NEW YORK — At the first Rising Stars Dinner for 2019, attendees were offered a rare opportunity — a “behind the scenes” view of the successful rise of some of the legal profession’s most powerful women by those women themselves.
On this night, Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative was honored to host Christa D’Alimonte, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Viacom Inc. And it was immediately evident from D’Alimonte’s story that her success was earned, in large part, by her ability to maintain a strong sense of self.
The dinner also welcomed Thomson Reuters’ Executive Vice President and General Counsel Deirdre Stanley and the 2019 class of the TWLL Rising Star Cohort — a group comprised of nine women from AM 100 law firms, who have been identified as future leaders by their firm.
“You need to be able to bring your whole self to work,” D’Alimonte said, further discussing the importance of a well-rounded life; and, in overseeing a staff of about 600, fully accepting that she doesn’t have to be expert in everything. “You can’t dive deep into everything that comes across your desk” she said. “You have to rely on others.” It is important to trust the expertise of those with whom you work, she added.
D’Alimonte also spoke about the changes for women taking place in the legal industry. “Out of all of the women in my summer associate class, only two of us ultimately made it to partnership,” she said.
Her remarks underscored how the pipeline to leadership, though it remains quite sticky, has been opening up slowly to women over the years. She balanced this thought by speaking at length about a dynamic that still very much exists for women in the legal field — the siphoning off of women as the move from law school to the leadership rungs in the industry.
For example, law firms start associate classes that contain a large number of women (sometimes even a majority); however, that number dwindles significantly as more of the associate classes graduate to partnership positions. And even fewer women make it to executive positions — a phenomena often attributed to a woman’s choice to have a family.
D’Alimonte explained that she was fortunate in finding a partner who was supportive of her career aspirations. “I was lucky in that I had a husband who sacrificed his career to stay home with our children,” she said, adding that moving in-house allowed her more room to balance her life.
Several cohort members echoed that dilemma, pointing out that more was being done at their respective firms to allow parents to take valued time to be with their children, but that a lot more still needed to be done. Indeed, they noted that male parents are often celebrated for the time they take to spend with children, whereas female parents often feel they need to take that time secretly.
One cohort member asked how they could stand out as potential outside counsel to clients. “Bring me something I can use,” D’Alimonte answered, adding that if she’s invited outside counsel to a pitch, she already knows how many attorneys they have and in what practice fields they excel. “What I need is outside counsel who have experience with the other side or who have looked at the issue I have and can offer tangible advice.”
During the course of the evening D’Alimonte was asked how she made the step to Deputy Practice Group Leader of Global Mergers & Acquisitions Group at her former firm, Shearman & Sterling. Her humility was inspiring. “I don’t know really,” she said. “I just don’t know… I mean some of this is luck, right?”
Given D’Alimonte’s amazing legal career and academic accolades, none agreed with her. However, all felt lucky to spend an evening learning the story behind such an engaging and successful woman.