Women Who Inspire

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Steptoe & Johnson PLLC will be presenting the “Women Who Inspire” series, featuring our female leaders who will share reflections on women empowerment, opportunities for professional women now and in the future, and the women who they have looked up to throughout their careers.

 

Women Who Inspire - Susan Deniker

Susan Llewellyn Deniker

What advice do you have for younger female professionals who are navigating through their career?
Stay confident, focused, and strong!  There will certainly be days when juggling everything seems like an impossible mission, but if you lean in and get through those days, there are always rewarding days ahead. Find a community of supportive friends and good mentors who will have your back when you need them!  Importantly, have confidence in yourself and let go of the need for perfectionism.  Your office might be messier than you like, your suit may have baby food on it, and you may not have made the best cupcakes for the school party - well, mine were always super cute! ;) - but know that you are doing an amazing job and be proud of that!!

How has Steptoe & Johnson been a platform for you to be a successful leader and lawyer?
I cannot imagine a more supportive and wonderful place to practice law than Steptoe & Johnson. Our firm commitment to mentoring and training helped me to grow as a new lawyer, and I was given incredible opportunities to be on my feet and to learn by doing by selfless partners who truly invested in me.  As I progressed in my career, S&J has provided me with opportunities to serve as a leader in the firm, in business and trade organizations and in the community.  Most significantly, not only have firm leaders and my mentors contributed to my professional development, they have provided unwavering support to me as an individual.   Members of my Steptoe & Johnson family have danced at my wedding, celebrated the lives of my daughters, laughed with me over countless meals, and thrown some incredibly fun parties.  The professional and personal support I have received is a true testament to what a special place S&J is.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for females in the business world?
I think that every opportunity is an opportunity for females in the business world.  Our society needs to stop stereotypically defining roles by gender instead of qualification.  And, as women, we need to understand and believe that we are on an even playing field and get out there and play on it!  I am proud that S&J recognizes the importance and value of all types of diversity in our organizational leadership.  Our commitment to diversity must continue to be one of our most critical priorities.

Any other final inspiring words?
Take it one day at a time. Try as we might, no one is going to conquer the world in a day.  So, my goal is to start fresh every day and try to be a loving parent and family member, a loyal friend, a committed lawyer, and a supportive colleague.  It’s just a little bit to balance (and it’s not always a pretty scene on my end), but it really is true that with hard work and commitment comes great reward.  And, for me, the reward continues to be more than I could have possibly expected or deserved.

 

Women Who Inspire - Lori Dawkins

Lori A. Dawkins

A litigator with more than 25 years of courtroom experience, Lori Dawkins is the Managing Member of Steptoe & Johnson’s Denver office and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, and Diversity Committee. Prior to joining our firm in 1995, Lori was an officer in the United States Air Force, during which time she served in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. She was named Strategic Air Command’s Military Manager of the Year and received the Medal of Commendation, the Air Force Achievement Medal, and the Southwest Asia Service Medal.

What advice do you have for younger female professionals who are navigating through their career?
First and foremost, work on becoming an outstanding lawyer. Learn those skills from the senior attorneys you work with and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make the most out of every opportunity presented to you and be fearless.

Women need to support other women and dispel the old stereotype that women traditionally compete with each other. We all benefit from collaboration over competition. Be a supportive team player who is secure enough in yourself to praise others when praise is due.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for females in the business world?
The sky is the limit. Any glass ceilings that were previously in place have pretty much been broken. Steptoe & Johnson has been ahead of others in this area. We had a female CEO when it was unheard of in other firms; we have had multiple females on the Executive Committee; and now, three of our four Department Heads are female. I truly believe the opportunities for women are endless in practically every industry in the business world.

