Danielle Hart is a role model for women in business everywhere who want to break down barriers and thrive in traditionally male-dominated industries. The assistant general counsel for Lockheed Martin works with clients like the US federal government and is charged with ensuring the company’s compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
A legal career mixed with business was always on the cards for Danielle (pictured right). She was a young entrepreneur—she started a candy store at just 10 years old—who grew up in a family-owned business and developed her passions early on.
The JD/MBA degree she received at American University’s Kogod School of Business allowed her to combine law and business. It was the ideal platform from which to accelerate her career.
At Kogod, Danielle was the president of Kogod Women In Business (KWIB), a club whose main purpose is to encourage women in business by creating job and networking opportunities. She was also a research assistant for the 2020 Women on Boards project, which aimed to achieve a target of at least 20% of board members to be comprised of women—that goal was met and exceeded in 2020.
“This afforded me the invaluable opportunity to connect with dozens of successful women on corporate boards,” she says.
“Not only was this great for networking, but meeting those women and being a part of the push for equal representation absolutely encouraged me to step confidently into the business world knowing that progress is happening, and there is literally and figuratively a seat for me at the table.”
Now firmly established at Lockheed Martin, BusinessBecause caught up with Danielle to find out more.
Why did you decide to study the JD/MBA joint degree program?
When I was in law school, I knew I wanted to still be involved in business, albeit in the legal capacity. I ultimately chose to go to business school because, while I had a passion for law, I always had a passion for business.
My direct route to law school skipped over essential business experience. I felt getting the MBA would help solidify that knowledge so I could use it in a meaningful way.
I wanted to be a truly trusted advisor to a business, and that requires understanding business; the MBA gave me the knowledge to do that.
How have the skills you developed at Kogod benefitted you in your career?
The most important skill that Kogod gave me was self-awareness. Ironically, self-awareness isn't necessarily something you can learn, but it’s absolutely a skill you can further develop and hone.
To be clear, the substantive knowledge I received from Kogod was absolutely important and invaluable to my everyday work experience. Even now, I draw on it when thinking about how I advise my clients or when working to understand the inner workings of our business.
However, the developing of self-awareness through constructive group feedback sessions, through executive presence coaching, mastering the elevator pitch, and much more is why I am where I am today.
The overall knowledge Kogod provided was superb, whether that was through the amazing professors or the many case studies we did. I left Kogod prepared to fully and knowledgeably engage in business meetings, and when I provide legal advice, I’m able to keep both legal risks and business risks in mind.
What advice do you have for future generations of women in business?
I work in an industry that’s considered male-dominated, but I’ve always had confidence in myself as a woman in business. Furthermore, Kogod absolutely encourages female business students.
To be successful as a woman in business, you need to be grounded in who you are.
It’s easy to think that in order to be successful in a male-dominated world, you have to take on certain male characteristics. This just isn’t true.
The benefit of having more women is that you then have a diverse business environment that allows for diverse thought and, therefore, diverse business solutions. Acting as a man would to be successful is counterproductive for both diversity and business goals––it means you’re not being true to yourself, and therefore you are not providing your true value to the business.
Additionally, women are becoming more vocal about discrimination, sexual assault, and pay grade inequity. I think women have started to realize that how women were/are treated in the workplace is not okay and not normal.
Ultimately, I just want to say that if you don’t see anyone at the top that looks like you, don’t let it discourage you. In fact, allow it to motivate you to become a first. In the future, someone just like you won't have to question if it is possible. They will see you and know it is.