Olga Mack: Graceful Ambition on the Move
There’s ambition. There’s drive. And then there’s Olga Mack.
At first glance, it may seem as if Mack somehow has more hours in a day than the rest of humanity, or has tapped into a fountain of efficiency that is out of reach for many. Her primary role is general counsel at ClearSlide, a San Francisco-based SaaS sales and marketing engagement startup. Mack also serves as advisor for TimeJoy and ChannelMeter, two early-stage startups. Most recently, Mack founded the Women Serve on Boards Movement. If that weren’t enough, in her remaining spare time, she co-founded an organization called SunLaw, which is dedicated to helping in-house female attorneys obtain general counsel and leadership positions. Yet among all of her professional accomplishments, what truly stands out is Mack’s unwavering passion for empowering herself and others. It’s a rare and inspiring combination of always reaching beyond the realm of established possibility, and never forgetting where she came from. She is the embodiment of graceful ambition, which she constantly uses to motivate herself and those around her.
Finding a voice
Mack came to the United States from Ukraine and, like many immigrants, went through the challenging process of finding a voice in a new land and a foreign language. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Mack chose a career that requires a mastery of the English language. Mack’s driving mantra is that her limitations are all in her head, which she proved throughout her days pursuing a career in law. Mack earned her undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley, where she first found her voice as an Economics and Political Science dual major. After delivering a speech at her college commencement, Mack went on to earn her law degree at UC Berkeley School of Law. After graduation, she began her career as an intellectual property litigator at Wilson Sonsini before becoming the startup law guru she is today. Mack’s journey will come full circle this fall of 2016, when she begins teaching Financial Statement Analysis at the UC Berkeley School of Law. After a challenging journey to find her own voice, Mack is committed to helping others find theirs.
This commitment has led to a prolific writing portfolio that is steadily growing, despite Mack’s other duties. She has written profiles of countless female in-house counsel, highlighting their professional achievements, lessons, and takeaways to benefit both legal professionals and the professional community as a whole. By profiling these women, she aims to give them more visibility and a wider platform to share their messages. In turn, these women gain recognition as successful in-house counsel and can use Mack’s profile and ensuing platform as a stepping stone for career advancement. Mack’s articles empower her subjects, help them find their voices, and encourage them to tell their stories. She has also written articles on a number of topics, ranging from why lawyers should join startups to the reasons behind tech’s gender gap. With her writing Mack brings a new voice to the usual legal industry dialogue and is shaking up the traditional idea of what an in-house counsel “looks like.” She hopes to both open doors for nontraditional lawyers and inspire lawyers seeking innovative, unconventional career paths.
Becoming general counsel
Mack’s prolific writing actually led to her position at ClearSlide. Last year, Jesal Shah, Corporate Legal Counsel at ClearSlide, found herself in a position with a recently-departed boss and more tasks than any one lawyer could possibly manage. She took matters into her own hands and set out to find a new boss for herself. Shah had one very clear goal: she wanted a mentor who would help turn her into a seasoned in-house legal professional and truly invest time into her development. Mack’s writing caught Shah’s eye, and she boldly chose to reach out and ask Mack to be her mentor. Impressed, Mack agreed and took on the general counsel position and Shah as a direct report.
The match has been mutually beneficial. Shah says, with a healthy dose of humor, “Everything with [Mack] is in hyper drive, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. She boosts my confidence, makes time to provide feedback in a way that is actually actionable, gives me opportunities to manage, and helps me develop all of the soft skills required to build successful relationships with internal business teams.” Shah also noted that Mack has incredible attention to detail and is always suggesting creative solutions to moving towards her goals.
Her relationship with Shah is just one way Mack’s graceful ambition manifests itself. “[Mack] makes sure she sets up all of the ingredients necessary for success and then focuses on uplifting other people around her,” Shah notes, reflecting on Mack’s passion for helping others succeed. When she first joined ClearSlide, Mack set out to build strategic relationships across every department. As Mack says, “You always have to build relationships, especially in the beginning. You have to be part of your team first for your advice to even be considered. If you’re a united team, any difficulty can become a learning and growth opportunity for everyone involved. Making sure we’re all united helps everyone succeed.”
A rising tide lifts all boats
Mack applies this philosophy to other areas as well. In May 2016, she took on her greatest and most high-profile challenge. After being the only woman in the room at countless business meetings — and a particularly ignorant experience where she was assumed to be another attorney’s wife, instead of a professional in her own right — Mack had what she calls her “WTH” moment. “I realized that the higher I progress in my career, the more I find myself as the only woman in the room,” she says. “Gender inequality permeates every level of corporate America. If there are no women at the very top, how can we ever get past the ‘old boys’ club mentality?”
Mack started doing some research and discovered that according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, there are currently 24 Fortune 500 companies with no women on their boards. The truth was clear — a woman’s gender can make it virtually impossible for her to obtain a board position, no matter how many hours she puts in, how many risks she takes, or how intelligent and qualified she is. Fortunately, Mack is used to shattering limitations and disregarding what others deem “impossible.” She saw her “WTH moment” as yet another opportunity to uplift others, this time on an even grander scale. Calling on her old mantra, she started the Women Serve on Boards movement. Through social media, writing, and speaking, the movement keeps the pressure on these 24 Fortune 500 companies to recruit at least one qualified woman to their boards.
Mack, of course, has an even bigger vision in mind. Even if the 24 companies each add at least one woman to their board, this group makes up less than 5% of the Fortune 500. Women are still grossly underrepresented in board service overall, making up about 20% of all Fortune 500 board members and less than 20% of all board members in smaller companies. Her current efforts merely capture the biggest offenders, but there is still much progress to be made. Mack envisions a future where gender inequality is an outdated and unacceptable practice.
Although enacting this change is ambitious, it’s hard to imagine anything stopping Mack. Her graceful ambition has fueled a career defined by shattering limitations for herself and others. And even with a full plate and a successful career, Mack is always on the move, looking for her next opportunity to empower others and make lasting change. With her track record, it’s sure to be nothing short of inspiring.
This article was originally published by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Docket.