2018 Distinguished Women Profiles: Swata Gandhi

The Girl Scout leadership program impacts girls and young women by inspiring them to change ‘Can I?” to “I will!” The proof is in the results. Girl Scout alumna are running businesses, making strides in STEM fields and using their voices to influence politics.  Over 80% of today’s business women and 68% of women members of congress are Girl Scout alumna.

Girl Scouts of Central Maryland contributes to this legacy of leadership by pairing high school age Girl Scouts with successful businesswomen who symbolize what their futures could be. Through our Distinguished Women’s Shadow program Girl Scouts observe women’s leadership in action, first-hand. Here’s what a 2018 Distinguished Woman Honoree has to say about her Girl Scout experiences, mentoring and being a leader.

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“Girl Scouts taught me how to be a leader,” says Swata Gandhi, who is Vice President and General Counsel for DAP. She is grateful for the leaders she had in Girl Scouts and the lessons she learned from them. “They taught me about leadership and the power of self-confidence.”

Swata, who is also a Gold Award Girl Scout, credits running day camps and being a Girl Scout Brownie troop leader in high school with helping her develop good leadership skills. These kinds of activities helped her become self-sufficient and independent.  Today, Swata says, “I employ all of these skills in my daily life.”

Who or what influenced your career choice?
As strange as it may seem, when I was growing up, I wanted to be like Perry Mason.  He was always helping others, especially those who needed it the most.  He made the law seem noble.  No one in my family was a lawyer, they are all in the fields of medicine or science, including my grandfather who was a family doctor.  I determined early on that science was not my path, but I still wanted to have an honorable profession, one that allowed me to help people, like doctors did.   Perry Mason showed me how much lawyers could help people not just professionally, but personally as well.  While Perry Mason may have been my first introduction to the law, I would say that there were two additional influences.  First was Mahatma Gandhi (I’m not related).  Second, I was inspired by the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman Supreme Court Justice.  She was groundbreaking.  She made me feel that women really could do anything, and that was striking for a young first-generation Indian American girl growing up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania.

One of my first mentors within the legal profession was the judge I worked for right after law school – Judge Marilyn Rhyne Herr in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.  Judge Herr went to law school in the late 60s, during a time when women made up less than 3% of the profession.  She passed the bar the day before giving birth to her second child.  And after a fruitful career as a lawyer, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Superior Court in Hunterdon County.  She was my very own Sandra Day O’Connor.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was in awe of her.  The black robe can do that.  But what was most amazing about this accomplished woman was how she treated others.

What do you think is the best way to encourage the women professionals to become leaders?
“I think that women are often held back or hold themselves back from becoming stronger leaders because they lack confidence in themselves. In my mind, this is all tied to self-worth. If we want women to lead, we have to encourage them to see their own self-worth, strength and intelligence,” and, Swata adds, we need to make it ok to fail.”

Women don’t volunteer for an assignment or a promotion because they don’t believe they have enough experience to go to the next level or they think they can’t do the job perfectly

“If we want more women to lead, we need to teach them how to believe that the men surrounding them, who may act like experts, are not.  Women have the right to move up the ladder even if they don’t consider themselves an expert.  In my day, I was told to ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ I don’t want the next generation of women to feel like they have to fake it. I want them to believe they have the skills, knowledge, self-confidence and awareness to make it.  Women need to see that advocating for yourself is not arrogant, but necessary because no one will advocate for you If you don’t advocate for yourself. Each of us has to define what success means to us.  Listen to your instincts and make sure you are moving in the direction of your definition of success dictated by what’s important to you.

Words of Wisdom: Give Back. None of us become successful on our own. We all need mentors, cheerleaders and support in numerous ways.  Share your success with others whether that means  serving as a mentor, joining a board or volunteering with a non-profit or community organization.

On April 18th, help shape the world by supporting the girls who will change it. Click here to get your tickets now for Girl Scouts of Central Maryland’s 38th annual Distinguished Women’s Award Celebration!

To learn more about Swata and our other 2018 honorees, click here.

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