As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Dunham.
Michelle is currently a corporate attorney in Chicago, Illinois, and a professional football player for the Women’s Football League Association (‘WFLA”). She loves to play volleyball, basketball and ran track & field. Five years ago Michelle rekindled her love for football, with being a corporate attorney, also.
Michelle’s drive to uphold women’s rights, her love for the law, and football have driven Michelle to speak about her experiences growing up as a female in the south with goals to serve her community as a counselor and professional athlete.
Tell us about your journey it looks very inspiring from being a Director of Legal Affairs and General Counsel to a professional football player (‘WFLA”)?
I grew up in Birmingham, AL, I have two biological sisters. After graduating high school I moved to Louisiana for undergraduate school, next I moved to Michigan to attend law school, I continued my legal education at universities abroad in Canada and the UK. When I returned to the U.S. we were in the middle of a recession and Michigan’s economy was on the brink.
I took a leap of faith and made the quick decision to move to Chicago. I started out at a firm quickly moving into the corporate world and began my climb up the corporate ladder as an attorney. Throughout my professional career, I never stopped being an athlete. Staying in shape was important to me. I was always in the gym and playing some type of sport. It was in Chicago where I started playing football competitively. My career as a professional football player just happened.
How do you keep the balance between your work-life and play-life? Suppose, you have to be present at both places on one-day so, how will you manage?
I’ve always been able to maintain a work/play/family/ life balance. I learned at an early age that in order to be great you have to be driven and focused 100% on whatever you’re doing at the time you’re doing it. When I’m on the field, I’m on the field; when I’m negotiating an agreement, I’m laser-focused on that.
When I am with my family, my time is spent enjoying my family. I’m a calendar and time management guru. I prioritize tasks daily, I juggle my time just as a parent would juggle time between work and family. Fortunately, as a lawyer you have a little flexibility when it comes to your time, I just make sure to be diligent in my planning and require that others respect my time just as I do.
Being a professional Women’s Football League Association (‘WFLA”), Player was your childhood dream or you used to play football in college or with friends?
When I was a child playing football professionally was not my dream. At that time my dream was to be an attorney. Playing professional sports as a female was not really an option you would see for a girl when I was a kid. There weren’t many paths to success for this, there wasn’t a WFLA or anything comparable to the WFLA. I was a very good volleyball player, if there was a dream of playing professional sports as a kid it would have been to play volleyball professionally but again that wasn’t too many examples. In college I played volleyball and soccer on intramural teams — I am from Alabama, so of course, I played football with friends and family as a kid and as an adult; that’s just what we do, everyone plays football — and not flag football. We still play football when I go home.
Do you think the world needs to have more women leaders in Law? As they understand, inequalities and biases within the corporate department better? What’s your take on it?
Most definitely. The legal field is male-dominated, it always has been that way for a long time. I decided to step out as a leader in inequality and biases in the workplace about three years ago. I have actually been offered a platform to speak to women in the legal field about how to overcome inequalities and biases in the workplace through the Women in Law Summit that takes place across the United States every year.
I think we as women we are so strong but we can play it very “safe.” Black women, in particular, tend to compartmentalize, we don’t want to seem like we’re not team players or overly sensitive. We don’t want to be that angry black woman, we want to play in the sandbox so we are very careful about what we say and how we react in certain situations, especially in the C-Suite. I have always challenged myself to remain authentic, you get Michelle no matter what. I want to be a strong and positive example. Growing up as a little black girl in Birmingham, Alabama I was taught that you have to demand respect and stand true to who you are, otherwise you become the victim of these inequalities and biases that we are speaking of.
What inspirational advice would you like to give to Women-Entrepreneurs, who are hustling to fulfill their dreams?
Never give up on yourself. If you want it, you have to take it.
One-morning habit of yours that makes you more productive as a Women-Entrepreneur and Athlete?
Meditation. I meditate every morning when I wake up.
At last! What do you see yourself in the next ten years?
MRD: As a sports commentator and influencer for young ladies that are looking to become professional athletes.