Megan Belcher | SVP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary at Scoular
Sponsorship | Drinks Among Friends | Uber Connector | Welcome Others to the Table | Womens’ GC Mastermind | Preparing for Board Service | Impacting Communities | Kids, a Puppy & an RV
I interviewed Megan Belcher | Senior Vice President, General Counsel, & Corporate Secretary on Friday, November 20th, 2020.
We started the episode with Megan sharing about her passion for sponsorship, mentorship, and paying it forward. She shared about how she launched Drinks Among Friends, where women attorneys crowdsource an education program for their professional growth. We discussed her desire to bring women GC’s together for a virtual 12-month Mastermind. Megan shared how others welcomed her to the table and how she does that for others now. She shared sage advice on setting career goals and priorities. She shared the variety of roles she holds with Scoular, including the ESG initiative. We discussed her passion for personal and corporate branding. We discussed ways to prepare and approach serving on a board. We discussed leadership and leaders that have impacted her journey. We discussed practical advice for women attorneys to advance in their careers. She shared her life as a single parent during COVID and wrapped up with some podcast recommendations.
Here are some highlights of my interview with Megan Belcher:
I like to encourage individuals coming up as business and legal leaders to think about how they could dream a bigger dream for their career.
The resources I had as I became a leader had a really big effect on my career, and I recognized that I was coming from a place of privilege.
As I look back, some of the most important career pivots I made were a result of someone in a position of power and privilege, who reached down and offered me the opportunity to be at the table.
I think my superpower is connecting with individuals who are aware of and know their own superpowers and bringing them together to solve the most complex issues.
As I think about women continuing to reach leadership ranks and parity with men, particularly in the legal industry, it’s very important that they appreciate, understand, and focus on their professional development plan and that they are resourcing themselves appropriately.
It’s incredibly exciting to be part of our foundation and having an impact in the rural communities where our employees live and work.
Working with our board drove more of an awareness for me about the power and impact of board service. How the General Counsel interacts with those board roles, and how they think about driving forward strategy is very important.
Regarding board opportunities, make sure you have a development plan, which will include a really thoughtful board resume, board bio, and that elevator pitch when the recruiter calls.
Be very data-focused to recognize where you have gaps in your network, and where you are filling those gaps out in strategic ways that will ensure you have the right connections that will get you visibility to those board opportunities when they arise.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Commit to doing one thing, whether it’s growing your network, finding an influential mentor, or developing a 90-day plan that’s connected to your Individual Development Plan.
Making an investment in yourself is the safest investment you’ll ever make.
Links referred to in this episode:
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Greetings friends. This is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. If you’ve been a listener, you may have heard me feature powerful women on the show. Today is no exception. Today, I spoke with a well-known, well-loved General Counsel gifted in networking leadership and branding. We discussed how attorneys and leadership positions can drive inclusion. In the many ways, she supports women to advance their careers as well as elevating women to board service and of course, much more.
If you haven’t already, please subscribe to this podcast and leave a review on iTunes. We interview corporate defense law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants.
You’re listening to Episode 51 of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
Chris: Welcome to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz with The Lion Group.
Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Megan Belcher, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of Scoular in Omaha, Nebraska. Megan is a member of Scoular’s senior leadership team and leads Scoular’s legal department as well as the brand marketing and corporate communications teams. In the 15 years preceding Scoular, Megan was a partner and associate at Husch Blackwell. And prior to that, the Vice President and Chief Counsel of Employment Law and Compliance at Conagra Brands. Megan has had several roles for the Association of Corporate Counsel, which named her to its inaugural class of the Top 10 30-Somethings. Also, Ethisphere Magazine named her as a top Ethics and Compliance Officer in its annual Attorneys Who Matter listing three times. In addition, Inside Counsel magazine, awarded Megan with its Transformative Leader Award, and twice named her to its R-3 100 Next Generation of Women General Counsel list. Megan received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and her law degree from Boston College Law School. She holds a certificate in Human Resources Management from Cornell and is a Certified Compliance Ethics Professional (CCEP).
Welcome, Megan, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Megan: Thank you for having me, Chris.
Transferring Success to Others
Chris: Megan, you’re very visible, and you have a wonderful reputation and are renowned for your gifts of influence and mentoring. Would you share with my listeners your journey and passion for mentorship?
