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Connie Collingsworth, GC, Gates Foundation

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Rosena Sammi: Tell me about your position at the foundation.

Connie Collingsworth: My position has modified since I started as the first, and solely, lawyer 13 years ago. At the moment, there were round 100 individuals engaged on the library program — the inspiration’s unique mission was to attach rural libraries to the internet — and solely five individuals within the International Well being Division. There was no International Improvement Program, contract system, battle‐of‐interest coverage or strategy for managing intellectual property. It was like a start-up and had been represented by outdoors counsel, principally from a tax perspective. Lots of governance and other primary issues hadn’t been addressed yet. Principally, I was given duty for no matter needed to be completed from a legal perspective.

The very first thing I did was to hire a paralegal to help deal with contracts. Then I began constructing some methods and policies, and worked on some superb grants. A number of weeks after I began, Bill introduced the International Alliance for Improved Vitamin (GAIN) on the World Financial Discussion board in Davos, Switzerland. I went to Geneva to work with bilateral donors and other entities to assist create GAIN. So, my work ranged from probably the most basic items — which you won’t anticipate to be doing after being a associate for 20 years — to very refined transactions, which is what I feel most consider the inspiration’s basic counsel does every single day.

Coming from a secure position as a associate at a regulation firm, it sounds such as you took a leap of faith.

I didn’t see there to be lots of danger, truly. The opportunity got here to me. I wasn’t wanting, as I was very pleased on the agency. Two tax legal professionals working for the inspiration approached me and stated, “The foundation’s going to hire in-house counsel; you should apply.” I knew how a lot cash Invoice had and, given his character, I expected the inspiration would do superb things. I couldn’t have predicted that Warren Buffett would contribute his cash to the inspiration, too. But with a $20 billion endowment at the time I began, I didn’t anticipate it to be like other nonprofits. I’d been on nonprofit boards and knew that you can be extraordinarily excited concerning the mission and have a passion for the objectives but find yourself spending half of your time making an attempt to boost money to stay afloat. One of many largest challenges the inspiration had, particularly within the early years, was making a gift of the cash strategically.

I had doubts concerning the issues individuals have been throwing money at, and it was actually a matter of one wealthy individual getting richer

I learn that you simply have been uninterested in being profitable for wealthy individuals.

I had been doing loads of enterprise capital offers, representing the VCs in addition to the start-up corporations. In the dot-com period, I saw some transactions that I felt have been loopy from a enterprise perspective. One comparatively younger shopper I represented had finished nothing greater than register the cool.com URL and turned down a $10 million supply as a result of he didn’t assume it was sufficient cash. I represented a VC fund that did 10 deals and not a single one in every of them returned something. I did my greatest to do a superb job, and I loved the deals. However I had doubts concerning the things individuals have been throwing money at, and it was actually a matter of one wealthy individual getting richer, or somebody hoping to get rich. It additionally turned more tedious as know-how received higher. Once I began training regulation, 30 years ago, you’d sit in a room and negotiate instantly with individuals. It was discouraging to obtain a set of types and be advised, “Here’s the deal, do a little editing and e-mail it back.” The challenges and alternatives I assumed the inspiration would offer made it very straightforward for me to apply for the place and make the move.

Did you all the time have your eyes open to alternatives? I’ve discovered it’s quite encouraging for ladies to look sideways.

I look sideways on a regular basis. It’s a must to maintain your head down enough to do a great job, however it’s sensible to be cognizant of your objectives, to be sure to keep challenged and be intentional about what you need to achieve next. I’ve come to be on two boards by being thoughtful, intentional and methodical about that aim.

Past the Gates: Connie demonstrating a foot-operated handwashing station in Tanzania, collaborating in a learning trip to Africa and visiting a classroom in Ghana. Pictures: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Did you interview with Bill Gates?

No, he was very busy with Microsoft at the moment. I interviewed with the CEO and the COO. After the very fact, that they had me interview with the chief director of the International Well being staff. He stated, “I don’t know if there’s enough here for you to do.” I laughed to myself, because I might see immediately there was lots to be completed. I additionally keep in mind an interview, over lunch, with Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who’s now the Secretary of Well being and Human Providers in D.C. She asked whether I might be prepared to stand up and say, “No.” That’s an essential factor to feel snug doing. She was on the lookout for any person unbiased, who didn’t need to be micromanaged and could are available with confidence and maintain things. It’s been nice that it’s played out that approach through the years. I’ve had a number of independence in my position.

