Sheila DiGasper Advises Women on "Now, What...?"

We are thrilled to have you as a moderator on the very popular Now, What? panel at She Leads 2016, where women are able to ask for advice and receive a wide variety of perspectives on what they can do to move past challenges and obstacles in their businesses or on their leadership journey. We’re looking forward to your unique perspective and how you’re able to help women learn, grow and succeed….

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your area of expertise.

I am a business lawyer with Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti LLP and I represent a range of company and individual clients. Our roster includes entrepreneurs, business structure, partner and investor negotiations, joint ventures, intellectual property, employment, governance and financing. Overall our goal it to help clients connect to any other assistance they need to make their businesses a success.

What prompted you to get into your line of work?

When I first went to law school, business law was not my focus, but once I was more exposed to it, I became quickly engaged due to the multiple strategies and tactics involved in creating and sustaining businesses. Such as market need, company and product launches and overall business matters. On top of that, working through the myriad issues (financial, legal or otherwise) that always arise, was challenging and exciting to me, it is never the same day.

Also, I find it immensely satisfying working with passionate business owners and entrepreneurs, to help them realize their goals by clearing their path to success. Whether that is through appropriate structuring, contract negotiations, minimizing liabilities or simply business advice. Then they can focus on their vision with fewer distractions and execute more quickly.

How does what you do help women who are growing businesses and leading?

It is particularly rewarding to work with women, and see them succeed, because women business owners and leaders may face many additional barriers, simply because they are woman. Historically, this can range from direct effects such as bias and discrimination, to indirect effects such as fewer female role models or mentors in top positions.

You have advised many clients in your practice. What, from your perspective should women business owners think about as they’re starting their business?

For any business owner, man or woman, crystalizing your idea into a real business plan is an important part of getting started. One way to do this is to reach out to a “brain trust” of mentors and skilled advisors. This can be an essential part of this process, as you will gain insight that may guide you away from paths that would be less fruitful. It is important to start an open dialog with that group early on and engage that group as required. Of course, an essential element of that brain trust should be a competent attorney!

What are some of the points in growing a business that you see women tripping up? What advice would you provide to help avoid those tripping points?

Again, it is not necessarily unique to woman, but not obtaining advice when needed to focus your efforts can trip up a founder/owner, but also getting too much advice/consensus when it is not necessary, can really slow a company down. Sticking to a timeline as to when you want to make a decision and using the information you gathered during that time to inform that decision, can help keeping your business moving and growing.

Also, it is important to focus on the big picture and work that needs your direct attention in order not to get “stuck in the weeds”. It is good to invest some resources at an earlier stage (time, financial, etc…) to make sure that the logistical functions of your business are taken care of so that you can confidently focus on growing the business.

What is the most prevalent reason someone would seek your assistance and guidance?

Hiring a business lawyer and making her part of the advising team from the start saves major headaches and money in the long run. Reasons a client would engage my services include to obtain business information and structuring that advice to provide flexibility for future investments, as well as to limit liability. Also they may need protection of intellectual property rights, employment and consulting contracts and arrangements, licensing agreements, customer/client contracts, and of course general legal business advice.

What differentiates your firm and the way you do business, specifically when it comes to women?

Ingram is very supportive of the growth of women into leadership roles, 55% of the female attorneys in our firm are partners. That is a high percentage in the legal industry. We are a dynamic group of extremely smart people that are experts in our various specialties and support strong gender diversity. Because many of us are women, we know the value of women and issues that they can face and bring that mindset to the services that we provide to our clients.

Do women experience the same sort of issues and challenges as men who are starting and running businesses?

In general, men and women face similar issues, except women may have to deal with an added layer of issues with respect to perception. Unfortunately, along with other generalization, the perception of assertive women as “pushy”, or more “mild mannered” women as lacking confidence or weak can still exist. Because of this, sometimes women owners have to perceiver and work harder. It is not fair and hopefully will shift as more balance is brought to the business world with more women taking on leadership roles and owning their own businesses.

In general, what unique talents, skills or advantages do you believe women have as leaders? As entrepreneurs?

In general, women have skills that prime them for leadership: We are smart, we listen, we are empathetic and are accustomed to managing a lot of moving parts of life. This makes us strong, and in a good position to make informed decisions and judge relationship, be it funding sources or the consumer.

What was the best advice you ever received?

The best advice that I have received is hard work and determination can pay off. The second, which goes hand in hand with first, is work on something that you are passionate about – life is too short to waste your energy on something you don’t believe in. Sure, there may be setbacks or paths that lead you somewhere new, but it is still great advice.

There’s always a million things to tackle when you’re running your own business - can you offer some advice to stay focused and productive?

I think if you are financially in a position to do so, outsourcing any non-essential to do items that do not need your direct attention is key. Even if you are not able to outsource a number of items, make sure you keep a free time window that you only focus on the big picture - where you want to go, and how to get there. Don’t get trapped trimming branches of the wrong tree.

How can people connect with you?

I am happy to connect! You can reach me via email at sdigasper@ingramllp.com or by phone at (212) 907-9657. You can also follow my firm’s on Twitter @IYGCB or reach us at www.ingramllp.com

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