Megan: Thanks for the generous introduction. My passion for mentorship and sponsorship evolved out of the incredible mentorship and sponsorship that I received in the 20 years of my legal career. I really recognize that as a transformative catalyst for the successes that I’ve been able to achieve. And I have a passion for transferring that to other individuals who are coming up in the legal industry and in the business industry. As I moved in-house, I’ve expanded my mentorship beyond our legal team and thought about how I could impact our business. I like to encourage many individuals coming up as business and legal leaders to think about how they could dream a bigger dream for their career, and really prioritize their individual development and think about how I could be additive for them in unleashing their full potential.
Chris: Is that a program within Scoular?
Megan: We have a formal mentoring program at Scoular and I have the benefit of having three phenomenal mentors, three women who are leading in our business. External to Scoular, I focus on thinking about how I can mentor women both inside and outside the legal industry to make sure that we are promoting women and ensuring that they can reach their full potential and their career aspirations.
Drinks Among Friends
Chris: Let’s talk about 2014 when you started Drinks Among Friends. Can you elaborate on what that is and where it’s going?
Megan: At that time, I was at Conagra Brands and I’d had the benefit of going through a really robust executive coaching engagement as I moved into a leadership role in our legal team. In addition, I had the privilege of participating in a women’s general counsel development program that had a lot of resources, connectivity, and powerful women who were supporting that. As I assessed the effect those programs and resources had on my career, I thought this is something that we should be bringing to the Omaha community and beyond. It was incredibly impactful. Those resources had a really big effect on my career, and I also recognized that I was coming from a place of privilege. Executive coaching engagements are a significant investment. That program is not something that everyone would have the opportunity to participate in, and I was really looking to crowdsource the resources that we had among the women in Omaha’s legal community for our greater benefit and started that with a very simple discussion and happy hour. And it really bloomed into a full educational program that we expanded to other cities like Minneapolis and Kansas City.
Driving a Big Impact for People and the Community
Chris: Would you mind sharing a little bit about the mechanics of what you’ve done with Drinks Among Friends?
Megan: We’re trying to solve a couple of different problems. So first, we’re looking to drive connectivity between stakeholders in the legal community who can provide benefit to one another like no obligation connectivity between in-house lawyers and law firm lawyers, giving visibility and relationship access to lawyers who may be looking to make a move in their career or accomplish some development goal. In addition, we were looking to crowdsource resources so we could bring unique, interesting, and impactful development opportunities and educational opportunities to our community. We’ve learned that, particularly for lawyers, it’s always about time. And thinking about how you can drive easier access to transformative development in people’s backyards is something that can make a really significant difference for those who may not be achieving success in parity with our male counterparts. As you think about the legal community, and if you get more practically focused on it, you can appreciate that individuals have marketing budgets, people have conference rooms, and corporations have access to diversity & inclusion budgets. So if you think about it as a little bit of stone soup for women lawyers and if we come together, we have some pretty significant resources that we can leverage to bring in world-class speakers. We’ve provided programming on an MBA in a day, how to think about your personal brand, or we’ve brought in someone like Ann St. Peter, who is just an incredible force in the marketing field. So, through leveraging both relationships and resources, we have a big impact on the community. It’s a universal success for the community.
Chris: How has this offering changed during the pandemic?
Megan: We’ve had a pretty quiet session during COVID. Many people are just trying to keep their eyes above water. We’re thinking about what we can do in 2021, as people have switched more comfortably to that virtual environment, and we’ll be announcing some new programming at the beginning of the calendar year.
Virtual Womens’ GC Mastermind
Chris: Would you explain the Women’s GC Mastermind a little bit?
Megan: About 18 months ago, as I was a little over a year into my first General Counsel opportunity, I was looking to drive a closer cohort of other women general counsel that I could leverage for benchmarking information, resources, and collaboration. After getting feedback from some experts in this space, this concept for a mastermind group was formed of a dozen women general counsel, coming from diverse companies, diverse backgrounds, and diverse subject matter areas. As I reached out to my general counsel network, it became clear that it wasn’t super functional to do in a live environment. We were going to be traveling quarterly to have a big annual meeting. General counsels looked at their schedules and what was realistic for them with board meetings and the like, and it just wasn’t a time investment that was feasible. Then, when the world switched to virtual and gained comfortability with the virtual setup, I dusted off that work and started having some additional conversations. As senior leaders and C-suite leaders, we’re looking for the right ways to have connectivity during that disruption. There was the growing importance of benchmarking and information sharing as we navigated a lot of different disruptions domestically. So, the idea of a mastermind group became very appealing to a wide group, and we ultimately compiled a group of 12 phenomenal women. We’re about halfway through spending a year together. We’ve engaged an incredible executive coach who is partnering with all of us. It’s been one of the most exciting things that I’ve done in my career. So I’m delighted that we leveraged the pandemic as an opportunity and found a way to connect.