What do you assume was the key to you getting the job?

Good references and management experience from the firm. I’d been requested to chair the Enterprise Department and had also been on the Companion Compensation and Government Committees. I feel displaying that other individuals had religion in me as a pacesetter was persuasive.

Sitting at a desk with a room filled with male funding bankers and CEOs didn’t make me uncomfortable. In reality, I found that their discomfort might give me an edge.

You started your authorized profession on a more conventional, company path. Was that your aim in regulation faculty?

I decided fairly shortly that I didn’t need to be a litigator. My exposure to that area of apply was very irritating. You would do a wonderful job and still not win the case, or spend big amounts of time responding to deposition requests or doing discovery, only to have the case settle. Whereas with company offers, the two events each need to take part and something constructive is produced at the end. I also like to negotiate to get to one of the best deal. I all the time felt snug being on the table. I grew up with three brothers and was a tomboy. Sitting at a table with a room filled with male funding bankers and CEOs didn’t make me uncomfortable. The truth is, I discovered that their discomfort might give me an edge. I feel it’s essential for ladies to take their place at the desk and present confidence that you simply belong. I lately read an article about two feminine venture capitalists in Silicon Valley who stated, “I’m not being treated right, so I’m going to pull away.” My argument is that staying at that desk, asserting yourself and saying “I belong here” is simply as necessary as we speak as marching for equal voting rights for ladies was several generations ago.

Does sitting at a desk with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet even increase an eyebrow for you?

I’m snug with it. Typically you must remind your self that you simply’re sitting with two icons. But for those who make too huge a deal out of it, you actually can’t do your job.

Typically being on the desk comes at a price. How did you find peace with the work-life equation?

I’ve two daughters in their early 20s. I used to be a associate on the regulation agency once they have been born and was lucky to have the ability to have youngsters once I needed. I received married once I was 25. I had my first youngster once I was 32 and my second once I was 35. When my eldest daughter was 2, I took a depart of absence from the firm to stay in Paris. My husband was working for Microsoft, establishing subsidiaries around the globe. When the job obtained too massive for one individual, the corporate decided that half the job can be finished out of Paris. They thought he wouldn’t be considering relocating, since I used to be a companion at the agency. But we stated, “Maybe that’s not true…” I requested the managing associate of the firm what the process can be to request a two-year depart of absence. He responded that there wasn’t a course of however they might help me; I might go and are available again. My second baby was born in Paris, so I was house with my daughters for two years. I beloved it, and it was good timing. Nevertheless, I concluded I was happier as a working mother and thought I’d be a better position mannequin for my daughters by working.

How did you cope with the boredom some ladies really feel after they depart a company job to remain at house?

I used to be in Paris, and we have been touring. I took them far and wide, so it was a bit totally different.

So, the key can be to maneuver to Paris?

That may be one strategy.

Going away turned out to be an excellent thing at the office, too. There had been some rigidity with my mentor at the agency. I’d been doing a number of the day-to-day work, and his shoppers started calling me instantly. I feel that was unsettling for him. My depart of absence took that challenge away. I was made Chair of the Business Department of the firm inside six months of returning. I also started producing my very own work. Issues fell collectively nicely.

Some males made comments, however I didn’t let it hassle me. I might say to myself, ‘That’s their drawback, not mine.’

How did you strategy the administration position?

I didn’t put on a chip on my shoulder as a result of I was a lady — perhaps that’s a advantage of growing up with three brothers. I felt like I belonged and asserted myself. Some males made comments, however I didn’t let it hassle me. I might say to myself, “That’s their problem, not mine.”

I’ve all the time loved watching different individuals, seeing how they succeed, studying from their constructive attributes and implementing them myself. I’m fairly demanding as far as expectations go and am prepared to name issues like they are and hold individuals accountable. However legal professionals aren’t taught to be managers. You go to regulation faculty for 3 years and get no training on the issues of administration. I feel that’s an actual hole — when you succeed as a lawyer, you’ll be in administration, perhaps at an enormous agency or in your personal apply.

