The first ever Women, Influence & Power in Law event kicked off with a bang, as the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mary Jo White, addressed an enthusiastic crowd.

Nancy Kesterbaum of Convington and Burlington introduced the session, and Sara Moss, executive vice president and general counsel at The Estee Lauder Companies, interviewed Chair White. 

Moss opened the session with questions about White’s past and the secret of her success. Chair White credited her parents with her early success, and found her way into law, which became a passion for her. Though she stated a love for the private sector, White said that she feels her true calling is public service, where she says she can make a real difference.

White showed great humor as she spoke, bringing out laughter from the crowd, but she also spoke honestly and frankly about her experience as a woman in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. She shared some “earth to Mary Jo” moments, which she explained were times that she realized great truths about gender roles in the government.

The conversation moved along to happenings at the SEC, and Chair White spoke of some of the work the Commission has done with the JOBS and Dodd-Frank acts. She spoke of the “no admit, no deny” policy, stating that is has served the agency well, but she feels that there are certain cases that require public accountability, such as cases that involve egregious harm. 

In addressing other issues, White spoke about fiduciary duties, and whether they should be harmonized. She mentioned NASDAQ and the potential for glitches, highlighting a plan to enhance the requirements for trading systems.

“Bold,” “relentless” and “fair” are words that are important to Chair White, and she stated that these are tenants that are essential for her organization, as well as herself. She cited her own experience as a valuable resource that she has been able to bring to bear during her tenure.

The conversation inevitably came around to the government shutdown. Chair White stated that the SEC is not shut down, but she said that the Commission is cutting programs such as training and travel, and hopes the shutdown ends before there is a funding issue.

The final portion of the session was opened to questions from the audience, but not before White gave advice. “Be yourself… Don’t be afraid to take risks… Gravitate toward those spaces where you can thrive, where work isn’t work, it’s pleasure.”

 Audience questions ranged from inquiries about White’s relationship with other prominent women, such as Elizabeth Warren; her top priorities as SEC Chair; interactions between the government and the press; work/life balance; mentorship, the whistleblower program; and she even worked in a baseball joke, gently mocking her beloved Yankees.

It was an informative and amusing start to the conference, setting the tone for what should prove to be a spectacular event.