Rachel McKenzie – The corporate athlete #IWD2023

March 2, 2023
Rachel McKenzie, Associate at Sidley Austin LLP

Rachel McKenzie is a third year associate at Sidley Austin LLP in New York City. In 2020, she graduated from Harvard Law School with an LL.M., having previously worked as a prosecutor in Scotland. Before she started her career as a lawyer, she became a ski instructor; a time in her life when she was lucky enough to earn a living from one of the sports she loves. When she entered university, her passion for skiing continued, and she represented the University of Aberdeen on the ski racing team. 

Throughout her career, she has continued to participate in competitive sport, including badminton, tennis, and running. But it is field hockey, which she took up at age eight, that has become the most important to her. She played hockey throughout high school and university, and later became a member of Broomhill Ladies Club in Glasgow when she joined the prosecution service. When she moved to New York in 2021, she joined Wildcats, a team within NEFHA. Despite many changes in other aspects of her life – career, city, and country – sport has always been a constant to which she owes countless friendships and many valuable lessons.

What have sports meant to you?

To me, sport means community. It is, I think, the best way to meet and form close bonds with new people, and to integrate into a new city. When I first moved to Glasgow, and then to New York, I joined local hockey teams and connected with amazing women.

Competitive sport also provides a unique opportunity to meet women of all ages, from completely different backgrounds, who all have one thing in common: a desire to play, and to win. This connection between your teammates is powerful, and provides a foundation on which to build friendship and trust.

What characteristics do you think female athletes possess that translate well to leadership in a corporate environment?

Female athletes have a determination to succeed, an ambition to be the best, and an unwavering commitment to do the work required to get there. With this comes an understanding that success is rarely the work of one individual; even in single-participant sports, there is a team of people who are working toward the same goal. In a corporate environment, this translates to an understanding that your team is your strongest asset, and that motivating them and supporting their individual goals will lead to success for your corporation.

Female athletes are competitive, but also push for the success of their teammates, knowing that the better the team around them, the more chance there is to win. In a corporation, a good leader is inspired by those around her, encourages others to achieve their potential, and will become a better leader because of it.

What lesson have you learned the hard way?

Nothing teaches you how to lose like sport. Losing is never easy, but there is always another game to play, or race to run. And so just as sport taught me how to lose graciously (most of the time!), it also taught me what it feels like to win. In the corporate world, there are many days when it feels like giving up would be easier, but sport has provided me with the resilience required to look forward and keep going, because I know what it feels like to succeed. Although loss is difficult, it does not make you unsuccessful—it is part of building toward success.

What is the main lesson you have learned from the sporting world that has contributed to the success in your corporate life?

Sport has taught me how to persevere, and has given me confidence to carry on after a setback. After a poor performance on the pitch, you feel like you have let your team down, and the thought of playing again can be daunting. Recovering from negative feelings about personal performance is difficult, and requires focus and determination. This determination has contributed to my corporate success, as I am able to leave a negative experience in the past and move forward with resolve, motivated by the confidence that I can, and will, do better. 

Do you have a go-to quote that gives you inspiration in your sports and/or professional life?

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ginsburg used this to describe her challenge in 1979 to the idea that women were less fit for jury service than men. She later became only the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which consisted of a full male bench until 1981. (Before her appointment to the Court, she argued that women had an equal right to purchase beer at the same age as men—so we have much to thank her for!)

This quote in particular captures succinctly the importance of the presence of women in the highest positions in every corporate industry. Women in sport do so much for women everywhere, and athletes in the corporate world bring a tenacity for success that can inspire female leaders everywhere.

Please note that all commentary and opinions provided are those of the individual, and not the organization/company.

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