I’ve made an effort to teach my daughters the significance of getting and investing in connections. No one taught me that.

Many women discover getting their very own enterprise to be a problem. What was your strategy?

I might be a a lot better rainmaker in the present day than I was again then. I don’t assume I appreciated how necessary networking is. I’ve made an effort to teach my daughters the importance of getting and investing in connections. No one taught me that. There was enough work at the firm that I didn’t should generate my own work to keep busy. Had I stayed, I might have had to develop into extra concerned in generating work.

I feel the arduous factor for ladies to do is make the ask. You’d be stunned what you will get just by saying, “Hey, can you introduce me?” when considered one of your connections knows someone you are interested in meeting or working with. Ladies have to really feel more snug doing that. It doesn’t harm to ask.

Do you miss the follow?

Not too much. Now that I have grow to be just about a full-time manager, typically I miss negotiating deals. However I have loads of other challenges.

The share of feminine equity partners at regulation companies is round 16%. What do you assume wants to vary?

There are a variety of reasons behind that statistic, and I feel it varies quite a bit by firm. However from my own experience watching female peers who dropped out, I feel there was strain on moms of my era to do every part completely. I watched some very vibrant, gifted, conscientious, hardworking ladies say, “I can’t be that perfect mother” — and find yourself spending as many hours chairing the PTA or operating a nonprofit board as I was spending at work. I used to be fortunate as a result of once we came again from Paris, my women have been 5 and a couple of and the know-how out there allowed me to stay residence till they went to high school. I had breakfast with them every morning earlier than going to the office. They have been very concerned in actions — sports, music and every little thing else. So, I wasn’t actually missing that a lot time with them, and as a billing companion, I had the pliability to return and go. I went on area journeys and skim in the classroom. It was essential for me to take part the place they might see me. Youngsters need to present their mother and father off. Displaying up within the classroom meant extra to them than something I might’ve accomplished to boost money for the varsity, for example. And I read to both of them every night time.

I didn’t prepare dinner. I’m a lousy prepare dinner. My youngsters don’t have fancy reminiscences of lovely birthday desserts that I made for them.

It sounds too straightforward. Your schedule should have been robust. How did you make it work?

It’s a must to have an excellent companion. That’s not an understatement. Anyone who appreciates doing their share. I tell numerous younger ladies, “Don’t make the mistake of trying to be Superwoman.” I didn’t prepare dinner. I’m a awful prepare dinner. My youngsters don’t have fancy reminiscences of lovely birthday muffins that I made for them. They have been healthy and fed, however I didn’t attempt to be Superwoman. I tried to be there for them. My women name me virtually daily; at any time of day, I’ll simply say, “Excuse me, I have to take this call.” I took advantage of the money I was making and employed help, so I wasn’t doing laundry or getting the dry cleansing on the times I was house. I needed to spend that time with my women. But loads of mother and father rent nannies who play with the youngsters whereas they spend the entire weekend operating errands. I say, “Why should the nanny get to play with my kids and leave the errands for me?”

Did you encounter judgmental mothers who scoffed when you don’t deliver organic cookies to high school?

I really didn’t care that the opposite moms needed natural cookies. That’s one other example of “your problem, not mine.” If my women have been proud of the cookies they picked out at the grocery store, then that was ok for me. I didn’t have two hours to make cookies. We went to the shop and I informed them, “You’re independent, you get to pick out the cookies.” They felt proud, and I assumed that was nearly as good as me baking cookies.

The $42 Billion Question: At its Seattle headquarters, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showcases tasks and packages funded by its prodigious endowment.

How did you and your husband, who can also be a lawyer, juggle your schedules?

That was the exhausting half. (About eight years in the past, he left Microsoft and is now the president of a nonprofit that manages logistics for healthcare distribution in sub-Saharan Africa.) There were onerous occasions, especially when my youngest daughter was in high school. She was a three-varsity athlete and played choose soccer. I keep in mind choosing up food at Subway — she’d eat and alter her clothes within the automotive as we have been driving to follow. Whereas she was doing her workout, I might stroll around the monitor for train or take a conference call. In the course of the H1N1 flu epidemic a couple of years in the past, I was speaking with the CEO and the president of International Health on the telephone. They might hear the wind and teased me by saying, “You’re on a soccer field, aren’t you?” Yes, I was at the recreation. As long as I took care of the work, why ought to they care if I’m on a soccer area? Our other daughter was often someplace else, so my husband would say, “Well, you take that one, I’ll take this one.”

