2019 Honoree

Tracy Preston

Senior Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, Chief Compliance Officer, Neiman Marcus

“Yes, there is a collective ownership in politics for women–for their leadership, skill, expertise, perspective, and voice. This has gained momentum, financial support, and mentorship for women to run for political offices and WIN.”

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

A Power Woman owns the unique value she brings to the table and unabashedly contributes her full, unedited perspective in any given situation, without caveats or apology.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

I think it has been a general approach by being visible, volunteering, and mentoring. Early in my legal career, I volunteered and focused on eradicating poverty, providing representation to marginalized groups, and encouraging young women, especially young women of color, to push the edges of their potential through every educational opportunity—-leadership of clubs, competition, internships, and course load. I continue to share my journey and experience through mentoring and modeling what is possible for young women to achieve excellence and the highest level of accomplishment in their careers. I often participate at industry conferences and work with law firms where I share my story and encourage the up-and-coming female lawyers, who often go on to make a national and global impact.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?

Well, I would say there is a huge role for women to contribute to turning the curve on the climate crisis. Women represent upwards of 75% of all consumer-purchasing decisions for most households. They also hold a broad scope of roles in every industry. Because of this, they create a huge opportunity to effect change through industry leadership roles and their daily sustainable purchase choices. I believe women possess a unique opportunity to move this conversation forward. They can leverage this influence to increase communities’ habits to reduce reuse and recycle the products that they buy. At this point, I believe the scientific community has settled any confusion that there is still a debate by providing solid evidence there are environmental issues that need to be addressed, and I believe women will help to make significant contributions toward innovative solutions to these environmental issues.

Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? (According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030).

Yes, industry and commerce are uniquely positioned to mitigate the effects of climate change and have a responsibility to do so. In my opinion, if you look at the total cost ratio benefits over a ten-year plan, investing in sustainable practices will strengthen a company’s brand and have a positive impact on a company’s market share. There is a lot more financial return for any company that invests in sustainability, and there is so much innovation happening at the supply chain management level too. The Plastic Bank is one of many unique examples of scaling climate change innovation models into the supply chain. It does so by leveraging the base billion poor, many of whom are industrious women trying to provide for their families, to collect and reduce waste produced by industry and commerce.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

Hmm, who to choose and which job to perform for a day would probably depend on the mood I’m in at that moment. For example, if I’m feeling competitive, I might choose Serena Williams for her athleticism and focus, balanced with her drive to be the best and defy the odds. If I’m longing for use of my creative voice or want that connection, I’d fold in my love and lure of the stage and would want to be Audra McDonald for a day to experience the vulnerability she brings to her roles, coupled with her amazing voice in one of her amazing roles on Broadway; or Beyoncé for breaking the mold and shattering records across the entertainment industry.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Shirley Chisolm for her pioneering spirit, sense of fairness, justice, and vision. She gave many women the confidence to be vocal, empowered them, and made sure that we don’t wait for someone to open the door–sometimes you have to do it yourself. And, as she eloquently said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Why or why not? In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

I think the key is having singular focus on economic empowerment of women. Financial fluency goes to the heart of access to education, and it is the foundation of having access to those resources that matter on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–starting with the basics of food and shelter– it all revolves around financial empowerment or fluency.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

It is called the glass ceiling for a reason, and I don’t know of any woman who hasn’t encountered some sort of an obstacle at some point in her career. These blocks can be in denial of recognition of accomplishments or lack of accolades. Many women can relate to delayed promotion or situations with continual work arounds due to micromanaging that minimizes a woman’s leadership. However, I’ve been fortunate in my career to have great allies (men and women) to help me navigate those obstacles and to achieve success.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Yes, I do believe this has an impact on the existing pay gap. However, it isn’t the only one. I think there are a few contributing factors that create this gap. First of all, let’s address the obvious–the question itself is off target because an individual’s previous pay range has nothing to do with the requirements, skills, and experience of the candidate, nor does it take into account geographic differences or even the benefit models of the new company. At this point in time, I think there is a spotlight on this due to the litigation. Global awareness of this issue is outpacing policy–at this point, women around the world are done waiting. Case in point, women in outs, which made international headlines and moved the conversation forward to close this gap.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Yes, there is a collective ownership in politics for women–for their leadership, skill, expertise, perspective, and voice. This has gained office and WIN.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

