it, I found myself on national conference calls talking about the process and writing letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee talking about the stalled nomination process. It was an unexpected and rewarding process.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge to women in the legal profession at present?
I would say that there are two central challenges, both near and dear to NAWL’s heart and mission. First, the slow rate of women making equity partner at law firms, and the second is equal pay.
With respect to the first issue, NAWL conducts a regular survey of women at law firms. The 2016 survey shows we haven’t made much progress on the number of women making equity partner, which is disheartening. We have to do better than this. As we analyze the survey, it’s clear that under compensation of women is a challenge. The good news is a lot of women’s groups are digging into these issues and enacting change to help the numbers get better. Women in the in-house community need to work together with women at law firms – we in-house women need to say we want women and diverse attorneys working on our matters.
The second issue, pay equity, is something everyone has heard of – women make 78 or 82 cents to a man’s dollar, and women of color make even less. We need to talk about it more. There are discussions of laws to ensure equal pay, and women’s groups are taking up the cause, but we need to continue to press the issue.
Q: Do you think it is possible for professional women to “have it all”?
I do. For me, having it all means you have a great job at a place you love while also having time for family. At Pitney Bowes, I’ve always had challenging work, and I work with amazing people. I have a family–three wonderful children and a supportive husband–and I have time to spend with them. I learned that I had to be flexible in my career. Especially when I had babies, there were challenges in making it work. I was part-time when my kids were young. I would leave at 4 and not work on Fridays. Prior to having my first child, I had been working on transactional deals, and I couldn’t do that with a baby at home, so I had to be flexible and take on other work. Try to be flexible through those harder times, and soon enough they pass. Now my twins are 16, and my oldest is 21 and starting law school.
Q: What advice would you give female attorneys just starting their careers?
Be bold and be gutsy and don’t be afraid to make an impact. Get out there and change the world. I think young women today are bold. We have to encourage more of this – go out to a protest, stand up and fight for your rights, and figure out how to manage your personal and work lives so you don’t get burned out. Take that passion and energy into everything you do and make a difference.
Q: What are you reading right now?
I just finished The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It’s a powerful story about a young female slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. It’s just an unbelievable story with a great female figure. I really recommend it.
Erica Weisgerber is counsel in Debevoise’s New York office.
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