“Expect sexist treatment in the workplace so that you will see it and take the necessary steps to stop it” With Watergate Prosecutor and NBC News and MSNBC contributor, Jill Wine-Banks
Expect sexist treatment and discrimination in the workplace so that you will see it and take the necessary steps to stop it. If you don’t expect it, you don’t see it and that delays your dealing with it. I didn’t get my first trial for a year after I started in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Department of Justice although my male colleagues got them sooner. Until I realized I was being treated differently, I took no action. As soon as I confronted the issue, I got my first trial, and once that was over, I got assigned like all my colleagues. That lesson also helped me during the Watergate case.
As a part of our series of interviews with NBC News and MSNBC’s legal contributors who are who are critical to to NBC News’ coverage heading into midterms, I had the pleasure to interview NBC News MSNBC contributor, Jill Wine-Banks.
Jill combines experience as a senior corporate executive and nonprofit CEO and COO with a successful legal career in government and private practice and service on corporate and civic boards. She began her career as an organized crime prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, where, after just over four years, her trial capabilities and win record led to her selection as one of the three Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutors in the Watergate obstruction of justice trial against President Nixon’s top aides in which the President was named an unindicted co-conspirator. She was also a major player in the tapes hearing, cross examining Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon’s secretary, about the 18 ½ minute gap in a key White House recording. At the conclusion of the Watergate case, Ms. Wine-Banks entered private practice at the Washington, D.C. offices of Fried Frank Harris Shriver and Kampelman, before being named General Counsel of the U.S. Army by President Carter. In the Pentagon, she supervised the world’s largest law firm, was a member of the Army Policy and Procurement Council and GC of the Panama Canal Corporation. From there Ms. Wine-Banks returned to her hometown, Chicago, as a partner at Jenner and Block. While there, she was appointed Solicitor General and then promoted to Deputy Attorney General of Illinois where she argued in the US and Illinois Supreme Courts, supervised all Illinois appellate cases and the Office of the Attorney General. A national search then led to her appointment as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Bar Association, the largest professional association in America. This experience led to Ms. Wine-Banks’ decision to begin a corporate career at Motorola and later Maytag. At Motorola, Jill was responsible for international business development and the creation of cellular operating companies around the globe. Her first assignment was in Pakistan. She was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of Motorola’s joint venture company in St. Petersburg, Russia and also worked in, Ukraine, China, Singapore, Europe and elsewhere, often interacting with government officials in those countries and in Washington, D.C. After seven years at Motorola, Ms. Wine-Banks was recruited to serve as Maytag’s Vice President of Alliance Management, working extensively in Japan and Europe. In 2014, Ms. Wine-Banks was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to the Judicial Proceedings Panel’s Subcommittee on Sexual Assault, where she served until June 2017. Her Subcommittee made seven reports in their effort to improve the military’s handling of sexual assault cases.
Ms. Wine-Banks is a sought-after speaker for professional and business groups, universities and law schools. She is now an MSNBC Contributor and Legal Analyst. Before that she frequently appeared on other broadcast and cable channels and still appears on radio, PBS, several podcasts, and Australian and Canadian television. She has also written OpEds for the Chicago Tribune, Politico, and Huffington Post.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
As General Counsel of the Army, I had the equivalent rank of 4 stars which created havoc with seating at social events but gave me some of the most interesting opportunities I’ve ever had. While dealing with complex, challenging legal issues, I also got to fire a grenade launcher, ride in a tank, and fly with an Army jump team. Seeing the all-male team parachute made me want to do the same, so I took an abbreviated jump class. Dressed in fatigues, boots and a helmet, I looked the part and had no fear of the jump to come as I ascended the training tower platform for my first jump. The helmet and boots were ill-fitting because, at the time, the Army was just integrating women into Basic Training and west Point and there wasn’t equipment made to fit women. Before I could jump, I was told I had to yell my name and rank so they would know I was ready. I thought yelling was unladylike which made my first attempt too quiet. It took three tries before I was heard on the ground and got the signal to jump. I stepped off the platform, and, as the chute opened, the too-large helmet fell off my head. As I watched it tumble to the ground, I violated the first rule of jumping: Never look at the ground. When you do, you automatically stiffen and that can lead to injury. Somehow, I landed with only minor pulled muscles and did a second jump to prove I could do it without incident. This time my helmet didn’t fall off. It just slipped down enough to cut my nose and cover my eyes, which meant I couldn’t see the ground. The result was a proper Parachute Landing Fall and an important insight for me. I learned that the Army needed helmets designed for women. When I got back to the Pentagon, I recommended exactly that..
