The Boston College Career Center hosted a discussion titled “Women in Law and Policy Alumnae Panel” on March 10 over Zoom. At the event, BC alumnae discussed the influence identifying as a female has on their legal career paths.
Tara Maher, a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State and BC ’05, talked about what it takes to succeed as a woman in a typically male-dominated profession.
“There is always space for a woman who is really good at her job,” Maher said. “That means having both some type of talent or skill and also the commitment to keep working on it and get better at it over time.”
Maher said there are great structural inequalities that can sometimes present challenges for women in law and policy.
“The things that you might want out of your life might not necessarily fit into the structures of what that organization lets you do,” she said. “These are things that shouldn’t apply differently to men and women but often apply more to women, like if you want to have a family, for example.”
Natacha Thomas, associate attorney for the general counsel of the Boston Retirement Board and BC ’01, shared about challenges she has faced as an attorney who is a woman of color.
“With the challenges I’ve faced, I have a duality,” Thomas said. “I can’t tell if it’s because of the color of my skin or if it’s because of my sex.”
Thomas said it is difficult to tell which aspects of her identity play a role in the difficult situations she has encountered.
“It’s always been hard for me to decipher whether it’s because I’m young, I’m a woman, and I’m a person of color,” She said. “It’s probably all three.”
The moderator asked panelists to discuss how they have navigated their career timeline in terms of balancing potential career paths with having a family as well as learning how to advocate for themselves in this regard.
Jessica Guobadia, a partner at Jahnz|Guobadia Law Firm and BC ’05, said she was the first female attorney at her previous firm to go on maternity leave.
“They ended up paying me full time for me to work part time because they knew they were interrupting my maternity leave, but they knew that my value that I brought to them was more important to them,” Guobadia said. “But most importantly, I knew the value that I brought to them, which I was able to voice to them.”
Malia Allen, deputy director of policy and strategy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and BC ’15, said she has become aware of being the only woman in a meeting.
“I’ve definitely been the only woman in a meeting,” Allen said. “I’ve been keenly aware that the people we’re meeting with won’t make eye contact with me, but they’ll make eye contact with my male coworkers.”
Allen emphasized the benefits of seeking out women mentors and leaders in challenging situations like this one that are related to her female identity.
“In my current role there are a lot of really strong women in leadership roles, and so I’ve really benefited from seeing them do their jobs well, and I’ve learned a lot both from coworkers, as well as my supervisors, who have really shown me what I can be and how I can handle difficult situations,” Allen said.
Guobadia said it is important that women working within any aspect of law, policy, or government always come prepared with facts.
“When you bring facts, it takes the emotion out of it, so there’s less chance that someone can tell you you’re being emotional, because that will get thrown at you,” Guobadia said. “It is unfortunate that as a woman you have to have the information to back it up, but always be prepared with it in case somebody in the room wants to try to discount your opinion or your question or your position.”
Guobadia also said it is imperative for women in this career path to be confident in their identity and abilities.
“You don’t have to be apologetic for who you are,” she said. “You are who you are and that’s probably what makes you great at your job.”
Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / For The Heights