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Powerful Leaders, No Apologies Episode 22 Podcast Banner


Show Notes

Beth and Debbie talk with Andrea Markstrom as she shares her remarkable journey from aspiring modern dancer to Chief Information Officer in the legal industry. With unwavering resilience, she defied stereotypes and naysayers, emphasizing the importance of embracing the art of the possible. Andrea’s leadership superpower lies in her boundless optimism, inspiring her team to dream big and reaffirming that anything is achievable. This conversation delves into overcoming obstacles, shattering gender biases, and the importance of supporting one another within a powerful tribe. .   

Links from the episode:  

Powerful Leaders Swag Shop  

Purpose Passion and Moxie by Genevieve Piturro  

The Big Power of Tiny Connections by Jen Nash


[4:17] Pivoting from dance to intern

[11:01] Finding your tribe

[15:14] Do whatever you want to move forward and prove them wrong


  • Transcript

    Debbie Foster (00:03): 

    Welcome to the Powerful Leaders. No apologies podcast, a show about women who are ready to own their power and change the world. My name is Debbie Foster. 


    Beth Thompson (00:12): 

    And I’m Beth Thompson. Our guests are fierce and fabulous women who are making a difference in their personal and professional communities. Are you ready to be inspired? If so, stay tuned and also check out our website at affinityconsulting.com slash powerful leaders. Here’s the show, Debbie, we are back again. Can you believe it? We are Now as we are recording this, it’s the beginning of October. We’ve been at this since January. It’s really flown by, hasn’t it? 


    Debbie Foster (00:45): 

    It has flown by. I was just looking at LinkedIn over the weekend and we both have podcast hosts in our list of positions that we’ve had, and it said 10 months next to it and I was like 10 months. That’s crazy. 


    Beth Thompson (01:00): 

    It is crazy. And we now have our merch store and we’ve got that linked in our episodes and I actually was at a baseball tournament over the weekend and had a Powerful Leaders, No Apologies, hoodie on, and everybody was asking me about it and it was really fun to be able to say, oh this, I co-host this podcast. This is my baby. So it was fun. 


    Debbie Foster (01:24): 

    Awesome. I just ordered my stuff last week on Thursday or Friday, so I’m looking forward to getting it. I’m looking forward to sporting my Powerful Leaders, No Apologies hat. 


    Beth Thompson (01:33): 

    I’m going to get a hat and I’m going to in the same order. Apparently my daughter has said, where is my hoodie? So I am going to order Brooke a hoodie. So 


    Debbie Foster (01:42): 



    Beth Thompson (01:42): 

    Got to get another order in. 


    Debbie Foster (01:43): 



    Beth Thompson (01:44): 

    But enough about that. Let’s get into the heart of why we’re here today, Debbie, I will let you introduce our guests that we’re so excited to chat with today. 


    Debbie Foster (01:52): 

    We are our last episode, I think it will be, might’ve been a couple episodes before by the time this one comes out, but we had Joy Heath Rush on our show and she is just such an amazing legal industry human. We just love her. And Joy is the CEO of ILTA and Beth and I were at ILTA in New York City at the Women Who Lead Conference. Was it last year? Yeah, it was last year. Oh no, it was this year because we were advertising the podcast and we got to hear Andrea Markstrom, our guest today speak. And we were both really inspired and are very excited to say that Andrea is our guest on the podcast today. Welcome, Andrea. 


    Andrea Markstrom (02:37): 

    Well, thank you both. I’m honored to be here. I can’t thank you enough and such a pleasure and I can’t wait to get some merch. I need to get on and order some. I love it. I love it. And congratulations on 10 months. That is amazing. 


    Beth Thompson (02:53): 

    Thank you. 


    Andrea Markstrom (02:54): 

    Amazing work. 


    Debbie Foster (02:55): 

    Yeah, it’s great. We would love to hear your story. Andrea, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now and kind of the road that got you there? 


    Andrea Markstrom (03:03): 

    Yes. Well, it is no straight and narrow path by any means. So I’ll start I guess where I’m at now and work backwards. Currently I am the Chief information Officer for the lovely firm Schulte Roth and Zabel, an amazing firm here in New York, and also the founder of a woman’s professional networking organization called i.WILL, which stands for Inspiring Women Igniting Leadership and Learning. And both of ’em are just, I just feel really grateful to be a part of both of them because they both fill your cup and I think as women, moms, grandmas, wives, workers, friends, you name it, we need things to continually fill our cup. So anyways, I guess the path here, by no means if somebody were to ask me 30 years ago if I would be at a law firm as CIO, I would have laughed because at that point in time I was hoping to be part of a modern dance company in New York. 