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
This Saturday night, October 27, I’m doing my first (and likely only) comedy show: the Stephanie Miller Sexy Liberal Blue Wave Tour to help Get Out the Vote for the Midterms. It’s completely out of my skill set and comfort zone, like parachuting, so I’m thrilled to do it.
I’m keeping a running tally of what Trump has done that could be evidence of his participation in obstructing justice and conspiring with a foreign power to defraud the United States. This could be my 2nd roadmap to impeachment.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Can you share any stories?
I bet you expect me to say the Watergate trial — and that certainly qualifies along with the tapes hearing and my visit to the White House to finish the cross examination of Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon’s secretary — but instead I’m going with being sent to Korea to assess North Korean troop strength, serving as General Counsel of the Panama Canal Corporation during negotiations to return it to Panama, involvement with the arrest of Panamanian dictator Manual Norriega, chairing Motorola’s operating company in Russia where I met Putin and had to deal with the assassination of the Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg who was a member of my board, working on the integration of women into basic training and the United States Military Academy West Point, and my recent service on a subcommittee looking at sexual assault in the military and how to improve handling of these cases. I have stories to tell about North Korea and Norriega, but, if I told you, I’d have to kill you.
Instead I’ll tell a story about the integration of women. When the Army was testing what percentage of women could be part of any unit. They assumed that any unit with more than 30% women would reduce effectiveness. They learned the fallacy of that assumption when an all-male and all-female team competed in constructing a huge field maintenance tent. The men were stronger but the women smarter and the women figured out a more efficient, easier and faster alternative to the way the men did it. When the tent is being put up in combat conditions, the time and effort saved save lives so the women’s way became the Army’s standard operating procedure.
With the recent Kavanaugh hearings and the ongoing Mueller investigation, what’s it been like covering this news climate from a legal perspective for NBC News and MSNBC?
It’s challenging. My Twitter and Facebook followers have let me know how anxious they are about what they see as the clear and present danger to democracy presented by President Trump. They also tell me they count on me to help them stay sane and hopeful. I try hard to be upbeat, but it’s not easy given the daily barrage of what I see as conduct that truly threatens our institutions of government including the avalanche of lies and the lack of agreed facts and civil discourse. And, it’s not just news commentators and news junkies that are anxious. Dermatologists and mental health professionals tell me that they are seeing disease linked to the stress of the Trump Administration. Dermatologists have named unexplained rashes Trumpitis and psychologists report they need to deal with Trump anxiety before treating the problem that prompted the patient to seek help.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
a. Katherine Graham because she had the courage to reach outside her comfort zone and the accepted role of women at the time to run the Washington Post, including the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
b. Tony Lewis and Nancy Dickerson, two outstanding journalists who influenced my career. Ms. Dickerson spoke at my college when I was a freshman and it inspired my deciding to major in journalism. Mr. Lewis’ book Gideon’s Trumpet and his having attended law school provided the motivation for me to go to law school as a way to get a better journalism job.
c. Churchill and Hillary Rodham Clinton because no matter how often they got knocked down, they always got up again.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in law?
