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Pushing Through

photo of Sandra Teichman
Sandra Teichman, prominent lawyer and Rare Advisory Board member, is no stranger to achieving success or overcoming obstacles in her path. In sharing a little of her story so far, she offers a few lessons in overcoming those obstacles for those who might follow in her footsteps.

How does a black woman go from a degree at Essex University to the board of a multinational company by the age of 34? I am asked this question a lot, and it is a fair one. I did not go to a traditionally elite university, I�m the wrong gender and the wrong colour, and yet I�ve spent the last fifteen years in and around boardrooms of some of the biggest companies in the world. Oh, and I�ve still managed to keep my giggly girly personality intact. So what is my story?

Fundamentally, there are four elements to it. Firstly, things haven�t just happened to me � I have pushed to make them happen. Secondly, I have always tried to be true to myself and treat people with respect, fairness and kindness. Thirdly, I have always worked hard, strategically and to a very high standard. Lastly, I have always networked and found it invaluable.

Taking each element in turn, I�ll start with an example of pushing for things. I went to Essex University. It was a good university and I was taught well, but it was not Oxbridge, and I knew it could be difficult to get a pupillage at a well-known set of chambers after completing my barristers� exams. My CV wasn�t remarkable in any way � I had not climbed Mount Kilimanjaro or achieved straight A* grades � so I decided not to apply in the normal way by posting my CV to various chambers, but to apply in person and just knock on their doors. I knew I had an engaging personality. I just needed � literally � to get my foot in the door, and that is how I got my pupillage. I have always tried to be myself at work. I am open, kind, I laugh a lot, and I try to treat every person with respect. I give people time and I listen to them, regardless of whether that person is the CEO or works in the post room. I can, of course, be firm when I have to be, but I have found that being nice to people is the best way to build relationships. It is not true that nice people always finish last.

I push myself hard and work to the highest possible standard, with a relentless hard-driving pursuit of professional intelligence. My father always said, �whether you become a lawyer or carpenter, just aim to be the best in your chosen profession. You are already on track to succeed if you excel.�

Networking is key. I got myself out there, met all sorts of people in and out of the workplace and nurtured those professional relationships that were key to me. I joined the board of a �7billion company not just through hard work, but by being pushy and networking with all the key decision makers in the company; telling them at every given opportunity why the Board needed a lawyer, and a young (-ish) black woman, to join their all-male, all-white (average age � late 50s) Board. Diversity was not a buzzword back then, but they soon appreciated diversity when I joined.

So that is a little of my story. I came to England at 17 � a young black girl with no contacts, just a huge ambition to succeed. I started my career during a time when diversity was unheard of, and racist and sexist jokes were seen as harmless banter. But I pushed through. And I succeeded. Nothing can hold you back if you push hard enough, only yourself.