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Being a professional and a woman: ‘Choose to be relevant’, ‘assert yourself’ and other words of wisdom from Uber GC and Pallavi ‘Amarchand’ Shroff

Salle Yoo
Salle Yoo
Pallavi Shroff
Pallavi Shroff
Uber Technologies general counsel (GC) Salle Yoo and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas regional managing partner Pallavi Shroff reflected on their journey as women in the legal profession, at NLU Delhi last Thursday.

NLUD was hosting a Townhall question and answer (Q&A) session titled UberDIALOGUES, on the launch of its annual three-day cultural fest Kairos.

As audience, students of the law school were given 45 minutes to interact with Yoo and Shroff on the theme of gender equity in the legal profession, and ask them questions centred on existing gender barriers in the profession and how to overcome the barriers and empower future female leaders.

Yoo has a year 1995 JD in Law from Boston University, US and worked with US law firm Davis Wright Tremaine for 13 years before leaving the firm as a partner, to join Uber as its GC, in July 2012.

She said her move to Uber was unexpected and contrary to her plan to stay “in the system” – i.e. gain top leadership roles in the law firm environment – to pave the way for other minority Asian women in senior law firm roles as well; she is of Korean origin.

Shroff, who has worked with Amarchand for over 34 years, started her career in the profession by practicing in the Delhi high court in 1981. She is an economic honours graduate and has a masters in management studies, after which she obtained her legal education. She said that beginning her career with about five other women lawyers around in the high court, and fewer in the Supreme Court, had its rough ends in terms of convincing judges, clients and senior counsel of her worth.

Legally India picked out five comments from Shroff and Yoo’s narratives about their careers:

Yoo: “[I was told once] that the best thing you can do as a small minority Asian woman is to be forgettable. You can go [on that panel] and be nice to everyone and no one will remember your name. It’s your choice. You can choose to be nice, and that’s your highest value, or you can choose to be relevant.”

“Today I’ll tell you with all my…. [..] …You’ll have to earn your stripes, work hard, but at some point find your voice. If you want to have an interesting career, you’re going to have to choose to be relevant.”

Shroff: “My clients told me [they] only wanted to meet Mr [Shardul] Shroff. They wouldn’t want to meet me [because] clients wouldn’t come to a woman lawyer. They’d wait outside [Shardul Shroff’s offices] for hours on end but refuse to meet me. There was equal resistance from the judges. Judges would sometimes just heckle me just to check whether I can argue or not. It was insulting, it was infuriating. But on the other hand some judges were also very encouraging of women lawyers.”

Yoo: “I think what I find is that women don’t ….. everyone gets simple training and women are just as good lawyers but what women sometimes need is that starter training [on] how to assert yourself as a leader, how to think about yourself as a leader, what are the small things that you do that actually undermine our abilities.”

“Within a year of joining Uber we did Series C [investment]. […] I looked at the [corporate law firm] deal team to see who was on my team and where they sat. On the first seat [sat a legendary male corporate lawyer]. Second seat, also a man. Third lawyer, whom I’d call if the second lawyer wasn’t available, also a man – a senior associate. It wasn’t until I got to the person who took care of the Cap table – A capitalisation table shows who owns what in a company, its very important to get right – that was the woman. At the seat she was I had no need to talk to her. Because it’s just not that critical. When I was a junior I always took that seat because nobody else wanted it so I thought I will. I think one thing that training teaches you is to ask for seat number two when you’re ready. What women don’t do is stand up and say: ‘that looks really interesting to me, I want to be the deal lawyer. Teach me how to do the stock purchase agreement not the Cap table,’.”

Shroff: “If you leave all your filings to the court clerk, good luck to you. You never know where you’ll get stumped. [Removing defects in court filings] is not glamorous but back end work. It is critical. I still do it myself.”

Yoo: On when she was offered the role of GC at Uber. “I had committed myself so deeply to [the law firm partnership] path. And it wasn’t just commitment that I wanted a career. I so wanted to fit in because I wanted to help other minority women make it to partner. And if I jumped off then I wouldn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t be inside the firm, so I certainly couldn’t advocate for women inside the firm.”

“A society’s definition of what should be leadership skills are usually tinged by male characteristics.”

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