Kristin Bergstrom has spent a lot of time being the only woman in the room. “It’s no longer true,” said Bergstrom, one of the first female shareholders at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren.
“But it was true for a very long time.”
It wasn’t entirely unexpected.
After leaving her family’s dairy farm in Minnesota, Bergstrom quit college to start a family. By the time she returned to school, the women’s movement was in full force and the first generation of women lawyers were just taking their places at firms.
And while she wasn’t, strictly speaking, the very first, Bergstrom, who joined Reinhart in 1985, said she counts herself among the first wave of women to come into the law.
“I definitely felt a responsibility to survive,” Bergstrom admitted. “For years I’d walk out to my car and think my license plate should say, ‘Survive.’ Then I got to the point where I thought it should say, ‘Persevere.’”
If anyone was up for the challenge, it was Bergstrom.
“Kristin has always been so responsible,” said Denise Goergen, a fellow shareholder at Reinhart. “It’s an odd word to use for an adult, but it does define her.”
The oldest of seven children, Bergstrom and her siblings spent part of their childhood in a one-room school and the other “following my father all day on the farm like ducks.”
She went to college on a scholarship, buoyed by grants and loans and at least a couple of jobs. She embraced the example set by her mother, who was an equal partner and frequent laborer at the family farm.
“I sometimes think it’s so different than my partners, whose mothers stayed home and dads went to the office,” said Bergstrom, an employee-benefits attorney. “My mother was very much a partner. So, being in a role where you are working with men, where you’re expected to carry as much weight as everyone else, that was kind of what I expected. That’s how I saw the world, ‘Of course, you’re an equal partner. Of course, a woman steps up and works with the guys.’”
In fact, Bergstrom chose the law, in part, so she could have a chance at equality.
“I wanted to send my son to college. I didn’t want a low paying job, which is what traditional women’s jobs were then.”