Who are women who have inspired you?
I like this question because I’m kind of a history buff and one of my favorite women in history is Eleanor Roosevelt. She wasn’t the typical First Lady of her time. She stepped out of the mold and became a political figure herself – independent of her husband. She had her own radio show, she held her own press conferences, and she devoted countless hours to promoting civil rights. With respect to women I know personally, Susan Brewer is at the top of my list. I’ve known her since I started with the firm and she has been a fabulous leader, role model, and friend. Susan possesses the unique ability to be a strong, decisive leader; focus on the bottom line; and communicate to her team that she truly cares. That is the most effective way to instill loyalty.

 

Women Who Inspire - Tammie Alexander

Tammie C. Alexander

Tammie Alexander is a member in the Morgantown office of Steptoe & Johnson and the Leader of the Business Department of the firm. Tammie, an entrepreneur at heart, is the perfect combination of a thinker and a doer and clients love her spirit of collaboration, her ability to manage multiple pieces of projects, and her drive and desire to help them become and stay successful.

How has Steptoe been a platform for you to be a successful leader and lawyer?
When I first started at the firm as a paralegal, I interviewed with then Office Managing Member Susan Brewer, and I remember her saying that there’s two things you need to be successful here: you need to be a team player, and you need to put your family first. This made a tremendous impact on me, because as a single mom it was always a struggle to figure out how to divide my time. A lot of times I would have my daughter with me. After picking her up from school, I would take her to the office, where she’d do her homework at the board table and eventually fall asleep and I’d carry her to the car. Having that flexibility of being able to be a good parent with a successful career was eye opening to me, and I knew it was the place I wanted to be. Fast forward to now and it’s still the same. No matter what I need, whether it’s support at home or support at work, everyone here tends to lift each other up, rather than push people down.

What advice do you have for younger female professionals who are navigating through their career?
Embrace your strengths, and it’s true about passions as well. I went through that personally and I remember thinking, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this job,” and I literally took inventory and asked myself “If I could carve out my perfect job, what would it look like? What things do I really enjoy doing? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What do I hate to do?” I laid it all out and was surprised when I realized that there are little aspects of each part of my job that I really enjoy and am good at, and maybe it’s just a little, but it’s there. I took ownership of that and put more focus in those areas, and I would volunteer to do the things that I loved. At the end of the day, it was really figuring out what is it that I really loved, and how I could do more of it.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for females in the business world?
I think it comes down to finding your tribe. We as women in business can support each other, and I think we do a pretty good job of that. There was a time where maybe women didn’t necessarily feel comfortable supporting each other, and you felt like somebody was your adversary, when actually they weren’t. Being in the legal profession, sometimes we battle it out against one another, but still come together to support one another when it really counts. We have an opportunity, and I know it sounds cliché, to change that mold of the “good ol’ boys” network to women empowering women and supporting women.

 

Women Who Inspire - Susan Brewer

Susan S. Brewer

Susan S. Brewer has spent her 40-year legal career at Steptoe & Johnson and is its Immediate Past CEO, a position she held from 2009-2020.  She spearheaded efforts to create the firm’s diversity and inclusion program and appointed its first director, and created women, parents, and veterans affinity programs. Her focus on building the firm’s client feedback, business development, succession, and emerging leadership programs complements her efforts to increase communication and protect the firm’s collegial culture of teamwork.

What organizations do you support that empower women?
The Girl Scouts, and now also the Boy Scouts, first and foremost. I was lucky enough to be asked to serve on the board of review for the very first female Eagle Scout in West Virginia.  The Boy Scouts, now The Scouts – just started allowing women to join back in the Spring of 2019, so she had a really compressed time to join and become an Eagle Scout.   She did a great job and put on a wonderful presentation, and she’s one of the first-time female Eagle Scouts in the nation. I was so impressed with what she achieved. So that’s an organization that, suddenly, is empowering women too.

