Wendy McGuire Coats has a lot of titles. She’s a partner and appellate counsel in the San Francisco office of Fisher Phillips. She’s a certified specialist in appellate law by the California Board of Legal Specialization. She’s president-elect of the Contra Costa County Bar Association. The list goes on.
But more importantly (in my humble opinion) is that she’s a bona fide lady boss. Wendy speaks and writes frequently about leadership and mentorship, especially as they define and shape workplace cultures. Below, she shares her insights on those and other important topics.
Q: The legal industry is known to have a particularly strong glass ceiling. How have you managed to break through in your career?
A: I’m a big believer in “you do you” and do that the best you can. I’ve never been successful doing or being someone else’s version of me. In fact, I’ve crashed and burned whenever I’ve gotten distracted or pulled out of the path that is truly my own. That’s also true for goals. The more I zero in on what my heart really wants and what my goals really are the less apt I am to be distracted by what “others think I should want,” or the less I covet some opportunity that doesn’t fit with me.
As best I can, I try to put my professional energies toward things that I genuinely enjoy doing.
Q: This is probably true for everyone, but I feel like women in particular feel an immense amount of pressure to keep their failures private and their successes public. But do you think that embracing failures can actually help propel people forward?
A: I share my failures quite openly with those I mentor. And some of what I consider “failures” are moments when I didn’t get “what” I wanted or I didn’t get what I thought I wanted on the timeline I wanted to control. Some of my biggest disappointments led to the opening of even better doors. Or sometimes I got a “no” or a “not right now” only to find that had I got what I wanted I wouldn’t have had time for something else important. Unanswered prayers are sometimes exactly what I needed.
Regardless of why or how the failure or disappointment came about, I share with those around me those moments so they understand the full picture. My successes should be viewed through the realistic lens of failures, disappointments, and regrets.
Q: What’s your advice for women who feel they aren’t being granted a “seat at the table”?
A: Go looking for a better table.
I’m always surprised how long people are willing to stay in places that aren’t growing them or valuing them. When asked how I like a job – any job – my answer for over two decades has always been, “good for now.” But rarely is anything ever good forever. I’m also surprised how willing people are to be loyal to organizations that aren’t loyal to them or don’t value them.
Now there are lots of reasons to stay at a job when things aren’t perfect because they aren’t going to be perfect anywhere. But if you’re wanting a seat at the table and you’re not valued enough by the organization to be given a seat, it’s time to find an organization that will and does value you. Sometimes that means building your own table.