As an ambitious and talented young lawyer, Cristina Scarano set her sights on becoming one of the best attorneys in the entertainment industry. She was resilient, creative, and patient. There was just one problem: she didn’t see any women attorneys where she wanted to be.
Now, more than ten years after earning a law degree from the University of Miami, Scarano is now the kind of role model that she would have wanted as a young lawyer just out of law school. As a vice president of business and legal affairs at BBC Studios—the licensing, distribution, and production arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)—she is connecting with young women who want to go into her industry. Within that mission, she assists young women in charting their careers, and she especially wants to demonstrate the importance of being able to balance a fulfilling career and a family.
“I think it’s important for young women, in general, to see women in positions like mine,” she says. “I didn’t see that a lot.”
Scarano began her ascent into the entertainment industry in a nontraditional way. Raised in Wisconsin in a Puerto Rican family, Scarano has always been fascinated by other cultures. As an undergraduate at the University Wisconsin-Madison, she majored in political science and studied abroad in Paris and Italy. Her cosmopolitan worldview drew her into a career that would allow her to work across countries and cultures. So, when she decided to pursue a law degree, she found the University of Miami to be a perfect fit because of its focus on international business in Latin America.
Early on in law school, Scarano interned at the Miami Herald, where she fell in love with the fast-paced environment of the newsroom. The experience, she says, also deepened her respect for journalism. From there, she continued to develop an interest in media and constitutional law, and another internship at NBC spurred an even deeper passion for the broader media industry.
In 2006, after she earned her JD, Scarano circumvented the conventional legal career arch and immediately started working at an in-house position at NBC Universal, rather than working for a traditional law firm. From there, she has continued to rise in the legal ranks at various media companies, including Telemundo, FremantleMedia, and now BBC Studios.
Today, Scarano’s appreciation for impartial, thoughtful news is a large part of why she loves being a part of the greater BBC organization, where she handles distribution rights and format licensing to the Latin American and US Hispanic markets. “It’s an institution,” she says. “It has this wonderful reputation with values I can really get behind.”
Additionally, she says that the BBC is flexible and open to change, both within the industry and when it comes to supporting the needs of its employees. This fair, adaptive treatment of employees, Scarano says, enables women like her to excel while devoting time to their families.
Scarano’s role at the BBC also allows for a certain amount of autonomy in managing her own schedule. Sometimes, this means creatively managing her time. More than work/life balance, Scarano says it is a work/life merger. “I will get the job done whether that means I’m in the office at 9:00 a.m. or working at 9:00 p.m.,” she says.
In addition to working in an environment that is accommodating to families, Scarano brings personal qualities to her professional life that make it easier to handle stress. “The tenser it gets, the calmer I am—so I’ve been told,” she says. “That’s a quality that’s helped me in the negotiation aspect of my work.”
Scarano’s sense of humor also helps her keep things in perspective. “We’re not saving lives; we’re not performing surgery,” she reminds herself during stressful times. Her sense of humor also helps her to shrug off anyone who doubts her capability and to dismiss the traditional attitudes that make the corporate world challenging for women to navigate.
While Scarano observes that the tide is changing in the corporate world, she believes that it can still be hard for young women to envision themselves in senior executive positions or find female mentors who share common experiences. Scarano is happy, however, that at least she can use her position to help others find their way. As a member of the advisory board of the University of Miami’s LLM program in entertainment, arts, and sports law, she works closely with the school to connect with young women who are interested in the entertainment field. In this capacity, she advises female law students on practical matters, such how to look for jobs and maximize social networks, and she also helps them see what life look will look like as they make their way through corporate executive positions in entertainment law.
Although Scarano’s path into the entertainment industry might have been unusual as most lawyers in her field have to start out at law firms, she tells young attorneys that she was lucky and that it’s important to be patient. “I see a lot of young people get frustrated with bosses that may put a lot of pressure on them,” she says. “It’s an opportunity you can learn from. You may be in a difficult corporate environment, but the experience is priceless.”
Admittedly, it can be a challenge for young women attorneys be their authentic selves at work. Her solution is to be yourself and to ignore the office gossip. Early on in her career, Scarano felt pressured to emulate the conservative style of those around her in order to get ahead. “I just realized that’s not my style,” she says. “You can bring your own personal flair and style to things.”
Valuing your own sense of authenticity and your own background can be your greatest strength, she says. In fact, it’s what led Scarano to forge her own career path to the top of her industry. Now, when other young women look up, they’ll see her.