10 Questions with Megan Karsh

Lecturer at Stanford Law School & VP of Initiatives at the Pacific Council on International Policy

Megan Karsh is a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School, where she teaches negotiations, and Vice President of Initiatives at the Pacific Council on International Policy, where she designs international programs and strategic collaborations. Megan also trains and advises women in Silicon Valley and internationally about negotiation and leadership.

The common thread among her roles is a passion for creating access to opportunities and equipping people with skills and knowledge that they can use to self-advocate. Megan lives in Los Angeles with frequent travel to Palo Alto and SF. She can often be found with her feet on a yoga mat or on a trail, nose in a book, or Zombie Runner coffee in hand.

  1. When did you know that you wanted to work in tech?

While I don’t work directly in technology, I made a conscious choice to train and consult in the industry. Working at Stanford and hearing the experiences of tech-employed friends and former students provided insight into the unique challenges and opportunities to create healthy, equitable organizations. It’s critical that tech be inclusive. Tech products and political agendas shape how people interact and behave around the globe. If the companies producing them reflect only the values and perspective of a select few, what “reality” are we promoting and perpetuating?

“If the companies producing [tech products’ reflect only the values and perspectives of a select few, what ‘reality’ are we promoting and perpetuating?”

2. Who is a role model that you look up to?

I wish that I had been wise enough to look up to my mother more than I did. I admired how she juggled professional and familial responsibilities, but I didn’t have the wherewithal until my 20s to question why she had to assume twice the responsibility for half the credit of male counterparts. And I didn’t have comparable experience until my 30s to appreciate what it cost her to face so many barriers with resilience and grace year after year.

3. Where is your hometown?

Outside Chicago. If you could hear me speak, my flat “a”s would be a giveaway, despite having lived all over since I was 18 years old.

4. What is a struggle that you’ve faced and how did you handle it?

2015–16 was transformative because of two seemingly unrelated struggles. First, the partner organization with whom I worked for years in Afghanistan was the target of a terrorist attack. A close colleague and students were killed. The utter devastation I experienced afterwards revealed that I was mourning more than just the people who suffered. I had unconsciously believed that if I worked hard enough and cared enough, I could keep terrible things from happening to good people.

“I had unconsciously believed that if I worked hard enough and cared enough, I could keep terrible things from happening to good people.”

Second, during a conversation about compensation and workload, a person in a position of authority smirked and said, “You make it so easy to exploit you.” Shocking and terrible, yes, but also true. I had historically valued my time, effort, and sacrifices less than those of others, all the while telling myself that it wasn’t a choice. The incidents coalesced into a major revelation about personal agency. They spurred an ongoing process of auditing my internal narratives, being more attentive to reciprocity, and knowing what to accept and what to fight for or against.

5. What is something that you are immensely proud of?

Part of why I love teaching is because I get to be so proud of so many others. I regularly get emails from former students and clients in Cambodia, Palo Alto, Afghanistan, and New York, starting with, “You may not remember me, but…” They go on to tell me about a successful salary re-negotiation, being the first in their family to obtain a graduate degree, or a similarly transformative development. It always makes me smile. First, because I always remember them and second, because I’m touched that they attribute any part of their success to something they learned with me.

6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?

Power and all the ways we negotiate, calculate, grasp, and respond to it. It’s been the predominant framework through which I’ve processed the political and social turmoil of the last couple years. My personal notion of power is very positive, however, and is best summarized by the inimitable MLK, Jr.: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

7. Favorite food?

Soup and smoothies. Evidently, I never progressed from baby food.

8. Favorite book?

I obeyed the prompt to only name one person to whom I looked up as a child, but I can’t name just one book. I love reading! Here’s a shortlist: The Prophet, A Primate’s Memoir, When Things Fall Apart, The Things They Carried, Country of My Skull.

9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?

Working as an art therapist with traumatized populations. A little-known fact is that I took a year off during law school. “1L” was disorienting — I couldn’t see any connection between the interests that compelled me to pursue law and law school coursework and values. During that year, I took classes in art therapy and loved them. I’m interested in all the ways people process experience and communicate needs, particularly things aren’t easily verbalized.

The addendum is that I returned to law school, but with the mindset that I would make the degree work for me more than I would suffer for the degree. I also spent my last two years analyzing what I found so ineffective and demoralizing about legal education. I use that to inform how I teach my courses and design legal education programs.

10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?

You have as much right to claim space as anyone else — metaphorical space, conversational space, physical space. You weren’t put on earth solely to make it easy for others to get their needs met, particularly if they care nothing about your needs. Become conscious of how insidious and diminishing many of the molds for women are out there, but rest assured it will be better twenty years from now. There will still be a lot of work to do, but it will be better. And eat the damn cookie if you want it.

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