At this year’s Law Women Alumnae Reception, Law Trustee Virginia “Jean” Molino ’76, general counsel of McKinsey & Company, was honored as the 2015 Alumna of the Year. In accepting her award, Molino spoke to the gathered law students about leading and dealing with conflict in the workplace—and in particular, navigating gender expectations while addressing conflict.

Virginia Molino '76After graduating from NYU Law, Molino wanted to be a labor law specialist. “I knew from day one I wanted to be involved in collective bargaining agreements,” she said. She started out in the legal department of Suburban Propane Gas Corporation, where she focused on labor relations, corporate, and regulatory matters.

Molino recalled her one of her first assignments in her role was a session with a local teamsters union, which took place, she said, in “a dimly-lit, smoky hotel room, somewhere in New Jersey, late at night.” Molino was the only woman in the room, and she was responsible for taking the team through a set of analytics. As she was about to make her presentation, the head of the union asked her to make and serve coffee.

“For me at the time, it felt huge… and my boss wasn’t going to step in,” Molino said. Knowing that her team would need him to be reasonable in negotiations, and that she might have to deal with him again, she did not want to insult him, but, she said, “I needed him to come away knowing he could not unnerve me.” She therefore decided to treat his request as a joke, and move on, “giving him an out.” 

Molino noted that while students and young alumnae are unlikely to face the open hostility towards women that she encountered in her early career, there nevertheless remain unconscious biases and implicit gender expectations in the workplace. Molino stressed three major tools to dealing with workplace conflict: the benefit of giving people the doubt, the value of optimism and positive thinking, and the importance of working to find common ground.

These tools served Molino well in her career; she was eventually elected general counsel of the Suburban Propane Gas Corporation, before joining McKinsey & Company to serve as its first general counsel. Now, with more than 33 years of experience as a general counsel, Molino oversees a staff of approximately 40 lawyers and 25 contract professionals and paralegals located in 15 offices around the world.

The Law Women Alumnae Reception was held at the end of the Annual Law Women Summit, which focused this year on “Women in Conflict: Gender, Violence and Peacekeeping.” The day was introduced by Dean Trevor Morrison, with a video welcome from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Janet Benshoof, president and founder of the Global Justice Center gave a keynote speech, followed by panels on the evolving role of women in armed conflict, peacekeeping and rebuilding in the aftermath of conflict, and women transforming spaces of justice. 

Posted March 3, 2015