A former election lawyer and the general counsel for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, Katie Biber ’04 now works in Silicon Valley. After a stint as senior counsel at Airbnb, she’s the general counsel and corporate secretary at Thumbtack.
Her most vivid memories of HLS:
I have a very distinct memory of the first couple weeks of school. My Civil Procedure professor was Elena Kagan. She said our most lasting connection would be to the people around us. I was looking around at the anonymous faces. But she could not have been more right.
Who at HLS influenced her most:
I was captivated by Professor Kagan from day one. She was equal parts terrifying and incredible in her craft. People like that have a lot of influence on me: their mastery of law, the thoughtful way they ask questions.
Why she attended Celebration 65:
It’s important for us to realize how far we’ve come in a short period. It’s important not to repeat the mistakes of the past. A lot of good people made those mistakes together. Like the infamous dean’s dinner, when the dean would ask all the women, “Please tell me why we were justified in giving this spot to you instead of a man.” It’s easy to see echoes of that in today’s world. You should not just go along with the standard practice, status quo, or mores, just because it’s the adopted norm of a particular industry.
Her advice to other women in tech:
When I think of all the conversations about how women should contort themselves to succeed—sound like a man, sit up straight, lean in—all sometimes push women to do something that’s not real to them. My encouragement to women is to just be themselves. In any industry where men vastly outnumber women, there are going to be challenges.
Reset expectations of what a leader who’s a lawyer should look like. Push back on any societal or workplace norms on how men or women should act. We all perform best when just being ourselves.
Her strategies to increase the number of women in tech:
You can’t be what you can’t see. It’s important to have role models in the upper echelons of a company. Then, getting to leadership positions seems like a surmountable task. We employed the Rooney Rule [from the NFL and former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for coaching jobs]. We had the opportunity to interview new candidates we didn’t realize existed. The problem with tech, or any other industry, is people tend to hire people they feel comfortable with, people like themselves. It’s an unconscious bias. We must get comfortable with people who think differently, who may push back on our own ideas.
Her strategies to increase the number of women in politics:
It’s a little bit harder to influence. If you look at the statistics, you’ll see oftentimes, donor money comes from men. Oftentimes, men are inclined to give money to another man. A lot of smart people [are looking at how to get] women more populated in the world of giving. [Also,] a lot of voters carry around their own biases on what a leader looks like.
What she learned about politics as general counsel for Mitt Romney and as an election lawyer:
I learned the importance of connection with people on a human level. Voters are not making decisions on technicalities. They want to vote for someone who stands for the things they stand for, who would stick up for them in a fight, who they think is honest and ethical. It’s a lot of gut-level [decisions]. Personal connection is really important. So is a broad narrative: not just persuading voters, but inspiring them.