What advice do you have for younger female professionals who are navigating through their career?
Don’t be afraid to step up. We all need to know our strengths and be brave enough to say, “I’m good at this” or, “I can be good at this,” or “I’m going to teach myself to be good at this.” I remember when I won my first trial, the judge wrote a letter to our then managing partner, the late Herb Underwood, to tell him what a good job I did at trial. Herb made a copy of the letter and left it on my desk early in the morning and at the bottom of the letter, he wrote “Don’t hide your lamp under a bushel.” I think one of the things that women are often guilty of is hiding their light – hiding the lamp, under the bushel. The advice from that experience is to know your strengths and recognize them and don’t hide them – use them – for the benefit of your organization and for yourself.

Who are women who have inspired you?
I have personal and professional inspirations. This may sound odd because neither my mother nor my grandmother worked outside the home. Yet somehow, they both taught us, beat it into our heads, that we needed to be able to take care of ourselves, to support ourselves, and have a fulfilling career. My grandmother was an incredibly resourceful problem solver. My grandfather was in the Navy, so they were constantly moving. With three kids, she frequently had to figure things out as they moved to new places. I remember her saying “Look, you can do anything you want. Just figure it out for yourself, but always know that you need to be able to take care of yourself and take care of your family in whatever it is you choose to do.”

Professionally, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice, has been an inspiration to me. She’s a scholar, a consensus builder, and a really accomplished woman, but she was also so much fun. She had a great sense of humor and was the first person out on the dance floor, in fact, that’s how I met her. We were on the dance floor, and we crashed into each other, and that was how we were able to be introduced. She was all these wonderful professional things, yet she had a great personal story and a great love of life. Happy and positive all the time, she’s just been one of those people I remember and think, “Oh wow. I hope I’m sort of like her.”

 

Sharon O. Flanery

A renowned leader in the energy industry, Sharon Flanery, Chair of Steptoe & Johnson’s Energy & Natural Resources Department, has witnessed the opportunities for professional women grow exponentially over the course of her career. Sharon was the first female graduate in petroleum engineering at West Virginia University. Sharon’s career as a lawyer, executive and engineer in the energy industry brings real-world experience to her work with clients.

What advice do you have for younger female professionals who are navigating through their career?
My first piece of advice is that you have to work hard and learn what interests you in the career path you've chosen, then you have to put in the time to be good at it. In addition to finding what you like to do and learning your skills you also need to know how to really work well with people. For example, to be successful as an attorney, you have to provide quality legal services – that's a given – but you have to know how to relate to your clients and be able to work on a team that includes your clients as well as others. Lastly, be kind and treat everyone with respect, not just the professionals you work with but everyone around you…it is the right thing to do.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for females in the business world?
Right now, the opportunities for career growth are huge for women in the business world. There are so many doors open in so many areas for women professionals. Again, if you discover what you like to do and you enjoy it, and you find an organization that fits well, your opportunities to grow in your career are wide open. Leadership representation in many organizations is still out of balance by gender and other areas of diversity, but each year we continue to make progress. Steptoe & Johnson is a prime example of an organization with a commitment to providing women with leadership opportunities. Currently, three of our four legal departments are led by women and our immediate past CEO, Susan Brewer, led the firm for many years and was the first female Managing Member of a major West Virginia law firm.

Who are women who have inspired you?
My mom is a first-generation daughter of an Italian immigrant and was  born in West Virginia. She graduated from high school, worked hard, and liked to be around people. Both my parents were big believers in education. Watching her and my dad work at mostly minimum wage jobs and still be able to put three kids through college, instilled in me the importance of working hard. I was also inspired by the late Kim Wakim an attorney I met at the first firm I worked at out of law school in Pittsburgh. Kim was from Philippi, West Virginia and was successful as a bankruptcy expert, in firm management, and as a public company board member. Finally, Susan Brewer, Steptoe & Johnson’s immediate past CEO, has been a big inspiration to me over the years. Susan is a very gracious and compassionate leader that has the courage and strength to make the tough and right decisions for the organization, while encouraging firm attorneys and professional staff to grow. Susan has set a good example for all of us.