Chris: That’s tremendous. And is this because of your initiative and leadership?
Megan: It was something that I created, but I think the power of it has really come together as a result of the leadership of the 12 women who are participating. We had the real luck and privilege of being able to get a very diverse perspective at the table, and it is a perfect microcosm of why diversity is so magical.
Welcoming Others to the Table
Chris: You speak about having power and privilege and are passionate about the opportunity to drive inclusion. Would you speak to that?
Megan: Inclusion is something very important to me, and I think it’s becoming incredibly important to our business community as we look to 2021. As I look back on my career, some of the most important pivots that I made were as a result of someone who was in a position of power and privilege, reaching down and offering me the opportunity to be included at the table. And as I have grown in my career, I’ve made it a very intentional focus. Intentional is an important word here to make sure that I am continuing to grow in my inclusion journey, because I don’t think it’s anything that is ever complete. I focus on making sure that I am reaching, both internally and externally, to lift those up from my position of power, to bring others to the table and make sure that they can get that opportunity, they can get that development and they can get that visibility, as they think about what’s next for them.
Having a Professional Development Plan
Chris: Would you speak about your passion to see women thrive and get to top leadership roles?
Megan: It’s a particularly relevant question during COVID. For any of you that saw McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace Survey, the pandemic is having an outsized impact on women in the workplace, particularly those who do a lot of what’s referred to as invisible work and are trying to wear a lot of hats multi-generationally. As I think about women, we must ensure that we’re mitigating the impact in our leadership journeys and our ascension to the leadership ranks. I really encourage women to not just look at the single pillar of career. All of us, women, men, everyone wears a lot of different hats in our lives and have a lot of different priorities. I encourage women to look at their 360 degrees of their priorities. Are they around public service? Are they around family? Are they around career? Be very diligent and data-focused about what your priorities are and where you are investing your time separately. As I think about supporting women and getting to the leadership ranks, I’ve worked for many phenomenal women who have been transformative in my career and also many phenomenal men. I’ve had the privilege of great allies in my career. And as I think about women continuing to achieve and try and reach leadership ranks and parity with men, particularly in the legal industry, it’s very important that they appreciate, understand, and focus on their professional development plan and that they are resourcing themselves appropriately. The place where we most often fall down on the job is resourcing ourselves. Many times we think we have to do it ourselves and asking for help is not the way to go. Having the right personal board of directors at the table is critical. Think about your head of audit, your head of the finance committee, or your nominating and governance committee. Who is someone that’s going to take you to dinner and give you the hard feedback that no one else will give you? Take an inclusive perspective about the human resources you need at the table to achieve your career goals.
Chris: Thank you, Megan, for championing the women’s cause. You use the voice that you have and the influence you have on LinkedIn with so many different women who may not have that visibility and who appreciate your leadership.
Megan: Thank you, Chris, for being a great ally for women. I love how many women you feature on your podcast. As someone who is really at the forefront of placing individuals in leadership roles, it’s exciting to think about that allyship on those front lines.
Chris: What is on your plate today with your roles and responsibilities at Scoular?
Megan: There are many magical things about Scoular. One of those is that we’re an agile company that really offers its talent the opportunity to grow and expand in lots of new ways. As the General Counsel, I lead our legal team worldwide, which has lawyers both domestically and internationally. I also have the privilege of leading our brand marketing and corporate communications team. On the day we’re recording this, we’re having a big day today because we’re launching our refreshed brand as a company, which is very exciting. It has been a long and exciting journey in partnership with our senior leadership team and our board and really an amazing cross-functional team at the company. Then, we are starting our sustainability journey as a company and we’re really excited to be at the forefront of that, particularly as we think about the growing importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) in the general counsel role. I’m looking forward to that journey over the upcoming five years which is our goal-setting period.
Chris: What are the five pillars Scoular is focusing on?