I don’t know if I’ve had one defining moment, but I’ve had impactful events that have reaffirmed to me some part of my innate gifts, which have guided me each step of the way. One interesting example came in a letter from my first-grade teacher after I graduated from Georgetown University. Mrs. Kitchell wrote to congratulate me and share her impressions of me from that earlier time. I attribute much to her care and encouragement (she saw early on that I felt comfortable to be challenged, raise my hand, and lead). As an older Southern woman, her belief in me and cultivation of my gifts set a positive reference point that speaking up and doing one’s best is rewarding and well-received. Had she skipped calling on that little first grade hand or discounted my early enthusiasm, I could have internalized self-doubt. Instead, it equipped me with the confidence to challenge myself and other people’s perceptions of me. This prepared me for later events, such as when a high school guidance counselor belittled me and cautioned me to not aim too high in my college applications, even though I was valedictorian of my class.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My grandfather always said, “Don’t outline.” I took this to mean know and master your gifts. He advised me to be open to new opportunities, respect different perspectives, be flexible, and contribute something of value in every interaction. Life does not always go as planned, and if you are too focused on the “right way,” you will miss opportunities to grow and develop.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?

I think it is critical for women, including women of color, to be on boards as they offer different perspectives and views that are powerful and economically sound. The companies that have women on their boards haven proven that there is a huge return on that investment. Companies can continue to move the needle by hiring more women for key leadership roles, cultivate and mentor future female talent, and learn to feel as comfortable with majority female representation as most do with the status quo of male dominated representation. Pay women equal pay to hold these positions. Value their expertise and direction. Feature their good works with proper accolades/credit in a variety of industry events, periodicals, and annual reports–remembering that for every “history” there is an incredibly valuable “herstory” too. There are many unrecognized women who pioneered new frontiers and effected profound historic trajectories of change in every industry and sector. It is encouraging to see that Hollywood is staring to recognize these stories–such as Hidden Figures–so that their groundbreaking accomplishments are more widely known.

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive? If not, why not?

Education is a responsibility of a civilized society, and something our country valued when it originally chartered the funding of a public education system. Quality education should be available to all citizens, regardless of where the citizen lives be it in an urban, suburban, or rural area. Quality public schools would eliminate the need for families to pay exorbitant amounts for education at any level. Good education should be affordable and accessible to all.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

It’s hard for me to pick one favorite anything, and when it comes to books it’s nearly impossible since each book or story opens up a new possibility–a different way to think about something or provides a form of escape. Some of my favorites, in no particular order, are: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the Art of War by Sun Tzu, and Collected Poems of Robert Frost.

What do you most value in your friends?


Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?

Deplore is a pretty strong word and a state of relating to people that I would not casually assign regarding an individual’s character trait. That said, I think perfectionism can be a common struggle for any person seeking high levels of achievement. Character traits that I find particularly challenging in others would be ignorance and hypocrisy.

What do you consider the most over rated virtue?

Presently, society tends more toward underrating most virtues. If we look at the zeitgeist of narratives in our news sources, media, entertainment, social media platforms, political realms, work life, and community culture there is a collective elevation of non-virtuous perspectives and ways we relate to each other. Sarcasm, bullying, demeaning, making fun of, judging, and devaluing permeates our personal social media feeds, entertainment sources, and communities. This constant bombardment has altered our societal standard for healthy interpersonal relationships. I think it is time get back to the basics of valuing virtues and by remembering the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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