Alexa Belonick is a corporate partner in MoFo's San Francisco office. Her practice focuses on advising clients on a range of corporate and securities transactional matters, including financings and mergers and acquisitions, as well as on public reporting, compliance, and corporate governance.
What does the Women's History Month theme "Valiant Women and the Vote" mean to you?
Even 100 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the goals and tactics of the suffragists who fought for and won women's right to vote still resonate with us. Their legacy reminds us that there is always more to do to fight voter suppression and disenfranchisement. The suffragists showed us what can be achieved though grassroots engagement, marching, writing, and organizing. I think many of us (myself included) can get bogged down by the digital overload of news and commentary that leaves us without any tangible takeaways, causing us to feel pessimistic and drained. For me, the suffragist movement is a reminder of the importance and effectiveness of face-to-face interactions and advocacy with fellow citizens.
Tell us about the woman who most influenced your career and how she motivated you.
I am fortunate to have had several excellent female bosses who have influenced my career, dating back to my first serious job after graduating college. While it's important to have role models who inspire us – the likes of whom would be speakers at our law school commencement – the women who shape our careers are usually much closer to us.
In particular, I am reminded of a female lawyer I worked with years ago who gave me my first real glimpse into how to balance a demanding career with kids. She was remarkably adept at delegating, training, and pushing me just a little farther than my comfort zone, which taught me how to trust myself, how to know when to seek help, and how to problem-solve in uncharted territory. I am still learning to delegate and train as well as she could.
I feel extremely heartened to see more and more women participating in the workforce and climbing the ranks in all kinds of fields. Even more important than having one more female Fortune 500 CEO (which we need, too) is having women who can more closely influence and motivate the careers of the next generation.
What are some of the biggest opportunities for women in the workforce today? What changes have you seen over the course of your career that paved the way for women's advancement?
I think women can reshape – and are reshaping – the work-life balance conversation for everyone, not just for women who choose to have kids, but also for men, those caring for family members, and those who are seeking better balance in general. The adoption of better family leave policies, having women use those policies so their coworkers see how leaving and re-entering the team's workflow can work in practice, and using technology and work-from-home policies to find new ways of balancing a career with the many demands of family (like unexpected sick days and midday school events) are all reshaping the conversation.
While work-life balance isn't necessarily just a women's issue, the realities of how our society is structured means it is most often women who are pushing the boundaries on this topic and who are the beneficiaries of new policies and practices. I've been the beneficiary of changing policies and have also seen them further develop during my career. I think (and hope!) the next frontier will be using the power of technology, not as a driver of round-the-clock demands, but as a way to give workers the ability to disconnect when we need to, and to take what we are learning about family leave and other work-life balance policies and expand them beyond the white-collar realm to other parts of the U.S. economy.
If you could meet any historically significant woman, who would you choose? What questions would you ask her?
I would like to meet Elizabeth N. Tompkins, the first woman to graduate from my alma mater, the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Law. After graduating in 1923, Tompkins clerked for two years in Charlottesville before relocating to Richmond for a distinguished 54-year legal career. She was also the first woman admitted to the Virginia State Bar.
UVA's law library has letters written to her family during her years of law study that provide insight into some of the challenges she faced, such as being excluded from social and academic discussions outside of class and having professors who were resistant to the idea of women in higher education. I would ask her what inspired and motivated her to take on the uphill battle of attending law school, whether her experience changed or reinforced her perspectives about the strengths, weaknesses, and societal roles of men and women, and what she thought the 19th Amendment – which was ratified the same year she matriculated to law school – would mean for women and our country.