As March comes to a close, we want to take a moment for one last acknowledgement of Women’s History Month. The annual 31-day tribute each March offers reminders of the many contributions women have made in all areas of our lives. But, we also know that there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to the role of women in technology. So, we are taking this opportunity to kick off a multi-part series dedicated to highlighting women in the tech industry.
At Digium, we have several high-achieving women in key leadership roles. These women have had extraordinary careers and are helping to lead the company to new heights. In this series, we will learn more about their roles within the company, their roads to success, and the impact they are making in the community.
We are starting the series with Michelle Fleming, General Counsel at Digium.
Describe your role at Digium.
I’m General Counsel for Digium. My primary responsibilities are contract negotiations, compliance work, and management of our intellectual property. I don’t have a fixed set of responsibilities or a “normal” schedule of what I work on, though. I handle a sometimes unpredictable legal potpourri of issues that come up as part of running a business.
Describe your education and career path prior to joining Digium.
I graduated from the University of North Alabama (UNA) with a major in criminal justice. After UNA, I went to Cumberland School of Law. I’d worked as a legal secretary and court runner at a law firm during breaks and was mentored by one of the attorneys. After graduation, the attorney who mentored me was no longer with the firm, but I was offered space there and got to move into my mentor’s old office. I primarily did criminal defense. I’d been exposed to corporate work because I’d grown up around my dad’s small business and decided to make a change.
What projects have you been involved in at Digium that you are most proud of?
Successfully negotiating a 600-page contract. I am a contract nerd. A contract aficionado if you will. I enjoy reading, writing, and revising them. I like finding the loopholes and gotchas. But, ensuring there was no obligation we couldn’t meet, no risk we weren’t ready to accept, and all the things we needed from the other party were in those 600 pages definitely put me to the test.
What do you love the most about your job?
My coworkers. I’ve been with Digium over 10 years because Digiumites (what we call Digium employees) are some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet and the most enjoyable people to work with, even under pressure. You want somebody that is still fun to work with even on an hours-long conference call at 7pm, during a working weekend, or under a tight deadline. It’s not frequent, but I have been in these situations and afterwards we’re all still having a good time. It’s also a place where even after 10 years I’m still growing because I’m always learning from coworkers.
Who is a female that inspires you? Why?
Heather Meeker. Heather is a partner at O’Melveny & Meyers and a rock star in open source licensing matters. Heather takes complex facts, cuts through them, and makes the issues simple, but provides thorough explanations. Also, attorneys can develop a cookie cutter public personality. Sometimes you never know what they’re like as an individual. I read an interview a while back that said Heather’s hobby is belly dancing. Most attorneys would have come up with a hobby like golf to talk about. That was when I knew I didn’t have to be cookie cooker to succeed. It was okay to be myself.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Long distance running and blogging about running. You can find my personal blog at www.longdistancelawyer.us. (It would be nice if this plug doubles my readership by getting me a reader other than my mom!)
I set run goals for myself every year. My goal in 2016 was to run twelve half-marathons. I came in under the wire, but I did it. In the spirit of not being cookie cutter, I set my last race PR (personal record) while running in a tiara, tutu, and feather boa.
Are you involved in the community? What local groups or organizations are you involved in?
I’ve volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, Publicolor, and MillionTreesNYC. I’m about to start fundraising for Avon 39. Avon 39 is a long-distance walk that raises funds to care for breast cancer patients and their families and towards research and treatment. The 39 comes from the 26 mile walk on day 1 and the 13 mile walk on day 2. I’m recovering from a foot fracture and don’t think it wise to do the full 39, but my husband and I have signed up to walk the 26 miles on day 1. We’re walking and fundraising in memory of my neighbor who passed away from breast cancer in 2013.
Do you have a mentor?
I have a small circle of female attorney friends I turn to for a sounding board and guidance. Some of them were attorneys that represented companies I was negotiating with on behalf of Digium. I admired the way they worked and after the contracts closed I reached out to strike up friendships. Another is a law school classmate, and one is the wife of another classmate. These women have given me career advice, guided me through sticky situations, helped me gain membership to professional organizations, and even helped me with personal legal matters.
What advice do you have for young women entering the workforce?
You only grow when you’re outside your comfort zone. You’ll get offered opportunities to do new things. Take the opportunities. Don’t turn them down because you only know 60% of what you need to know. You’ll learn as you go. Too many women don’t take on new things because they think if they’re not 100% sure how to complete the task they should say no. You don’t have to know everything up front. If you’ve got a basic understanding of what would be involved and you can plug your knowledge gaps with research or trial and error, then say yes.