Chicago Newsletter March 2016 | NAWBO


Confidence is the gap between navigating your path and actually getting there.” -Michele Katz


Michele Katz
President, NAWBO Chicago
Founding Partner, Advítam IP, LLC



Confidence is the Tipping Point

“You need to meet this man,” said my father, as he walked me into the federal courthouse downtown.  I was about to start my first year of law school at “this man’s” alma mater. The minute I walked into the judge’s chambers, I understood my dad’s enthusiasm. The man, at that time already in his 90s, was among the first Jewish federal court justices in U.S. history, and it was immediately apparent that he had lived history. The walls spoke volumes.

Every single square inch of his chambers was covered with framed photographs featuring people the judge had met: Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Hubert Humphrey, Joe E. Lewis, Jimmy Durante, popes, poets, senators, singers, and internationally recognized leaders. Every modern figure in history seemed to be hanging there. Then, the judge said something that stayed with me throughout my law school days and my career.

“See these people here?” he said, pointing to the sea of pictures. “I didn’t ask them how they got there; I asked them who got them there.” My takeaway: We often reach our greatest potential by the company we keep.

This story reflects the heart of NAWBO Chicago today. We are women business owners and corporate leaders, philanthropists and visionaries, dealmakers and creative architects. Our members are as diverse as those endless rows of pictures. We stand by each other, helping one another grow.

NAWBO’s theme this year is “confidence.” Confidence is the gap between navigating your path and actually getting there. Whether you exchange ideas at one of our events, participate in a webinar or tap into our mentoring program, you are connected with women leaders set on getting you where you want to go.

As we approach the end of our NAWBO year (technically June 30), we prepare for the Celebration of Achievement Luncheon on May 2 at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park. Hundreds will gather to welcome keynote speaker Claire Shipman, author of “The Confidence Code” and senior contributor for ABC News' Good Morning America. You will meet women recognized for their contributions to business and walk away inspired by the day’s boundless energy. In fact, our annual Achievement Luncheon is a good metaphor for NAWBO all throughout the year. It takes drive and support and confidence – culled from others and from inside of us – to win in business.

Of course, there are going to be obstacles for all of us. In fact, we tackle one of those issues in this newsletter: gender bias. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I can honestly say, it exists – but not always in the way you think (check out our main article).

I’ll leave you with this: Confidence is not self-evident. It takes an army of people behind us. Confidence is that line in the sand, that tipping point that guides, pushes, believes and supports until one day someone may even want to take a picture with us. And then add it to their wall.

About Michele Katz  

NAWBO Chicago President Michele Katz is the founder of the intellectual property law firm Advitam IP, LLC, which provides powerful expertise in client counseling, strategic analysis, prosecution and litigation in all areas of intellectual property law. Her diverse skill set and drive to deliver results applies equally to obtaining trademark and copyright registrations and issued patents, as it does in obtaining favorable outcomes in state and federal court and before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and US Customs. She is most passionate about giving back in a measurable way, whether through her firm’s scholarship fund, mentorship program, or her frequent talks to lawyer and non-lawyer groups. Super Lawyers Magazine recognized Michele as an Illinois Rising Star in IP Litigation for the last 6 consecutive years and NAWBO Chicago awarded her the Corporate Woman of Achievement Award four times since 2005.


The Fresh New Face of Gender Bias

Gender bias has grown up. It once was a mere child, blatant and untamed in its audacity, limiting a woman’s opportunity for career growth and earning power in large and mouthy ways. Like youth, gender bias showed no patience; it dismissed women as independent thinkers and business dreamers. Even so, like all things alive and well, gender bias has matured over time.

History reveals a maturation of the inequity. The suffragettes cheered in 1919. President John F. Kennedy was moved by the “unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job,” as he signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, likening the measure to “another structure basic to democracy.” Before 1988, a male cosigner was required for a woman applying for a business loan (thank you, NAWBO, for leading the Women’s Business Ownership Act with H.R. 5050!). You might say that prior to 1988, we didn’t even count – only after passage of H.R. 5050 did the U.S. Census Bureau require C corporations to present data on women-owned firms.

