Women of color face pretty intense challenges when it comes to succeeding in the white male dominated fields of law and private equity.
But Mirlande Telfort and Dami Oguntade have constantly hustled for success, and it has paid off with their successful careers at McGuireWoods. Though they have experienced challenges, they’ve both used their unique backgrounds to get a leg up in an intense industry, and now advise people in the same position to continue striving and breaking barriers.
“If there was one thing that I would say to a young lady considering whether or not to come into this industry, it would be: just do it,” Dami says on this episode of Deal Us In. “Because really, the only way we can have more women at the table is to have more women show up, and consistently keep showing up.”
Learn how Mirlande and Dami have made the most of their skills and backgrounds, utilizing the power of strong female mentors and role models and strong will powers to keep moving forward even when the path seems impossible. And if they have to be the trailblazers, they always remember that they’ll be clearing the path for women of color behind them.
“If you stay focused on the rewards and really pursue something that you want, you can be successful at it,” Mirlande says. “It's okay to be the first because you'll bring along the second, third, fourth and fifth behind you.”
Name: Mirlande Telfort
What she does: Mirlande is a partner at McGuireWoods who focuses on representing banks, private equity funds, and other investors and helping them with complex debt financing transactions.
Where to find Mirlane: LinkedIn
Name: Dami Oguntade
What she does: Dami is an associate at McGuireWoods who focuses her practice on mergers & acquisitions and private equity.
Where to find Dami: LinkedIn
Top takeaways from this episode
Look at your challenges from a new perspective — Mirlande discusses how growing up as the child of first-generation, working class immigrants who couldn’t afford to pay for her college education could have been a setback, but ended up serving her well in her career.
Working in customer service and constantly looking for creative ways to finance her education taught her about working hard and persevering, as well as centering client happiness and problem-solving.
If there’s a wall, fly over it — Milande and Dami both discuss the challenge of hearing about the glass ceiling, saying it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a woman of color, it’s key to ignore the negativity you might experience when trying to move up in the industry, and don’t take setbacks personally. You’re equipped to handle them!
Seek opportunities to help your female colleagues — Once you’ve reached some of your goals, look out for chances to help your female colleagues whose shoes you were once in. If someone receives opportunities to achieve success, they can do it.
[05:10] Unique background: Mirlande talks about how growing up as a first-generation American with parents who immigrated from Haiti set the foundation for her hard work ethic that pushed her to finance her own education and get on a path toward the work she does today.
[09:50] Against the odds: Kelsey cites statistics showing that women and people of color both have historically been the minority in the law field, with the ratio of men to women lawyers almost 2:1, and 85% of lawyers being white.
[11:10] Women, just show up: Dami gives some advice to women interested in going into the male-dominated industries of law and finance: just do it! The only way to have more women at the table is for more women to show up.
[13:02] Focus on the reward: Mirlande says that women and people of color who see the odds of their success stacked against them in these industries should try to ignore the negativity and focus on creative ways to accomplish their goals, despite the roadblocks that might stand in their way.
[17:15] Find role models and mentors: Dami says that despite all she’s learned from her male colleagues and mentors, seeing women blaze the trail in private equity has let her know that she’s not alone, and helps her balance a tough workload.
[33:02] Try to relax sometimes: Mirlande points out the importance of sitting back to relax, even in an industry where you might feel constantly on the go. It’s okay to celebrate your successes and enjoy your journey instead of sprinting through your career.
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