The everywomanWorld series goes transatlantic as we catch up with Brazil-born, California-based attorney Flavia Naves, fresh from a trip to payments giant Worldpay’s London head office.
In the beginning:
I was born in Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest city in Brazil, where I lived until I graduated law school, passed the bar exam and got some law firm experience under my belt. Against my family’s wishes, I moved to the States; I’d spent a year there as an exchange student in high school and felt I was a better cultural fit with the American way of life.
I’d fallen into law by accident. Since the age of eight I’d intended to be a vet; I loved animals; at one point I even had a pet monkey. In high school I accompanied my sister to a routine mole removal appointment… and passed out as soon as I saw the knife! This was an in-office procedure and not a drop of blood was shed, so I figured I shouldn’t have anything to do with medicine, be it on humans or animals! Some friends were going off to study law so I ticked that box on my university application form – along with marketing and business studies – and next thing, I was at law school. I still sometimes wonder about my plan A career, but after six and a half years of law studies, I’m in no rush to retrain as a veterinarian!
My career path:
When I arrived on the US East Coast I was very aware of having to prove myself. I was an immigrant; my qualifications were obtained in a foreign country; I was a woman in the male-dominated legal world; and I wasn’t a native English speaker.
Nevertheless I was given the opportunity to clerk for a judge; usually an honour reserved for only the smartest graduates. I was beside myself to have such a great mentor, who put a lot of trust in me and relied on me deeply to inform his opinions and give him a fresh perspective. During my three years there I had my first child and went right back to work after giving birth. There was a crèche at a church right behind the courthouse so I’d literally be breastfeeding on my breaks. I felt that to take time off would set me back (by the time I had my second daughter later in my career, I felt more established and able to take maternity leave). At the end of my courthouse tenure I moved to California and had to start proving myself all over again, though by this time I had solid experience and the beginnings of a great network.
My present day:
I’ve been at Worldpay since November 2014. I was job-hunting for nine months prior and turned down offers because though the roles looked great, the culture fit wasn’t right; as a working mother I need flexibility first and foremost. Asking those questions at interview can be tough – you’re conscious of being perceived as unwilling to put in the effort and hours. But when I discussed with my prospective boss all that I’d been doing in previous roles, he could see that I was committed to my career despite the fact I might need occasional work from home days or take off last minute time for a poorly child. That’s when I knew this was the role for me.
As the San Francisco attorney for Worldpay I’m responsible for all contracts and legal obligations that come in and out of the office, be it with sales, vendors, suppliers, employees or tax offices both inland and overseas (Worldpay has recently expanded its services into Latin America). The biggest myth about lawyers is that we spend all our time doing legal work. In fact, my time at Worldpay is probably as focused on business as it is on law; I can’t make a legal decision without considering the business impact. This means I work with almost everyone in the company – from the engineers to the technologists to the accountants to the facilities managers.
I come from the enterprise technology world so my main challenge at Worldpay has been getting to know the technology-based payments sector. The law is old and out of sync with the speed at which business progresses, so no contract is ever ironclad – all you can do is predict problems and protect your employer as best you can. It’s so important to have a strong network; you need to be able to pick up the phone and ask a connection to share their knowledge. In both the payments and legal worlds, no woman is an island.
On business travel:
Worldpay’s San Francisco’s base is a satellite of the London office where my boss is based, so I’m lucky to call the UK my new second home. Since I started making business trips to England I feel as if I’m learning how to speak British (as a native Brazilian-Portuguese speaker, I learned US English). I hear so many English-speaking voices in London – from Europe and the world beyond, as well as regional UK accents. As I tell my US colleagues, I reckon I could deal with an entire episode of Monty Python now! Sometimes the travel means I go from airport to hotel to meeting room and right back again, but I make efforts to get out and see as much of London as possible. Last time I visited Tower Bridge, Covent Garden and Selfridges on Oxford Street.
On working in male-dominated environments:
Being a lawyer in the financial and technical worlds means that in some ways I have a triple challenge as a woman in what remain male-dominated sectors. In Silicon Valley, there are very few females in senior roles, and those women I know – in law, technology and finance – can struggle to advance their careers. This is particularly true for mothers; to step outside the industries, for even a short time, presents challenges. They might return from maternity leave to find accounts have been taken away, they’re no longer on track for partnership, or their junior colleagues have been promoted ahead of them. It’s simply assumed that work is no longer their priority, so they have to really put their hat in the ring and let it be known that career progression is absolutely on their agendas.
On California culture:
Silicon Valley organisations have a challenge when it comes to retaining talent in what is a very busy job marketplace. Giants like Google and Apple realised early on that culture matters, and the ripple affect has been that even the smallest tech start-ups need to create an environment that will enable their employees to take pleasure in their work. Worldpay’s culture is very light and refreshing. There are huge efforts made to bring departments together; for instance we have monthly birthday days where everyone across the business born that month comes together with colleagues to celebrate. Throw into that a 15-minute train ride to downtown San Francisco and a Pilates studio right across the street and I’m very happy indeed!
More My Working Life articles on the everywomanNetwork:
everywomanWorld is a popular series focusing on the global perspectives of our Network and Club members' careers, showcasing female perspectives of all aspects of working across cultures. Do you have an everywomanWorld story you want to share? Send us an email at email@example.com.