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Lisa Mather - Women In Law Interview Series

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We curated the Women in Law Interview Series to gain insights from some of the most successful female leaders in APAC who have scaled to the top of their profession. The series addresses work place issues that affect all professionals, and hones in on the unique challenges women encounter.

Lisa Mather is the Vice President, Chief International Counsel at PayPal. To learn her childhood ambition as a hairdresser to today work as a lawyer as VP and chief international counsel at PayPal managing a team of 70 lawyers in 15 different countries. She has also shared how parenthood has changed her management style and career ambitions, support structure she had at home when she was a working mother while also studying for a MBA,  best advice she received when returning back to work after having her children and how women can negotiate with their employers on flexible arrangements.

Full Transcript

Sabrina: so, Lisa thank you so much for today and can you tell our audience what was your childhood like.

Lisa: I had a very simple childhood I am Australian I grew up in a small coastal town very simple about 90 minutes north of Sydney in Australia.

Sabrina: how were your ambitions as a child.

Lisa: when I was very young, I wanted to be a hairdresser ah and I'm actually not very good with my hands and so I think it's a really good thing that I didn't pursue a career as a hairdresser.

Sabrina: how did you at the very first beginning get interested in law from hairdresser to law.

Lisa: I did a lot of science and math’s when I was at school and enjoyed that when I finished school I had a gap year and I went and lived as an exchange student in Europe for a year during the course of

that year, I realized that in addition to STEM type subjects I also did enjoy humanities and using that side of my brain as well, so I ended up doing science and law combined.

Sabrina: so, can you tell our audience a little bit more about your current role.

Lisa: today I work as a lawyer as VP and chief international counsel at PayPal based here in Singapore and I have the absolute privilege and honor of working with the team of about 70 around the world my team is dispersed in about 15 different locations.

we are a tech company as well as finance company the pace is fairly fast and furious and we navigate legal issues and support the business in in a way that in some cases hasn't been done before so really you know we work together supporting the business in navigating a very complex and sometimes ambiguous regulatory landscape across the world which is a lot of fun.

Sabrina: Lisa as a female leader managing such a big team 70 people in 15 countries and what have been the main challenges your face.

Lisa: you know working in a virtual team is not easy it's much easier to work next door to someone's office than it is to have to figure out how to work with someone on a task or a challenge or an opportunity when they sit in a time zone which is you know 12 hours different to your own time zone or so how you coordinate and collaborate as a virtual team I think is a key challenge.

I think the other piece I would call out is law is very much intertwined with culture in terms of how its practiced how its enforced how it manifests in different societies all around the world and having an appreciation of the different cultural backgrounds that lawyers might be coming together to work on the same thing in I think it's very important in terms of supporting that empathy and understanding about how people's preferences for work manifest how they sort of iterate around issues the approach they'll take, to risk.

Sabrina: Lisa, you're one of a growing number of women in a largely male-dominated field what was it like when you just started out.

Lisa: I think that you know if you've got a vision about what you would like to achieve or it's a sense of purpose and you demonstrate the value that you bring to situations if you have that focus and that's what's motivating you and then you'll be listened to and you'll be able to achieve some of your dreams and you know develop as a person will say like particularly early in my career if I found myself in a situation where I was obviously the minority or the only female in a meeting I mean it definitely was something noteworthy to me I observed those differences but I certainly didn't allow those differences to create bad tapes playing in my head along the lines of oh there's no other women here I shouldn't be here or this is not the right place for me or I don't belong here or any of those messages even on a subliminal basis I certainly didn't allow that to take effect or didn't feel that way when I was in those situations and sometimes if you're a minority that's an advantage in a way like you will have a

perspective perhaps which is different to the other shared perspectives around the table and we know so much more now about the value of diversity when it comes to decision making managing organizations and so forth so it can actually be a real advantage.

Sabrina: I understand you have two beautiful children do you think parenthood has changed your management style or career ambitions.

Lisa: one thing that Parenthood has done for me is it's really helped me bring a little bit more empathy to work I understand what a juggling act it can be at times and how you have to sort of go with a little bit of the ebb and flow of family life and the needs of different members of the family and I think it's important in a management context to have empathy that you know your team has that in terms of their day to day life too and to not lose sight of it and you just never know what's going on in someone else's life but just having that empathy and I think coming from a place of assuming that people are doing their best people  coming from a place of good intent is one that I've learned what about career ambitions and has that changed you having kids in my life forced me to think about my career and to probably push me out of my comfort zone and to push me to get off that treadmill and to do some different things and to look much more broadly at what I was doing in my career what I really wanted to do in my career did I want a career why did I want a career so I have to thank them for putting me on that aspect of my journey.

Sabrina: Lisa there's a growing push in society for companies to have more proactive back to work policies for mums so in your opinion what kind of arrangements work best and what doesn't?

Lisa: having a one-size-fits-all approach is not optimal you need to have flexibility where there's children and family lives involved if you're in a large organization you need to have some clarity around what the company's policies are you need to have some clarity so that people know what the workplace expectations are and so that people can make an assessment about is that the right workplace for me is that an environment that I want to be in and that works for me but you also do need those managers who have that empathy and a little bit of that flexibility I think the flexibility to support family and other aspects in in people's lives is very important and so if you're focusing on the outputs and the outcomes I think that enables a little bit more of that flexibility how does PayPal tackle this back to work policies for moms we have a lot of focus on diversity and inclusion in the company it's a deep part of our values and we have flexible working arrangements as well we have policies where people can ask for flexibility and even within my own team.