    That is what I had my sights on, was a professional modern dancer, I’ll say 3000 years ago and just had aspirations to go down a completely different path. And as I was going down that path, I had no sights on going to college. It was immediately after high school just going to follow my passion. But as I was going down that road, I experienced a life-changing event and that was I was assaulted and thrown out of an apartment window, broke nearly every bone and needed to understand what’s the direction for my future. At that same point in time as that happened to me, I took a step back and it really gave me perspective on what do I want to continue to pursue and who makes me as a person. And a lot of that is where the resilience along my entire path comes from. 



    And it really comes from what happened back then, which was almost 40 years ago, and makes you stop in your tracks, pause, refocus, and just know that you can get past anything that comes your way. So at that moment in time, I decided to pivot. And pivot is a word that I don’t take lightly because it’s a big decision sometimes when you have to pivot, but it’s all doable. And I pivoted from going down that direction of being a contemporary dancer to focusing on college and started going down an internship path and worked the first half of my career for Target Corporation. I was blessed with learning everything there is to know about discipline, rigor, process, which has really helped serve me for my entire career and also just the key foundations of leadership. And it was around 15 years into my career at Target where I met a mutual friend. 



    He said, you’re stale in your job. And I mean Target will always be there, but there’s a whole other world out there and let me introduce you to somebody in the legal field. And I at that moment took that opportunity to meet with that person. At that time, target was really great at having mentorships inside of Target. When you’re within Target, it’s almost like a little cult. This is your home and this is the only, this is your home that you’re going to be forever. And I realized I needed a different perspective outside of this behemoth corporation and was really looking for a mentor outside of Target. And that’s where I met at the time was the CIO for Benson. And after a couple of hour conversation, I knew it was time to leave Target and time to explore other opportunities, grateful to then get introduced to the legal industry and have been here ever since for the last 18 or so years and have learned a lot of lessons along the way. A lot of leadership lessons, a lot of lessons about myself, a lot of lessons about look for red flags when they come up and start to recognize those. And most important thing is just be true to yourself and be resilient. And so lucky that I landed here. I’ve been here at Schulte now, it’ll be close to almost a year and a half and just grateful to be here. 


    Beth Thompson (08:13): 

    You obviously had some great guidance back then and that was instrumental in another pivot towards legal. Who’s inspiring you today? Are there individuals? Are there podcasts, books you’re reading? Talk to us about what fills you up now from an inspirational perspective. 


    Andrea Markstrom (08:31): 

    Yeah, there are so many things and so many people that inspire me. My kids first inspire me every day. My daughter, she’s now a sophomore at Pace University, spoke for BFA in acting and she will not let anything stand in her way. And I love it. I love watching that aspect. My boys, they’re twins, seniors in high school and starting to go down that college path and it’s fun to watch them become into adulthood and that just inspires me in terms of what they’ve worked so hard for and they’re going for it. I will say the other piece that just incredibly inspires me is we have so many amazing leaders in legal, I mean both men and women first. We have an incredible list of amazing women leaders in legal. Everyone from, and I will leave off a lot of names, but it goes back to when I first started in legal, Sean Swearingen, who is my work best friend and Bashall at Olston Bird and Meredith Williams Range, Joy Heath Rush, I mean the name, the list goes on and on. 



    I mean, we are lucky to have such a great industry with really strong women leaders. Every time I hear them speak or every time I speak to them, I’m in awe of, they’re just amazing. They’re great and we can learn from them every time we interact with them. I mentioned male allies. It’s important to have both inspiration I think from these incredible women but also your male allies. And for me, an individual that I am just grateful for my life is his name is Robert Field. He’s not in legal, but he is somebody that is such a masterful and thoughtful connector of people along with another individual. His name is Nick Hernandez, who I call my career angel. So there’s a number of people that when you get asked that question, it’s just an ever-growing list. So long answer to your question, how do I get inspired? 



    You form your tribe. We’re those people I always talk about who’s your personal board of advisors sitting around your table? And I reach out to them often and I just get inspired every time I have a talk with them. I just met a woman recently, she was part of our i.Will program. She is part of an organization called Could You, which is helping and period poverty and her name is Phyllis Meisel. Again, another just incredibly inspirational woman who when we just had dinner a couple nights ago and she just inspires me to be better. She inspires me to want to do more and not just at work, but in all around us. We have such an opportunity to do more for our communities, for people, and it’s having those conversations that I just, you fill your cup up every single day with that. In terms of reading and podcasts, there are two books that I am head over heels with. 