Megan: We have five areas that are intimately connected with our business and how our customers think about their business. We’re focusing on marine stewardship, reducing our carbon footprint, health and safety, investing in our communities, and diversity & inclusion.
Impacting Rural Communities
Chris: What excites you to be a part of the ESG initiative within Scoular?
Megan: I’ll talk more holistically. We contribute a percentage of our PBG to our foundation every year that we focus on giving back and having an impact in the communities where our employees live and work. As I think about many of the rural communities where we operate, and our ability to have a big impact there, particularly as a trustee of our foundation, it’s incredibly exciting to be a part of that. It’s also deeply engaging for me as an employee and a leader, to work for a company that cares so much about its communities around the world. As I think about our more environmentally focused pillars through marine stewardship and carbon footprint, I think we can all appreciate the growing impact and import that we each have as individuals and as corporate operators, in making sure that we’re being mindful of climate impact in life. Also, I’m very excited that we’re going to bring the visibility to the work that we’ve already been undertaking as a company, and really ratcheting up that work to make sure that we’re doing our part as a thoughtful and mindful steward for our various economies in which we live and work.
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Passion for Branding & Marketing
Chris: Megan, where did your passion for branding come from?
Megan: There’s been an interesting thread on that throughout my life. My father was in advertising and had a boutique agency. So it was very much a key theme for me growing up. In addition, I definitely have a visual and artistic side. And then, when you’re in the big law context, you’re always thinking about your marketing and your brand, as you think about advancing in your career. I also had the benefit of going to a branded food company, and that is really integral to your business success as you think about how you’re going to grow your bottom line. I also had the privilege of taking over and leading our brand marketing and corporate communications team at Scoular when I started there, and have really woven that into my day to day work. It’s been a wonderful expansion and development opportunity for me, particularly, as we built a really incredible team at Scoular
Relating to the Board of Directors
Chris: Let’s jump into a subject that’s front of mind for more tenured attorneys. Could you share your insights related to board service and working with boards?
Megan: It was certainly something that came later in my career. I wasn’t thinking about board service 10 years into either my law firm career or my in-house career. But certainly, as I grew in my career, and became a leader in the law department at a public company, your board of directors is a really essential fulcrum for the work that you do and how you think about risk. Working with our board certainly started driving more of an awareness for me about the power and impact of that board service, and became a focus for me as I started investing in my development as a future general counsel. How the General Counsel interacts with those board roles, and how they think about driving forward strategy is very important. So, I started investing in places like the Center for Women in Law, participating in direct women’s programs, and getting more sophisticated in my reading and understanding about the process for getting on boards. As I have grown in my General Counsel role at Scoular, I have had the privilege of participating in board searches as we’ve thought about our board and thinking about the future. It’s been an iteration over time. It’s a role that I hope to play someday, and it’s a continued focus for me in my development.
Preparing for Board Service
Chris: Megan, speak about Direct Women, the service that helps women get on boards.
Megan: Direct Women is an amazing 501(c)(3) that has an incredible board of directors and set of committees. They are really focused on developing and launching women lawyers into board service. Their deepest power is that they have deeply influential members who are committed to the success of those who go through their board institute and who participate in their programs. They have really done a tremendously inclusive job about offering their content and their educational resources more broadly through their webcasts and educational offerings that they’ve put out virtually. They are an organization that has made a tremendous impact, both through driving those connections that really feed board service, and also ensuring that women are set up for success with the skills and the branding knowledge that they need as they think about trying to leverage themselves into a board seat.
Chris: Megan, what advice would you give a roomful of women thinking about serving on boards?
Megan: It would be twofold, be intentional, and it’s all about your network. Ensure that you have an intentional development plan to make sure that you’re ready for when the opportunity comes up, which will include a really thoughtful board resume, board bio, and that elevator pitch when the recruiter calls. In addition, make sure that you are thoughtfully fostering your network in a strategic way. Be very data-focused to recognize where you have gaps in your network, and where you are filling those gaps out in strategic ways that will ensure you have the right connections that will get you visibility to those board opportunities when they arise.
Leadership is Connecting & Collaborating
Chris: Megan, how do you define leadership?
Megan: I define leadership as bringing diverse leaders to the table to either solve complex issues or drive shareholder value in the corporate context with an inspirational and inclusive spirit. I think that that is what drives engagement, and what drives really exceptional results with a team.
