Georgetown Law Alumnae Share Stories of Agility and Adapting to Change

March 12, 2020

Georgetown Law Associate Dean for Centers and Institutes Elizabeth Hayes Patterson (left) and Georgetown University Alumni Association Director Julia Farr (right, C'88, P'19, P'21) at the Georgetown Law Women's Forum, giving the 2020 Georgetown Law Alumnae Award to Leslie Thornton (L'83, L'16, second from left) and U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington (second from right, L'80). The Alumnae Award was established in 1998 to recognize women graduates of the Law Center who exhibit excellence in their profession and dedication to Georgetown Law.

If there was one truism that captured the mood at the 2020 Georgetown Law Women’s Forum, it was this: “There’s no straight path,” said Georgetown Law Professor Hillary Sale, who moderated the opening plenary. “Some periods are very lumpy. And it’s never, ever an easy work life balance.”

This year’s forum, held on February 28, opened with a panel of four accomplished alumnae who shared the trials and tribulations of their various paths to success. Each noted that, while competing priorities pushed and pulled them in different directions along the way, it was their agility and ability to adapt to change that enabled them to seize – and create — the right opportunities.

Professor Hillary Sale speaking at Women's Forum

Georgetown Law Professor Hillary Sale moderated the opening plenary.

“I’ve not always chosen the easy career move or the most obvious,” said Ghita Harris-Newton (L‘99), director of government affairs and public policy for Google Ads. “I ended up doing a lot of pivoting to choose roles that were right or would make me happy.”

Sale emphasized the need to learn how to recognize the difference between measures of success that are objective – things like rank, title and salary — and subjective – who we are as individuals. Ultimately, it’s important to bring the objective and subjective together.

For Harris-Newton, subjective measures have become more important over time.

Subjective Measures of Success

“With time, my thinking has evolved,” said Harris-Newton. “Some of those objective pieces have a part to play, but subjective is becoming more important. I’ve evolved over the years to come to a place where I am thinking about happiness.”

Each panelist had succinct advice for women just starting out, and for those who, like them, are continually trying to balance responsibilities at home with a fulfilling career.

Sheila McCorkle (L’11), counsel for SpaceX, noted that while choosing to take time away from her family can be difficult, it’s made more manageable by the fact that she loves her job.

“I’ve always been a space nerd,” McCorkle said. “I get to think about that grander purpose, which makes it much easier if I get home late or I can’t make everything at my kids’ schools. Connecting your work to something you care about, that drives you, is really critical.”

Sale pointed out that choosing to outsource some responsibilities can create more space for the right career opportunities. But, as Helen Wong (L’09) added, this isn’t always easy.

“Being the first generation to graduate from college, I have a lot of guilt with outsourcing, I never feel comfortable enough to really outsource,” said Wong, who is raising two young children while working as associate general counsel for WhatsApp. “For me, it’s about ruthless prioritization.”

Saphira Galoob (L’99), principal and CEO of The Liaison Group and executive director of The National Cannabis Roundtable, said that she’s learned to embrace the unpredictable nature of her chosen path. “Having unpredictability when you have all these responsibilities creates tension,” she said. “You’ve got to forgive yourself quickly and frequently, to get rid of everything you can that you don’t need to be doing.”

Navigating Change

Donna Jones Daley (L’81) also shared tips on navigating change during her breakout session titled “Agility: The New Leadership Currency for 2020.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are a general counsel or a junior associate, if you’re with a global practice or a local organization, our ability to achieve success if going to be based on how we navigate change,” said Daley, who serves as managing partner with Noble Resource Associates, LLC. “It’s not just navigating change, it’s strategically navigating change. It’s intentional.”

She presented a formula for creating a competitive advantage: an equal combination of awareness, adaptability, agility, and action.

Awareness is about identifying individual strengths – “positioning yourself as the hero in your story.” Adaptability involves risk-taking and innovative thinking. Agility is crucial as the legal profession evolves and changes. And action must be strategic as well as sustainable.

“You can influence any one of these and have the ability to influence your competitive advantage,” she noted.

Daley ended by urging forum participants to focus on what drives them.

“What’s your superpower?” she said. “It’s not just passion, it’s purpose. How does that superpower help you help others?”

More than 170 attendees took part in this year’s Women’s Forum. Next year’s event will be held Feb. 11-12, 2021 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Washington, D.C., and will feature alumnae from across the Georgetown University community. To sign up to receive more information as it becomes available, visit the Women’s Forum page.