    One is by, her name is Genevieve. She was in corporate. She left corporate to start called Pajama Program where at the time she would go to homeless shelters and read books to children that were in the homeless shelter. And she would read them their bedtime story and one of the evenings she asked them first, why don’t you go get your pajamas on and then I’ll read your books. And a little girl came up to her and said, what are pajamas? And that affected her so much so that she left corporate and started a pajama program. And now that is what she’s done for the last 20 years and has provided not only pajamas, but everything from housing, shelter to these young children around the country. She’s written a couple of amazing books that talk about the program, but it’s really, it is about finding the connection of your purpose. 



    What is your purpose? So I am super inspired every time I read her book several times because it’s just, that is, I think so much. So why we are here is what is our purpose and what is the connection to that purpose and what can we do to do better and to do more. The other book that I’m reading is, it’s called Power of Tiny Connections by this amazing woman, her name is Jen Nash. Think about all the connections that we have. We are sitting here today because of connections and it’s I think the six degrees of separation that is long gone. It’s now the one degree of separation and definitely within our legal industry, but even more and more as we start to grow our tribes and grow our communities, it’s so fun to see what we can do by the power of Tiny connection. So anyways, I could go on and on about the two books, but really highly recommend them. 


    Beth Thompson (14:16): 

    Those both sound great. And while I’m thinking about it, I actually think we should do a bonus episode on your personal board of advisor concept. And I had forgotten until, and you had talked about that when we saw you back in New York at the Women Who Lead. I think that would be a really great episode to really drill into that, the importance of it, how do you build your board and all of that great stuff. So Debbie, let’s come back to that. 


    Debbie Foster (14:42): 

    I love that idea. So that’s a lot. I mean, amazing inspirational story and some great tips around other things that can inspire us. Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about obstacles and challenges. You shared one really big obstacle and challenge just from your life story. What about obstacles and challenges as you’ve made your journey through legal technology? Anybody count you out or did you feel like you got held back by anything? And how did you overcome it? 


    Andrea Markstrom (15:14): 

    Yes, I’ve had many, what I call naysayers and a naysayer could be yourself with that little voice in the back of your head saying, no, I don’t know that you can do that, or that imposter syndrome that we all hear about. I think that’s a naysayer. It’s in that little voice. But I’ve also had individuals throughout my whole career that either just a, I’m a woman and never going to be successful in a male dominated technology career to, I grew up on the project management side of the house. I did not grow up as a coder. I went down a technical path very briefly and learned that was not my passion. My passion was leading people, bringing together people to accomplish something great together. And that’s where just managing leading people I knew was my passion. And to get there, I went down the project management path. 



    So I’ve had people say she’ll never get beyond a manager or definitely not a senior IT leader. She hasn’t had that background in technology coding for example, or development. I’ve also had an experience where, and this is probably one of the most heartbreaking ones, was I was in a role and an individual just did not have the belief that a woman should be commuting back and forth for her job and believed that women should be at home with their children. And that was, I mean, just shocking to hear. But also it took me a long time for that to sink in to me to say, oh my gosh, really there is that out there? And how many of us as women in any role feel that and knowing that, you know what, we can do it and we can have it all. We can have a successful career, we can have a family. 



    We can go back and forth and commute wherever we would like for work. So those are just a few of the examples of some of the challenges that I experienced and also some learnings that for me along the way, how do you get through each one of those? If you are hearing from somebody saying, you’ll never be ACIO because you weren’t coding or you weren’t a developer, how do you define strategies within yourself to move past that? Or as a woman, I feel you should be at home with your children and you’re never going to be a successful working mother. How do we define strategies within ourselves to get past that? That’s where just having that amazing tribe around you and having that, I would say defiance for, get those naysayers out of your head. Do whatever you have to do and move forward and prove them wrong. 


    Debbie Foster (18:27): 

    Andrea, I love that. The story of being a successful woman and a successful mom, and I don’t want to speak for Beth, but Beth spent a lot of her time as a single mom, and I spent a lot of my time as a career mom and the number of people who would say things to me, what about your kids? And I would say they have a dad. What do you mean? You just figure it out? And just because you, it’s like kids are a penalty point. You get a point taken away because you have kids. And that is just so frustrating for women to hear. And it’s kind of crazy that it still happens today. 


    Andrea Markstrom (19:08): 

    It is. Speaking of an example of what you were just mentioning. So I commute back and forth for my role from Minnesota to New York every week, and I’ve had a number of both men and women say, oh my God, I can’t believe that you do that. Really do you? And it wasn’t like coming off as a nice thing. It was really, you do that? And I said, yep, I do it and I love it. But I’ll tell you, if it was a man, that question would never be asked. And sometimes I actually reply with that. I say, really? Now, if I was a man, would you ask me that question? But I think that’s where we all can come together and just continue to lift each other up and say anything is possible. 


