Lauren Leahy, the chief legal officer for Pizza Hut, says her best female mentor was her first one.
“If I can grow up to be half the woman my mom was, I’ll be so proud. She was a single mom, broke, trying to make it work. She did everything from assemble goods in the back of our garage for 25 cents a piece to work all kinds of jobs, and now she is the president of a mid-size manufacturing firm. She’s just got all this grit and tenacity.”
Leahy adopted those traits, which are necessary traits for a woman rising through a male-dominated profession.
"Look, I am in law. It is a slow-moving industry. We love rich mahogany and leather-bound books and guys in charge," she said.
In her current position, Leahy says she's witnessed positive change for women in her line of work. It looks much different from her early days in law.
“So I think at first, there was a sense of who is going to make partner? Who is going to be ‘the girl’? Who is going to be ‘the one’?" she said. "My first law firm experience, I was working with a tremendously talented woman, and as much as I wanted to dislike her or compete with her, I just couldn’t, because she was too great. We became dear friends, and we said there might be only room for one of us -- you are going to get it or I am going to get it -- but it’s not going to be at each other’s expense."
Other women haven’t been such friendly competitors. But, Leahy notes, “Men are really mean to each other too. They are just mean in different ways. So I think we have to be careful about stereotyping the ways women can be with each other. We have created a set of circumstances where it is naturally competitive. Because there are few people in leadership positions, and it is difficult to imagine how you get there without a sharp elbow or two."
Leahy says professionally she's in a really good place now -- along with other women.
“The senior women in Pizza Hut where I work, we will go to lunch and dinner and drinks. We are a pretty tight crew, and we end saying, ‘There is room. We can do this. There is room.' And I think that is such a critical element to creating that inclusive environment where you kind of lift as you rise; to believe that these brilliant, incredible women standing alongside you aren’t a threat, they are an asset," she said.
As for being the kind of mother her own mom was, Leahy says she's striving. One tip in particular has been especially helpful:
“A mentor of mine gave me this incredible advice. She said you are going to juggle a ton of balls in life, and what you have to learn is that some are rubber and some are glass. So the key is to figure out which ones you are going to drop, because it is inevitable that you are going to drop some of them, and you are going to drop some of them every day. You just have to figure out which ones are precious enough to keep those in the air," she said.