The Ukranian Immigrant who Became a Young Silicon Valley GC (Perspective)

In a recent podcast, I interviewed Olga V. Mack, the general counsel of ClearSlide, a sales and marketing engagement platform that has just under 200 employees.

A Ukrainian immigrant, Mack founded an organization to advance diversity in the legal profession, Women Serve the Boards, and she is an advisor of early stage startups, TimeJoy and ChannelMeter.

I spoke with Mack about how she got her start in the law. After coming to America, she received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and then found work at Yahoo in 2005, before moving on to the intellectual property department of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati between 2006 and 2009 and then Visa.

Below is an edited transcript of our discussion, in which she tells me about her career path.

 

Cho: Did you always envision yourself being an in-house counsel?

Mack: When I graduated from law school, I envisioned myself being a partner. That did not work out for a number of reasons — primarily because I actually like business a lot, especially the combination of law and business. Law firms are not necessarily business-oriented or business savvy. I ended up in-house somewhat accidentally.

During this process I was looking for role models, but quickly realized that there are very few people like me. Frankly, if you look at the top companies, very few in-house counsels are women.

I joined Women General Counsel Network (WGCN) and went around the Bay Area to meet as many women general counsels as I could. Some of their stories and paths were relatable and inspiring. In the process I created a mental collage of what may work for me, and it became a rough model to follow. The idea of being a general counsel went from an “impossible” goal to merely an “improbable” one. At that point it became a question of approach and strategy, because “improbable” is doable.

 

Cho: Do you think, as you put it, being a woman with an accent and with a name like Olga, in some ways gave you an advantage?

Mack: Maybe. Sometimes people don’t want a classic lawyer. Hiring a lawyer, especially a general counsel, it’s sort of like hiring a doctor. It’s a very personal relationship with a company and its executives. They have to trust you. Sometimes they want to hire the classic, strong, male lawyer portrayed in popular media, and sometimes, for a number of reasons, they may not. That’s where I can help them dream bigger and imagine a new profile for their lawyer.

 

Cho: Tell me about some of the other organizations you’re involved in.

Mack: The Women Serve on Boards movement has been my biggest project recently. I am eager to see greater representation of women in corporate leadership and board service, especially in the Fortune 500 companies. This movement affects women across the business world, not just attorneys. We as a society have a default notion that leaders are male. I would like to see us become more open-minded and imagine other options.

For example, about twenty Fortune 500 companies don’t have a single woman on their boards. A large number of other Fortune 500 companies have only a token woman or two. Very few Fortune 500 companies have actually a diverse board. This has to change.

The Women Serve on Boards movement aims to help the companies imagine a different, more inclusive world. Through speaking events, popular media, social media campaigns, and letters to CEOs and chairmen of Fortune 500 boards, we help these companies imagine, dream bigger, and get to parity sooner. One day every Fortune 500 company will discover the benefits of women in leadership.

 

Cho: Tell me about the women general counsels you’ve met and worked with. Why do you feel passionate about amplifying their voices?

Mack: Many women Silicon Valley general counsels are very effective and highly skilled. They might have taken a company IPO, helped expand internationally, or helped to build a product. They have a lot of lessons to teach others who are starting out or pivoting in their careers. So, I share their stories and lessons to help others grow.

I also wanted to give these highly accomplished general counsels a national platform to be more widely known. I repeatedly saw that the GCs who give interviews are Fortune 500 attorneys, and we know what that looks like. So I felt compelled to tell these “unheard stories.”

 

Cho: And your other group for women?

Mack: Myself and four other amazing women in-house attorneys co-founded Startup Network, which we affectionately call “SunLaw.” The goal is to groom the next generation of women general counsel and in-house leaders. To this end, we help the members with peer mentoring and connecting with current general counsel to accelerate their in-house legal careers to leadership.