All the laws and corporate best practices, however, cannot dispute a “second-generation bias” that currently exists in subtle yet tangible ways. In an article by Harvard Business Review, it is described as creating “a context — akin to ‘something in the water’ — in which women fail to thrive or reach their full potential.” As gender bias ages, the end goal isn’t being hired as much as it is advancing. A few metrics: Women comprise 51% of the population yet in 2014 there were 19% women in the House and 20% in the Senate. At the UN’s Beijing women’s conference of 1995, countries aspired to reach 30% women members in their national legislatures, according to the Huffington Post. Why haven’t we realized that milestone? Who’s writing history here? Who’s stacking the teams?

In this issue of NAWBO Chicago’s March newsletter, we talked with three NAWBO members. Through their life lessons and insight, we take a page from their stories about conquering the fresh new face of gender bias.

Rosemary Swierk is president of Direct Steel and Construction, a commercial general contractor and construction manager. Historically, construction has been considered a male-dominated industry. Swierk attributes her upbringing for her ability to overcome biases. Growing up with two older brothers, Swierk often found herself surrounded by their friends for a game of football in the family backyard. The players would line up to be selected for teams. As team captains, Swierk’s brothers would always select her first or second to play for their team. She recalls the day, not long ago, when she thanked them for that gesture. “They both looked at me with disbelief,” she says. “One commented, ‘Well, I didn’t select you because you were my sister. I selected you because you could catch the ball.’  My other brother chimed in, ‘I picked you because you were fast.’ I further explained that that is why I thanked them. They selected me because of my talent and what I brought to the game.” Being recognized for her talent provided a valuable lesson that Swierk has carried over to her professional career.

According to NAWBO President Michele Katz, gender bias can sometimes be born from altruistic reasons. It is, however, present nonetheless. She recounts the time she worked at a firm with over 600 lawyers, most of whom were men. “When I was pregnant with my youngest child, I was second chairing a litigation headed for trial. Now, the senior partner was such a great guy, gave me a lot of responsibility and relied on me heavily. He was also the quintessential gentlemen. He simply would not have wanted to put me in a position to make such a critical choice, one that included the stressful environment of travel and depositions. I chose not to put him in that position and kept the news to myself until I was 6 months pregnant. I mean, it would have been ridiculous for much longer. I relished in my responsibilities and worked with even greater ferver, and I did it all on my own terms.” Her story shows how choosing confidence catapulted her over what could have been a missed opportunity.

Katz’ story underscores the very definition of gender bias: “a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly.” In other words, an opportunity missed.

In the male-dominated field of finance, we posed the gender bias question to NAWBO member Lisa Dieter, CFP, vice president, wealth management, financial advisor and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley (and the feature interview in this newsletter’s GAMECHANGERS section). On whether it exists, she answered “Definitely!”

Dieter adds, “My industry is only about 10 to 15% women and it's been that way since the 90's. I'm not convinced that we have much forward momentum at the moment. A male colleague once asked me if being a woman made being a financial advisor more difficult. I was shocked that he actually came out and said it. I answered that I thought it's an advantage – there are thousands and thousands of financial advisors so anything that makes you "special" or "different" can be an asset. And you definitely stand out just by being a woman; let's just say I never have to wait in line for the bathroom at a professional conference.”

Dieter recounts the instance where being a woman colored an opportunity. “Another time I was nearly passed over for a promotion for better territory,” she said. “The manager pretty much came out and said that he wasn't confident I could handle the role (another advisor had abruptly left) because I was (a) young and (b) female. I ended up closing more business than the previous three people who had tried the job.” Dieter’s perseverance and can-do approach proved naysayers wrong and led her to conquer gender bias head-on.

What are major companies doing to combat gender bias? Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched a Managing Unconscious Bias training program. Facebook is 16 percent female. Sandberg commented in a U.S. News & World Report article: "Managing bias can help us build stronger, more diverse and inclusive companies — and drive better business results."

Some may call bias unconscious while others consider it second generation. Either way, the topic reminds business leaders to take a long hard look at ensuring that opportunity is blind to gender, placing a higher priority on competence, performance and skill.

(1) Harvard Business Review, “Educate Everyone About Second-Generation Gender Bias” by Herminia Ibarra, Robin J. Ely and Deborah Kolb, August 21, 2013.

(2) Huffington Post, “Why I Became a Passionate Advocate for Women-Led Ventures -- and Why You Should, Too,” by Joanna L. Krotz, February 10, 2016,

(3) YAHOO! Finance, “The one thing women can do to thwart gender bias at work” by Mandi Woodruff, August 5, 2015,

(4) U.S. News & World Report, “Can Bias Training Really Improve Diversity in Tech?” by David Miller, July 29, 2015,