Maryanne Lavan, senior vice president and general counsel of Lockheed Martin Corp.
Maryanne Lavan, senior vice president and general counsel of Lockheed Martin Corp.

This year’s keynote luncheon topic at the Women, Influence and Power in Law Conference will focus on “Women Leaders: Unique Challenges, Unprecedented Opportunities.” Several of this year’s keynoters shared their thoughts around challenges and opportunities and offered some advice to women looking to rise in their own legal departments.

Nancy J. Laben, executive vice president and general counsel of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., said she has faced challenges when being accepted in a leadership role that have ranged from the “sublime to the ridiculous.” Some people have turned to passive-aggressive behavior, while others have listened to her voice but not what she has to say. She has even been criticized for not wearing traditional black suits.

“All this serves to undermine credibility,” she said. “I believe you have to address that straight on. I won’t call people out in a large room, because I don’t want to embarrass them the way they have just embarrassed themselves. But I will follow up.” In the moment, Laben said may try humor, such as joking that she must have frog in her throat when people ignore her.

Maryanne Lavan, senior vice president and general counsel of Lockheed Martin Corp., said she never thought that she had to do things differently because she is a woman. “What I have found is that I bring different perspectives to the table, and people around me have often appreciated those unique perspectives,” she said. “I’ve found a few guiding principles have helped along the way: Take everything you do seriously, work really hard and take advantage of every opportunity. Being a leader at Lockheed Martin is a privilege and I am grateful for that privilege.”

According to Lavan, it’s no longer a surprise when women rise to leadership roles or to executive management. “While early in my career – especially working in government contracts – some people may have been surprised to see a woman at the table and were skeptical about my work, once I demonstrated my knowledge, they saw the value I brought and I gained their respect,” she said.

Lavan advised female in-house counsel looking to become leaders in their own organization to develop their own leadership style. “Look to other leaders and determine the traits you admire – and the traits you don’t want to adopt,” she said. “Adapt the traits you admire to your own leadership style. As leaders, we have a responsibility to be authentic, and, by example, show what we stand for, what we want from the company and what we expect from our teams.”

Showing grace under pressure is one of the most important lessons leaders can learn, according Lavan. “In challenging situations, you can have two reactions: You can have a negative reaction, or you can rise to the occasion and make the situation a learning experience for yourself and your employees,” she said “How you and your team respond to challenging situations make lasting impressions on your employees and the company’s reputation.”

Laben also advised risk-taking. “I think I’ve gotten where I’ve gotten by being willing to take risks, personal and professional,” she said. “For example, that required moves and taking on jobs I didn’t really think I had the capability for. Think about what you are trying to accomplish, and take risks.”

The keynote luncheon, which will be moderated by Rhonda Ferguson, vice president, corporate secretary and chief ethics officer of First Energy Corp., will feature the following speakers, in addition to Lavan: Patricia Hatler, executive vice president and chief governance officer of Nationwide Insurance; Lucy Lee Helm, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of Starbucks; Deborah P. Majoras, chief legal officer and secretary of The Procter & Gamble Company.

The Women, Influence & Power in Law Conference, which takes place Sept. 17-19 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., is the only national forum facilitating women-to-women exchange on current legal issues. This conference is led and facilitated almost exclusively by women, encouraging an exchange between women in-house counsel and women outside counsel on the day’s most pressing legal challenges.