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Female corporate lawyers at Anthem find opportunity, no glass ceiling

September 7, 2016
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Pamela Williams was bewildered.

As an attorney and now senior vice president and counsel at Anthem Inc., she has gone pretty much wherever she wanted, literally and figuratively. She did not build her career by letting obstacles block her path or sitting patiently on the sidelines.

Her decision to become an attorney was made while in middle school, and through the next several years of schooling, she followed her parents’ advice to work diligently toward her goals and not feel intimated because she is a woman.

A few years after law school, Williams became a deputy prosecutor in Fayette and Union counties. There she handled everything from traffic infractions to search warrants and felonies. She liked the work but long-term she wanted a more stable career than being a political appointee. So when a litigation position opened at Anthem, she jumped.

And that is where she was one recent afternoon when she found herself crammed in an elevator. She was among colleagues, visitors and a security guard who would escort the ensemble out to the company’s outdoor terrace which overlooks Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. She could go anywhere in the building, so she did not understand why they had to get clearance to walk outside.anthem-atty-bios

Finally, one member of the group tried to erase her confusion by explaining that not everyone has her confidence to walk through closed doors without permission.

Like Williams, Anthem co-workers Kathy Kiefer, corporate secretary and vice president of legal, and Catherine Kelaghan, vice president and counsel, have built their careers by working hard and charging ahead.

The three women are examples of Anthem’s diverse workforce. The billion-dollar health insurance provider notes women comprise 76 percent of its workforce and 63 percent managerial leadership.

Kiefer gained experience in private practice, working for Ice Miller LLP and as in-house counsel at Conseco Inc. before arriving at Anthem. She wanted to practice business law because she enjoys being in the boardroom more than the courtroom. Her job now calls upon her affinity for puzzles as she makes sure all the pieces fit together in the areas of corporate governance, corporate law and finance.

“I never felt the glass ceiling,” she said. “I never felt that being a woman didn’t allow me those opportunities, but I think it is getting easier as there’s more of a push to include women in higher levels of executive management and board membership.”

Working at the Internal Revenue Service after college, Kelaghan interacted with lawyers, which inspired her to pursue a legal degree. She will mark 24 years at Anthem this year, where she oversees and provides legal support to many divisions in the company, including employment and employee benefits litigation, human resources, information technology, and health care analytics. She also mentors new employees.

“I don’t know that it’s different based on gender,” she said when asked if she has noticed any differences between mentoring women and men. “I think I see more of a difference based on either career aspirations or personality, or even their own backgrounds, what they hope to accomplish.”

The trio sat down with the Indiana Lawyer to talk about their careers and how women can be successful in the law.

Q: What advice would you give to young women working as in-house counsel?

Kiefer: I would say know what your priorities are, and the things that are really important to you, try to do those. If it’s important to you to go to your kids’ activities, do that. I’m not saying don’t work hard. Absolutely work hard, put yourself out there, but know what your priorities are and be flexible.

Q: How easy is it to set priorities without having your colleagues wondering how serious you are about your career?

Williams: You definitely have a precarious balance. For me, it’s setting expectations for myself and not beating myself up. It’s about flexibility; is something absolutely critical happening right now that I have to be involved in or can I delegate that to someone? Then I have to compare that to, is it one of 50 soccer games, or is it a lead role in a play and this is the premiere night? So it’s all a balance between family and your job.

Q: The legal profession is noticing that women are leaving the law. Why did you three keep practicing?

Kiefer: I took nine months off. My kids were very young then so I had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom and I realized I was a much better working mother.

Kelaghan: I think we spent a lot of time getting our law degrees so we obviously want to be lawyers. The thought of not practicing law, I never thought about not doing that.

Williams: To what Kathy said, I think I’m a much better working mother than a stay-at-home mother. I wanted to have both. I wanted to be a good mom and I wanted to be back at my job, working hard and accomplishing things.

Q: To keep women practicing, do you think the model of what it means to be a lawyer has to change? Does the profession have to adjust to be more accommodating to women?

Williams: I think being in-house, we work as many hours as we would work at a law firm. The expectations are every bit as high if not higher. It’s not that less is required of you in-house, it’s culture and flexibility. I speculate in a law firm, it is just a different set of expectations but the end game of where you’re trying to get to and what is expected out of you is the same — good work, lots of work, quality work. How you get from here to there is different.

Kelaghan: From the firms we work with, I’ve seen some younger associates quit. I don’t know the demands there, but does the model have to change? Possibly. I certainly work with female partners at some of our firms, but other firms, we still work with primarily white males. It would be nice to see more diversity with those teams.•

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