Words of wisdom from entrepreneurs Lisa Mann and Diane Hessan at Justwomen.

Justwomen 2016: 5 Questions with Emily Menchel

Posted May 13, 2016 by Kristin Hoppe in Running a Business 101
What are the unique challenges of working at a startup? Justwomen panelist Emily Menchel discusses her experience playing various roles at her company.

As General Counsel for Persado, Emily Menchel does far more than just advising on legal matters.

Before she began her current role, Emily spent some time abroad helping women — the first time in Ghana where she worked for a female representative running for parliament, and the second time in Cape Town at a legal rights organization.

She took some time to talk with us about the unique challenges of working at a startup and her hopes for the upcoming Justwomen event.

How did you end up at Persado?

I had wanted to leave my law firm for a long while. I had a great experience there, and learned from very smart lawyers, but often in law firms, the more senior you get, the more you have to specialize in a particular area of law. I wanted my career to take a different path where I could broaden my skillset; in particular I wanted to work in-house at a smaller company where I could be more of a generalist.

Because of the recession in 2008, the job market had tightened. However, in the spring of 2014 when I was already 28 weeks pregnant, the market opened. But, I didn’t think anyone would hire me at that point. After my son was born, in 2014, I gave myself until Labor Day, after which I resumed my job search in earnest and went on a number of interviews.

"One thing that concerns me is that many of these conversations around women’s advancement and biases in the work place are often dismissed, because people feel like we have moved past that."

I chose to start at Persado in November 2014, four weeks before my official maternity leave from my law firm was over, because I wanted to join the first ever company-wide offsite in Dublin. As the only lawyer for an international company, it seemed really important for me to be there and meet everyone.

Can you speak to your experience going from corporate culture to a startup? What was the biggest difference you noted?

I think it’s reductionist to try and say there’s one big difference, because there are so many differences depending on what element of the culture we are discussing. In a startup, there is tremendous opportunity for people to take ownership of their roles and immerse themselves in the company and expand their job descriptions. People value initiative and recognize when you go above and beyond for the benefit of the company as a whole.

But I think that comes with both positive and negative responsibilities in part, depending on your personality. For me, it’s primarily been positive, and being able to take ownership and expand my role was one of the things I was looking for in my career when I left big law.

What unique challenges come with working at a startup?

I think it’s the flip side of the point above. Since roles are less formal and people need to pitch in above and beyond their specific job descriptions, it usually means that there are fewer formal processes in place. I hardly feel like I’m just a lawyer at Persado. Putting new processes in place, expanding existing ones, maturing the company from a startup to a growth stage — those are the biggest challenges and also what makes it so exciting to work there.

What other roles do you play in your company?

I’m the only lawyer for a 180 person international company, so I wear a number of different hats. There are a variety of legal issues including financing, HR, international law, compliance, data privacy, intellectual property and so on. I’m also on the management team at Persado, and I am involved in corporate and business strategy as well.

Interested in attending the next Justwomen?

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What are your hopes for the upcoming event?

I really hope that what Elizabeth and I share resonates with people. I think there are a lot of really, really important conversations going on regarding women’s issues right now. Despite that fact, so many women I speak to feel like despite these conversations we still have a tremendous amount to do to move forward. One thing that concerns me is that many of these conversations around women’s advancement and biases in the work place are often dismissed, because people feel like we have moved past that. However, I believe that people still have unconscious biases around women, which on some level is harder to combat. Unconscious biases can be harder to address because people are less able to acknowledge them, and at times take offense at suggestions that they even exist, because those biases aren’t intentional, but they are insidious.

Unless and until we can really highlight the effect of those biases, and bring them to the fore, I think women will continue to face challenges in the workplace.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.