At CLOC 2018, after the conference introduction, the first keynote panel was Women in Leadership Roles. During that panel, several women leaders shared their personal stories of gender acceptance and diversity in the workplace.
The conversation was a powerful testament to the advancement of and opportunities for women in legal operations, and we wanted to continue that conversation here. As such, I sat down with Wolters Kluwer’s Linda Hovanec, who until recently directed business intelligence and analytics, and Barry Ader, vice president, product management and marketing. They shared their thoughts and experiences about gender and diversity in the legal operations and technology fields. Their perspectives provide food for thought on how we can continue to push the conversation forward, and what both men and women can do to close the gender and diversity gaps.
Can each of you offer your thoughts on how gender equality has evolved over the years in the legal operations community?
Linda: When I started in this business 18 years ago I found myself working with many women. That was back when most people didn’t even know what a legal operations professional was. From that perspective, I think legal operations has always been a bit further along when it comes to gender equality than, say, traditional law firms or CLDs. There’s still obviously a lot more that can be done, but we’re fortunate to be somewhat ahead of the game.
Barry: Linda’s much more well versed in the legal space than I am. I come primarily from a technology background, so it was a real eye-opener for me when I went to CLOC and other legal conferences. I stepped into CLOC and in my estimation, more than half the attendees were likely women. Compare that to the technology industry, which is still primarily male and, sadly, way behind when it comes to addressing the gender gap. It was so refreshing to see that type of positive difference in our industry. That tells me that there are a lot of very smart people in the legal operations field with a wide range of different perspectives.
Linda, can you share some experiences you’ve had throughout your career, either positive or negative?
Linda: I was 19 years old and still in college when I first started working for a law firm that was very male-dominated. That was a bit scary at first. I was a somewhat sheltered kid, just out of school, coming into this environment with some very aggressive male attorneys. Lawyers are taught to be argumentative and intimidating -- that’s how they win cases. I quickly learned, at that young age, that it was important to stand up for myself and make sure that my points were heard. I think that garnered me a level of respect with my peers and, as challenging as it was, it was a good learning experience. It helped me gain confidence in leading a project or team and making sure everyone has a voice.
The legal operations profession faces many of the same challenges, but it’s a bit different because of the mix of people involved. Many legal ops professionals are former practicing attorneys, but there are also a number of people from the operational and technical sides as well. That makes for a very interesting dynamic, and, as I said, the field as a whole seems to be a bit further ahead in terms of diversity and equality compared to other industries.
Barry, can you offer some thoughts from a male perspective? Are there any examples that you’ve seen throughout your career of gender inequality?
Barry: Clearly, upper-level executives still tend to be men. We can speculate on why that is, but it’s true. Fortunately, the legal operations field is more progressive than many industries. Look at the leadership of CLOC, including Connie Brenton and Mary Shen O’Carroll. Look at our own leadership, including our CEO, Nancy McKinstry. We’re doing better, even as we need to continue to do more.
Linda, do you have any advice you can give to women in the legal industry, both those who are just starting out and veterans? Are there any specific actions they should take to further the conversation about equality in the workplace?
Linda: First, if you’re feeling uncomfortable or frustrated, speak up. I’ve always been an advocate of being open and honest with one’s peers about things that cause discomfort. Sometimes the other person doesn’t realize that it’s happening, and all it takes is a conversation to address the issue. So, try to have open and honest conversations about things that need to be corrected.
Also, make sure you’ve got your data points ready to help back up your argument and the recommendations you’re about to make to your supervisor or peer. But, be respectful while making that argument. Sometimes you may feel the need to be aggressive, but I’ve found that approach doesn’t work. Just be confident and be yourself.
Finally, do a good job. It’s not about who is male and who is female, but the best possible person to move the ball forward. Sometimes women, as well as men, feel uncomfortable shining a light on their own successes. Don’t! Call out your wins. Make sure your team gets noticed. Everyone’s busy, so don’t wait for someone else to recognize the good work you’re doing.
Barry, do you have any advice for how men can help support gender equality in the legal profession and further the conversation?
Barry: I think this about diversity in general. I believe a mixed department of diverse individuals helps create a better environment for learning. Having different opinions is a good thing. Male and female leaders alike need to promote this sort of environment to ensure women and minorities have the mindset and tools to help them succeed in the workplace. In fact, half of my team is comprised of women.
Linda, anything to add to Barry’s point? Is there anything else that men can do to empower women in the legal field?
Linda: The single biggest thing men can do is be respectful. Listen to and offer to mentor the women on your team and encourage and support their ideas. As the McKinsey report showed, diversity can deliver more success because it involves bringing in different experiences and thoughts. So, embrace that diversity.
Also, what Barry said about diversity creating a better environment is true, not just opinion. In 2015 McKinsey & Company issued a report called The Diversity Dividend, which revealed that companies with more diversity perform better financially. Gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians, while ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely. The data shows that greater diversity pays off.
One of the things that came up during the CLOC panel was the concept that people automatically make assumptions about others, and that these assumptions are based on categories, rather than experience or knowledge of the individuals. Do you have any thoughts on this or recommendations on how people can challenge their own assumptions about their colleagues?
Linda: Unfortunately, it’s just human nature to come to some kind of assumption about a person before you get to know them. Acknowledging this is the first step to conquering this type of bias. We all make judgment calls about people before we even realize we’re doing it. It’s important to self-evaluate and ask yourself if you’re making these calls. Only then can you stop doing it.
Barry: People and managers, in particular, need to train themselves to focus on what a person says and does and throw away any preconceived notions they may have about that person before they walk in the room. Judge people by their results, not by who you think they may be. That’s a tough thing to do. But if you can do that, I think you’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.
What are some positive things you’re seeing take place right now in regards to diversity in the legal profession?
Barry: From a technology standpoint, we’ve seen a lot of success with our Passport Diversity Module. That solution allows our customers to have very honest conversations about diversity with their law firm partners. That, in turn, raises awareness of the issue and perhaps forces those firms to think about the criteria they need to meet in order to work with some of the businesses they want to bring to the table. Institutionalizing diversity and equality are important steps to making them a part of your everyday environment.
Linda: I agree, the tools we’ve given to our clients spotlight how their outside firms are actually doing with regard to diversity. What can happen is that a law firm reports that they have a diverse staff, but there is often no mechanism in place to ensure that a diverse team is representing your company day to day. These tools also open the door for us to simply talk with our customers about the programs they too can implement to achieve greater diversity within their own organizations. When they focus on this issue, they find great success. In fact, we have only heard positive feedback about this from our corporate legal department customers.
Where do you see this conversation going in the future? What’s next for gender equality in the legal profession?
Barry: My sincere hope is that we will not be having this conversation in the future. I want to live in a society where there is no gender or diversity gap. I’m not sure that’s realistic. But, in the short term, I think the more we talk about it, and the more we bring technology and cultural change into the conversation, the more we will move the needle forward.
Linda: Agreed. I think the conversation will continue on both sides -- technology and legal.
What is the most important thing companies can do to decrease the gender gap?
Barry: The simple answer is to hire more diverse people and pay them equally, but to get there we need to do a better job of listening, learning, and challenging preconceived expectations. That will create environments where diversity thrives.
Linda: And it comes from the top down. The directive has to come from senior management. Once they mandate it and train employees and managers, it’ll spread throughout the organization.
Finally, managers and co-workers need to acknowledge that everyone’s different -- and that’s a good thing. Be open to those differences and embrace them, because those are the things that move us forward.