Think broadly in terms of what law school prepares you for. I started law school with the idea that a law degree would save me from being assigned to what was then called ‘”The Woman’s Page,” which covered little but food, fashion and parties. That was the fate for women with journalism degrees when I graduated. It wasn’t what I aspired to cover so I went to law to get a real “news” assignment. It wasn’t until I graduated from law school, after a year off working as Assistant Press and Public Relations Director of the Assembly of Captive European Nations (an organization I’ve since learned was a CIA front) that I decided to practice law. But after two decades of law, I realized my legal degree and experience opened many other doors to me — including the COO role at the American Bar Association, international executive positions at Motorola, Maytag, a start-up nonprofit and the Chicago Public Schools. Now my law degree has led me back to journalism after an enormously varied and challenging law and business career.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
a. Abolish elections of judges because most voters do not have the knowledge to vote wisely.
b. Undo the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and reinstitute the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms that prevented the enormous influence of corporate funding of campaigns. Watergate would not have happened if the Nixon White House and campaign had not had excessive cash and had to make choices of what to use more limited funds for. Unlimited cash is not healthy for democracy.
c. Reform the Independent Counsel law to give the Counsel power to act without control from the President or his Attorney General. The decision of whether to issue a report for impeachment, an indictment or some other action should be exclusively the Counsel’s.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Success has given me the opportunity to give back — something my parents raised me to do. I have served on the boards of numerous charitable and civic organizations (ACLU, Governors State University, Veterans Art Museum, Operation Green Jobs, Better Government Association, Executive Service Corps, The Chicago Network, The International Women’s Forum) and have campaigned for many political candidates.
I have always mentored promising young people whenever I can and have hired and promoted women as often as possible. I am especially proud when my successor is a woman, as was the case in the Pentagon.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
I have no idea what drives me or what gave me the courage to do what I’ve done, but I saw the example my father set. When he saw something needed to be fixed, he did it. When I see a problem, I don’t complain or ignore it, I take action.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
a. Don’t’ blame yourself for a bad relationship or a business failure or trial error. Don’t try forever to fix it. Learn from it and recognize that sometimes it’s better to walk away. I stayed far too long in an unhappy marriage, which is how I learned this lesson.
b. When you get lemons, make lemonade. Sometimes bad things can be turned into an advantage. I had been frustrated because gender bias kept me from moving to trial work as quickly as my male colleague but that extra time arguing appeals later qualified me to become the first Solicitor General of Illinois, responsible for all the State of Illinois’ appellate work.
c. Expect sexist treatment and discrimination in the workplace so that you will see it and take the necessary steps to stop it. If you don’t expect it, you don’t see it and that delays your dealing with it. I didn’t get my first trial for a year after I started in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Department of Justice although my male colleagues got them sooner. Until I realized I was being treated differently, I took no action. As soon as I confronted the issue, I got my first trial, and once that was over, I got assigned like all my colleagues. That lesson also helped me during the Watergate case.
d. Related to this last point, is my wish that someone would have given me advice and tips on how to deal with sexism, when to confront it, when to ignore it, and when to handle it with humor and grace. I had an amazing mentor but he was a man.
e. Do your job your way. Be yourself. Never try to be what you aren’t. You’ll be unhappy and the jury or your boss and colleagues will see you as a fraud. I saw most of my colleagues at Justice and in Watergate as aggressive with flamboyant styles. I tried to emulate that but was never comfortable with that style, preferring to show a jury the truth through organized, logical presentation of facts. I thought the male way was what was expected until I thought about my mentor’s style and then realized that your style should be whatever works best for you. Clearly, my style worked for me.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
a. Bette Midler because I admire her command of an audience and her ability to sing, dance, act and be funny. I have seen her on Broadway twice and two of her concerts and all her movies and am amazed by her unique talents. I was told to mouth the words to the school song at 8th grade graduation so I wouldn’t throw everyone else off key. To this day, I mouth the words to Happy Birthday and the Star Spangled Banner and only sing when alone with my husband.
b. Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Jimmy Fallon who make me laugh while highlighting the horrors of each day.
c. Some of the amazing writers whose books have taken me to new worlds.
b. My husband and best friends who make me laugh, learn and feel better about the world every day.