Shefali ShahMarch 08, 2019

Striving for Balance on International Women’s Day

March is Women’s History Month – a time to commemorate the extraordinary achievements of the influential women who paved the way for all women today. Countless women challenged the status quo, spoke up when society told them they had no voice and made immense sacrifices to fight for equality. Whether these displays of courage were on the public stage or in private life, we celebrate each of these women this month.

As the first lawyer in my own family, I was curious about the women who pioneered careers in the law. In the late 19th century, Ada Kepley was the first woman to graduate from law school in the U.S., and Myra Bradwell was the first woman to be admitted to the Illinois bar. Ada was prohibited from practicing law because only men were permitted to enter what was known as the “learned professions.” Myra, who founded the Chicago Legal News, the most widely circulated legal newspaper in the U.S. and the first to be edited by a woman, was also prohibited from practicing law after passing the qualifying exam as a result of a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court. She wouldn’t be admitted until the court reversed its decision just four years before her passing.

Today, it is my pleasure and privilege to serve as Avaya’s Chief Administrative Officer & General Counsel. I recognize that I have been blessed with numerous opportunities to develop my professional career provided by my mentors, peers and those who have come before me. I owe a debt of gratitude to so many for investing in me, supporting my aspirations and providing a well-trodden path. At the end of 2018, 30% of the General Counsels or GCs for Fortune 500 companies were women. Though not ideal, the percentage of women in this role is significantly higher than in other C-suite positions and is on the rise – 43% of the open GC positions for the Fortune 500 in 2018 were filled by female GCs. Although significant progress has been made in the United States towards gender equality, there are still many barriers for women to overcome just to have the same opportunity as their male counterparts.

The need to level the playing field is brought to the forefront as the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day campaign, #BalanceForBetter. Balance is better not just for women, but for business. Research conducted by the United Nations shows that “women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality.” In other words, when women work, economies grow – and that’s just one of the reasons that I am excited to announce our new Avaya for Communities program.

Avaya for Communities

A recent report by JP Morgan Chase found that “Women-owned businesses start with lower revenue, experience slower revenue growth and are less likely to receive external financing than their male counterparts.” That’s certainly not balanced, and it’s incredible to think that, given all that women have accomplished in the last few years, we are still not viewed equally when it comes to owning a business.

The Avaya for Communities program is opening its first sponsorship opportunity to women-owned small businesses that meet certain criteria. (Learn more here.) For those that qualify, Avaya will provide free softphone technology for five users for a year, as well as deep discounts for additional users and products. Seamless communication is key to any successful business, and Avaya technology has been known to delight customers and create rich experiences that matter. We realize that a gender-balanced world is better for everyone, in life, and in business, and we want to help these small, women-owned businesses succeed and thrive.

While my entry into the legal profession was paved by early pioneers such as Ada Kepley and Myra Bradwell, I couldn’t be prouder to work for a company who is providing much-needed technology path for women in the challenging and competitive small business world.

Businesswomen having project planning meeting in office

Shefali Shah

Shefali Shah is Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel. She is responsible for Avaya�s worldwide law department and global human resources organization. Shefali joined Avaya from Era Group, one of the largest helicopter operators in the world, where she served as SVP, general counsel, and corporate secretary. Previously, Shefali held several senior management roles with Comverse Technology, Inc. She began her legal career at Weil, Gotshal amp; Manges LLP and Hutchins, Wheeler amp; Dittmar, P.C. Shefali holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Boston University, and a Juris Doctorate in Law from Duke University Law School.

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