Why mentors matter

Jenny Flores
Posted by Jenny Flores
Corporate Social Responsibility

This January, 70 women from the U.C. Berkeley School of Law came to Bank of the West’s headquarters in San Francisco to hear Vanessa Washington, our general counsel and corporate secretary, give her perspective on what it takes to succeed in a high-profile position in the banking industry.

Vanessa Washington speaks to visiting law students.

Vanessa, a Berkeley Law alumna with a passion for community service, talked about her career path from growing up in a rural town of 1,700 in North Carolina to her current role as a senior leader at a major U.S. corporation. She also had advice for up-and-coming lawyers.

“Volunteer for assignments that will help you gain the qualifications you need for your dream job, and don’t be afraid to go after a job even if you don’t check every box – men have been doing that forever!” she said. “Get out of your office and prioritize having lunch or coffee with colleagues or others outside of your company – building your network can be as important as your work product. Good work alone is not enough to get ahead.”

Vanessa’s talk was part of The Women in Business Law Initiative Mentorship Program, a collaboration between the Berkeley Center for Law and Business (BCLB), the Women of Berkeley Law Association, Women of Color Collective, and the Berkeley Business Law Journal. The program matches first-year law students interested in business law with female associates from BCLB partner firms and organizations.

An insider’s view
The program provides attorneys the opportunity to cultivate relationships with some of the brightest law students the country has to offer – women who often advance to positions of influence throughout the worlds of business and law. The relationships and trust they establish can help them flourish in their own careers. Students benefit from the advice of professional attorneys, and the mentoring attorneys gain a valuable contact in their mentee.

Maureen Young, a Berkeley Law alumna and senior regulatory counsel at the bank, has been a supporter and mentor in the program. “The Women in Business Law Initiative sets UC Berkeley apart from other schools by offering direct matching of female students with working professionals for mentorship, support and an insider’s view,” she said.

The equity equation
According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. “We’re helping to address the issue of gender equity in the workplace on a concrete and individual scale,” said Delia Violante who leads the Women in Business Law Initiative. “With support from companies like Bank of the West, our students are able to seek feedback from legal professionals who will help them to make better-informed decisions regarding their class selection and overall career path.”

With women representing 33% of the bank’s top leadership, and with one of the few female CEOs in the financial services industry, we understand the value of gender equity and mentorship.

Learn more about our approach to positive banking and the role of diversity and inclusion in our culture.


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