I advised Sylvia when she employed me that my women would come first. There have been occasions once I stated, “I’m not taking that trip, because I would miss being there for my daughter’s prom (or some other important event), and I’m not going to miss it.” I discovered that individuals are more accepting than we frequently assume. You just should be somewhat bit bolder and can be revered in case you deliver on your commitments and do good work. That’s the premise — that you simply’re invaluable and do good work. Individuals will accommodate you as long as they know they will rely on you to get things accomplished.

I really like the empty nest, to be trustworthy with you. I obtained freedom again. I liked the time that we had. But I knew this was coming for 18 years. My elder daughter is a Venture for America fellow in Cleveland. The youthful one is graduating from Yale this yr and has been accepted to a joint diploma program from Yale and MIT for a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. They’ve each thrived, and we’re very near each of them.

In the event you can’t delegate, then I’m not impressed; that’s not sensible.

How do you encourage the women you oversee find that same kind of stability?

I don’t just encourage the ladies; I encourage the lads, too. I tell them that their youngsters come first and to work from anyplace they want at some point every week, don’t come into the office. Most individuals take Friday — together with me — and it’s fabulous. When you possibly can simply roll away from bed, put on your sweats and skip the commute, you get three hours back. I additionally inform them not to e-mail me whereas they’re on trip, as a result of I gained’t be impressed. They should delegate. That’s one of the largest issues legal professionals have, and that my workforce has. Because individuals are so conscientious, they attempt to do it all, even when meaning staying up until two in the morning. I say to them, “If you can’t delegate, then I’m not impressed; that’s not smart. We have a budget for outside counsel. If there’s too much work, give it to them and manage it.” That’s very arduous for legal professionals to do. I’ve had my legal group attend a coaching course on delegating. Individuals need to be Supermom, they need to be the super-lawyer. I feel numerous that is self-imposed. I exploit this analogy: “You put those bricks on your own back. And that’s why you feel weighed down. Just take the bricks off. If they don’t need to be there, why are you carrying them around?”

I don’t ship emails at night time or on weekends until it’s a disaster.

In addition to capability to delegate, what do you look for once you’re hiring?

I don’t search for credentials. I would like any person who has a very good character as a group player, anyone who will collaborate and may stand in for you if needed, any person who you’ll be able to look within the eye and trust. I assume that most people we interview are shiny — they’ve been successful, they know the regulation. I’m on the lookout for their method of dealing with individuals. I’ve had great success with the workforce. Quite a lot of individuals on my group just celebrated their 10th anniversary; there isn’t a lot turnover.

How numerous is your legal group?

Extremely. We’re probably the most numerous workforce in the foundation. I don’t know the exact statistics. My drawback is I in all probability don’t have sufficient males. It’s about 65% ladies and over one-third are individuals of shade. I feel a third of them are homosexual. It’s a really numerous group.

Does variety ever come into play once you’re choosing outdoors council?

I’m not quite nearly as good at that. Outdoors counsel fees are costly. For $400 to 800 an hour, I would like someone who knows the answer. I would like the professional. And I don’t allow them to spend numerous my cash coaching someone. I feel when you seemed, you’d in all probability find an equal number of men and women, but I’ve not gone out trying to discover women-owned, minority regulation companies and help them simply because they’re ladies.

For anyone considering a transition to mission-driven work, what is the largest change?

I don’t assume it’s that tough of a transition. Most people are ready to spend their day engaged on one thing that has extra of an influence. Most people, together with myself, take no less than a 50% reduce in pay, which makes you understand that they actually need to come. Numerous them are looking for a greater work-life stability. You’ll be able to’t utterly control your shoppers, but you are able to do it inside the workforce itself. I don’t ship emails at night time or on weekends until it’s a crisis. And I inform those that it gained’t impress me in the event that they do.