    Debbie Foster (19:54): 

    Anything is possible. And I think there is a responsibility to us that we have as women, as strong women, to call it out when we see it happening. I mean, I got an email today at one 15 that says, hello beautiful ladies. And then it goes on to say all of the things that was meant to say. I mean within one minute of receiving that the other person who was on that email and I texted each other almost at exactly the same time with beautiful ladies question, if that was to two men, you wouldn’t say, listen here, you gorgeous hunk of a man, you would not have done that. Why is this okay? I framed? Right. No, why is this okay? And so I have not composed my response yet, but I don’t feel like those kinds of things that you just let them go. 


    Andrea Markstrom (20:51): 



    Debbie Foster (20:52): 



    Andrea Markstrom (20:53): 

    I totally agree. And I love what you said about we have a responsibility to stand up for those things. And I so agree, and we have a responsibility too to help other women stand up for those things or have a voice. I don’t know that, I mean, I speak to some women today that just they’re afraid. They’re afraid either to lose their job or afraid to lose the track that they’re on. And I think if you’re at a place like that, then that’s the wrong place to be at if you don’t have that strong voice or feel like you can have. 


    Debbie Foster (21:33): 

    Yeah, I moderated a panel on generational differences a few weeks ago at a conference in Baltimore, and one of the women on the panel at Beth, I want to get her as a guest on the podcast. She’s a partner in a law firm. And someone said, what do you do when there’s just obvious bias from a judge in a courtroom? And she was like, I mean, honestly, it’s happened to me and you kind of have to take it. And she said, one time I asked someone like, do you have any ideas? And they said, go to the chief judge. And she was like, I owe it to my clients to represent them in the best way that I can. If I go escalate this up, the judge food chain, can you imagine what would happen to me? And I was listening to this, just thinking, oh my gosh, not only do we have an obligation to speak up, but we also should just take a minute and say, at what cost? 


    Andrea Markstrom (22:28): 

    Right? Yes. Yeah. It’s like we have to pick our battles and for those that we choose to move past no inside that it’s their loss. Right. And move forward. 


    Debbie Foster (22:43): 

    Yeah, for sure. But it’s so powerful. The messages are so powerful around doing what we can. And you do have to pick your battles and everybody’s line is drawn in a different place based on their background and their experiences, but it’s important that we stand up for what we believe is right. 


    Andrea Markstrom (23:03): 

    Yeah, absolutely. 


    Beth Thompson (23:05): 

    So we don’t really spend a lot of time talking about this anymore. Not as much as we did in the early days of the podcast. This whole concept of apologizing in women apologizing more than men would be really curious though, what your take is on that. Do you see it? Do you do it? What are your observations? 


    Andrea Markstrom (23:24): 

    I see it and I do it and I hate it. I think we should have a little money jar and every time we say we’re sorry, put a dollar in. No, it is. It’s a thing. And I don’t know why it’s a thing. I feel like we have to have something, first of all to catch ourselves. Maybe it’s like a little sticky note on our monitor that says, don’t say I’m sorry. I mean, there’s different phrasing that you can say to get the same point across, but then that’s why I also think we can help each other too. Whether if you’re in a meeting and you recognize somebody is going down that path, even have a hand signal or something to help remind them that you don’t have to say that, but it’s hard. It’s hard not to. And I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been, well, we’ve been conditioned that way for X number of years, but we need to stop and we don’t need to apologize for where we’re at. We don’t need to apologize for the roles we have. We don’t need to apologize for things perhaps that we didn’t get to or that we have. I think we need to pause anytime we feel like that’s going to come out of our mouth. We need to pause and there’s a different statement instead. 


    Debbie Foster (24:51): 

    Totally agree. We ask every guest As a last question, what is your leadership superpower? 


    Andrea Markstrom (25:00): 

    I think what my team would say is it’s just the art of the possible and that anything is possible and to dream big about that. And that’s what I hope to instill within my team, within my children. And that is, it’s just always what more can we do and anything is possible. So I feel like eternal optimist, again, dreaming big and doing whatever we can. 


    Debbie Foster (25:34): 

    Andrea, thank you so much for being a guest on our show. Your story is inspiring. What you’ve been able to do in your career is amazing, and we’re really happy that you’re part of our tribe. 


    Beth Thompson (25:46): 

    Yes, indeed. 


    Andrea Markstrom (25:47): 

    Thank you so much for having me. It’s a lot of fun. I appreciate it. Thank you. 


    Debbie Foster (25:55): 

    And that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to Powerful Leaders. No apologies. Be sure and subscribe to our show and help us spread the word by sharing our show with your network, and check out our show notes at affinityconsulting.com slash powerful leaders for resources and ways to connect with us. See you next time.