Chris: Who have been examples of leadership to you?
Megan: I’ve had the benefit of having a really great and influential sponsor at every stage in my career. I had the opportunity to work with Paul Pautler at Husch Blackwell who is just an incredible servant leader. I learned how to think about bringing that thoughtful approach to your leadership, fostering young lawyers who come in and really don’t have any skills, and getting them the connectivity and the understanding, particularly as you’re going through those more complex early days where you are making mistakes, and you’re figuring out on the fly. I also had the privilege to work with Nikki Atlas, who was the Chief Employment Counsel at Conagra Brands who taught me what it was to be an in-house leader, and showed me what really powerful female leadership looks like. And then all the way to my CEO now, who is one of the most inspirational leaders that I have ever seen and who is a true ally as you think about getting a very inclusive and very diverse perspective to the table. Paul is a very authentic and vulnerable leader who shows me every day what great leadership looks like and has really enabled me to grow tremendously in my leadership journey over the last three and a half years.
Commit to One Thing
Chris: Megan, let’s go back into that proverbial room full of women. What advice would you give to inspire them?
Megan: Many people look at the start of the calendar year as turning a page and a fresh start. Many people are either overwhelmed or feel overbooked as a result of the additional demands of the pandemic, particularly for women. I would say to them, don’t overcomplicate it, commit to doing one thing. For those women that are listening to this podcast, you’ve committed time to listen to it. Commit to doing one thing, whether it’s growing your network, finding an influential mentor, or developing a 90-day plan that’s connected to your IDP (Individual Development Plan). You don’t need to overcomplicate it. Just commit to doing one thing. Three months from now, nine months from now, or three years from now, if you make that commitment to yourself and carve out that time, that investment is going to pay off. Making an investment in yourself is the safest investment you’ll ever make.
Kids, a Puppy & an RV
Chris: So, you are a single mom with two daughters. Is that correct?
Megan: That’s correct.
Chris: How has this year been? And how is the newest addition to your family?
Megan: We got a COVID puppy. Our longtime companion, George, was 14 when he passed away and my children were dying to have a puppy. So, we picked up a puppy during COVID. It’s been a real journey.
Last spring, we pivoted to virtual. My children have the privilege of going to a smaller private school, and they did a phenomenal job shifting to that virtual environment. So I was very lucky and grateful. At the same time, I pivoted to work from home in March and we’ve quickly learned that while we were very agile in a virtual environment, I was not meant to be an Elementary Ed teacher. Those were our two takeaways. It was also wonderful, given the frenetic pace of life, both as a leader and a mom, particularly as a single parent, to have that togetherness and my mom quarantined with us which was just a wonderful stay. We had a wonderful summer. We’re voracious travelers, but travel looked a little different for us this year. We bought an RV. We’re traveling a little bit differently and finding new adventures. Then this winter, we’ve shifted to virtual again, and I’ve been working from home since March. We’re continuing to find our new normal and I’m continuing to build my muscles of agility and flexibility.
Chris: Where did you guys make your trips this summer or this year with the RV?
Megan: We went to a couple of different places. We drove to Oregon, which is our go-to summer spot. We go to the Oregon coast every year, and we took a two-day driving trip, which was a new experience. We’re also exploring the Midwest. We’ve lived in Omaha for a long time, but had not seen Mount Rushmore, so we checked that out. We made some trips to some great camping sites in Iowa. We’re continuing to find new adventures, and we’re hoping to take a long trip after the Christmas holiday.
Chris: You shared with me that you’re an avid podcast listener. Would you share with us shows that interest you?
Megan: Of course, I listen to yours and I love getting legal content. Probably my favorite personal podcast is Armchair Expert, which brings a lot of different perspectives to the table. I start every day with The Daily from the New York Times, which focuses on a news issue. One of my favorite career and women-focused podcasts is Second Life, which is a podcast that’s focused on women who are entering the second half of their careers, but happy to share my full list on LinkedIn or otherwise.
Chris: What are your superpowers?
Megan: I think my superpower is connecting with individuals who are aware of and know their own superpowers and bringing them together to solve the most complex issues, whether those issues be for my company, for my community, or for my personal relationships that I really care about. So that’s my passion, and I think where I shine the most.
Chris: Megan, thank you for your time today. Appreciate it.
Megan: Thank you for having me, Chris.
Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.