I don't even like to be overly formal about it I would say I'm much more concerned about outputs outcomes and culture and the team being a place that people want to be working in really and the rest flows in my experience and I also think that again thinking to myself and also speaking in working with other women who have families I mean if you do provide that type of support and some of that flexibility you're usually rewarded disproportionately people appreciate that support and they want to give back in the same way so you get a bit of a virtuous circle.

Sabrina: lots of professional mothers feel guilty we're making sacrifices how do you deal with this guilt?

Lisa: I do think it's something that women don't have an exclusive license we spend a lot of time in the family because we're a dual career family my husband has a career as well we kind of check in and like you know is this still the right thing for us to do or are we all happy with this and you know I think my daughter in particular she is 16 now and she's very sort of cognizant of those sorts of issues and she's very much in the camp of you know I'd much rather see you out doing stuff and being fulfilled within yourself then feeling like you're limited and so maybe we don't spend as much time together as a family because we are dual career parents but we're nonetheless very connected and we're very focused and very conscious about the quality of time that we have as a family you know how we interact with each other it was a family and encouraging each other.

You know being in minority situations in the workplace I think there is definitely a risk that you can allow a negative tape to start playing in your head around but I don't believe it's something that you have to buy into or you should allow yourself to buy into.

Sabrina: you were a working mother while also studying for a MBA I'm sure the audience would love to know what kind of support structure do you have at home during that time.

Lisa: when I had young children was to dial back my working hours for a time so before they started school something that sort of zero to five years I made a conscious decision to just work part-time so that I had more time with them and so that was one form of support.

My husband has also at times reduced his working hours and done four day weeks and to make sure that he's a very involved parent.

I know it sounds a bit ridiculous like why would you work and do an MBA and have babies on its face it doesn't sound good I agree but that was sort of the thinking and that was how we made it work.

Sabrina: what's the best advice you received when returning back to work after having your children someone had said to me if you're working four days a week if employer you're basically finding yourself doing a full-time job with a little bit of flexibility of course but you're only getting 80% pay and that was good advice and I definitely think that's the case so I think if you're going to work part-time for a period because you want to do more outside of work, I would definitely encourage someone to think about that because not getting rewarded adequately for the work that you're doing if you sort of got that 80% hours level and I do think that women getting under paid for what they do is a definite issue and I think that's one of the ways in which that manifests but is not sort of so consciously kind of acknowledged actually so think about exactly what your terms are and just ensuring that you're getting appropriately rewarded for the value you're contributing.

Sabrina: so when you are working for four days yet you're still producing the same work.

Lisa: okay I think it's a trap that you can easily fall into yes very very much so because particularly in professional services like law and other consulting sort of gigs you often have client facing roles and clients in my experience have generally been very understanding and supportive of those flexible arrangements.

Sabrina: Lisa I'm gonna put you on the spot a little bit since you're a lawyer You negotiate deals every day can you share some tips let's say when woman you know are in this situation how they can negotiate  with their employers.

Lisa: doing your homework and being clear that what you're thinking of proposing is an appropriate proposal usually it is, but I think just knowing the facts and knowing that the marketplace the company policies etc so definitely doing your homework is very important I think that just making sure that from the day you step in the door in an organization you're conscious of what your personal brand is and making sure that you're developing that brand over time so that when you're asking for something whether it's flexibility or pay or whatever you've already got that kind of established track record or you're coming from a position of strength, you've got to be on your game all the time and in the last piece I think is just having the confidence to back yourself and to stand up for yourself because sometimes you know organizations can be very large and it can be easy to fall through the cracks and you know not get the pay increase or the you know the job opportunity or something that you seek as a next step in your career so having the courage to to ask and to have the right conversation with the right person in a influential informed way and I think the courage can be the hardest piece.

Sabrina: Lisa with a growing skill gap how can female talent stay relevant in the workforce of tomorrow.

Lisa: I think they're more than relevant today because I think more than ever we understand what a drain on an economy it can be to educate half the workforce but then not have them have fulfilling enriching productive careers for their working lives so I think it just makes good common sense apart from anything else.

Sabrina: Lisa half the sky Is a career platform for women and it connects women to better jobs at companies that care as well so what do you think companies should do to attract and retain female talent.

Lisa: I think being very consistent and focused on promoting messages around diversity and inclusion and the company's commitment to that outside the organization as well as inside the organization, you have to live that authentically and that means I think promoting people who are practicing those values in terms of how they work day to day in an organization.

I just think that's completely fundamental if you don't have that then it doesn't matter what message

you're sort of portraying internally or externally people are not going to hang around and good people in particular are really not going to hang around living the message and making sure that you know the leaders and people who are sort of moving through their career who are being promoted that's really important to them and as they continue to have that stewardship sense of those considerations

I do also think that there's a role for training in an organisation so you know conscious inclusion training and things like that maybe companies haven't done as much of in the past but are doing more of now I think those sorts of things are very important too because sometimes you know people we all have unconscious biases actually and that type of formal training can assist you and others in terms of understanding what sort of biases you might be bringing to different situations.

Sabrina: Lisa what are your thoughts on a platform like half the sky.

Lisa: I think it's wonderful there are still big gaps that we need to cover and I do feel some sadness to think that we haven't made more progress in covering some of those gender related gaps in the course of my own career and time in the workforce so far so I do think there is a role for more focused initiatives such as your platform I really applaud it and I think particularly sort of ones like yours that sort of traverses not just the gender boundaries but maybe some of the geographic boundary as well, it's a wonderful initiative yeah.

Sabrina: thank you thank you and thank you Lisa for your time.

Lisa: it's my absolute pleasure Thank You Sabrina.

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