Everyone Needs An Adventure

(First published July 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)

I've been thinking a lot about adventures, for a few reasons: 1) a good friend started a new company centered around providing adventures; 2) I recently was on vacation, enjoying adventures and time to think; and 3) Karen Catlin and Diana Olin got me thinking about work adventures (or, as they termed it, professional bucket lists).

My friend's company, Ethos Adventures (www.ethosadventures.com), is focused on getting people out of their daily routines and outside, to experience an adventure. Though the mission of her company is adventure, the mere fact that she started the company (after retiring from a young career practicing law) was certainly an adventure. She jumped into unchartered waters, without a life vest, and embraced the change, the adventure. What she found was a network of friends, family and colleagues that whole-heartedly supported her. She realized she was not in fact without a life vest. Rather, she had hordes of people cheering her on and offering support.

Her adventure got me thinking about experiencing my own adventures. My husband and I were recently on vacation in the Pacific Northwest. One day, at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, we rented mopeds (we had never ridden them before, so had to pass the training of riding without swerving, knees tightly pulled in - it took me a while...) and rode to the south part of the island. Though we could not accelerate above about 35 mph, it felt like I was flying, wind blowing in my face, sun shining down and amazing views over the fields and of the ocean. At one point, I realized I was smiling (I only briefly worried about catching flies in my teeth) and felt absolutely exhilarated. The driftwood, red fox that wandered within about 10 feet of us and lighthouse confirmed I was not at the office, and enhanced the vivid experience of living!

My joy made me wonder if adventures were only for evenings, weekends or vacations. First, I had to remind myself that working nights and weekends as I have done most of this year significantly reduced the time for non-working adventures. But then, I recalled a conversation on a recent CLUB Walk and Talk with Karen and Diana. We were talking about bucket lists and the topic of professional bucket lists came up. (See Karen's recent blog on this topic, at http://karencatlin.com/.) I have to admit, that was a new one for me. I have goals and annual plans, as do most lawyers in big firms, but a bucket list? Hadn't crossed my mind. After the exhilaration of my moped adventure, I started to wonder, why can't I have work adventures too? Should I create a bucket list of professional adventures to focus my efforts? How amazing it would be to feel the thrill of adventure at work! Think of the creativity and rejuvenation that would result.

Our challenge: find adventure on the job. Perhaps it requires moving outside our comfort zone and trusting our confidence to succeed. Let's go find joy, satisfaction and the thrill of adventure in our professions!

Surround Yourself With Smart People Who Disagree With You

(First published June 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)

A scene in one of my all-time favorite shows, Sports Night (critically-acclaimed, which I now understand means “doomed after two seasons,” to my great dismay), struck me immediately and has stuck with me for years. The boss, Isaac Jaffe (“Benson,” if you’re a GenX’er) was dispensing a bit of leadership advice. He said, “It's taken me a lot of years, but I've come around to this: If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”

Think about that. How comfortable are you surrounding yourself with smart people who disagree with you? It takes a pretty confident person to take that step and, even more, to follow through and reap the benefit of it. So often, we feel that we need to be the smartest person in the room. As the leader, shouldn’t we have all the answers? Isaac says, “no.” We can learn from those who have a different viewpoint. We can grow from the challenge of really listening to someone who disagrees with us. What a great insight. How freeing. Why not find the best people? Not just those who think like us -- the best.

Coming from a litigation background, this rings particularly true. There are no right answers in litigation, but there are better answers. You cannot arrive at those answers without discussion. You cannot get there if everyone follows the same train of thought. You never know what will trigger the breaking idea on a case, so you cannot afford to close any doors. Surrounding yourself with those who disagree with you (and creating an environment in which it is acceptable to express that disagreement) means the team as a whole will consider a broader perspective. When that happens, the team will collectively arrive at a better answer.

Our challenge: can we fully hear the viewpoint of someone who disagrees with us? Can we accept his suggestion even if it is contrary to what we put on the table? Can we put aside our own suggestions (and, egos) in favor of someone else's? If it’s the best suggestion on the table, why not embrace it, credit the teammate who suggested it and build our strategy around it?


(First published May 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)

Confidence comes from within. No one can give it to us. No one can take it away (unless we let them). But we have to find it, believe in it, nurture it, and draw upon it.

I recently read two very different books that provided different insights on confidence. Gift From The Sea was written in the fifties, and advocated for women to find strength in occasional solitude - basically, to develop confidence when alone that provides strength when challenged in our daily life. Lean In was written more recently and suggests that we fake it till we make it - to act as if we are confident even when we don't feel confident - among other good lessons. Both are important.

The unifying theme is that we need to build (whether real or a temporary facade that leads to reality), and then draw upon, our confidence. How do we do this? I propose, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, that we do it by letting go. Once we let go of others' expectations for us (or our own), what freedom we have to challenge ourselves, to see ourselves in a new light. Why don't we also let go of our perceptions of the experience required for roles we could take on? If we don't require ourselves to be perfectly qualified from the start, can't we be confident that we can do - or learn to do - the job? After all, we've made it this far. And can we let go of the result? Maybe we succeed, maybe we fail, but wasn't the effort the same? Do we have to define our success by the result (or others' perception of the result) or can we simply be confident that we did our best?

Ultimately, as managers and leaders we all feel better about choosing someone who appears confident they can do the job. It helps us sleep at night. So, what comfort do we give to those who might select us? Do they draw comfort from our confident presence? Or do they hold their breath and lose sleep, wondering if they made the right decision? We hold the power to give them comfort and, with that comfort, comes more confidence and more opportunity.

Our challenge: let go. Just, let go. And, see what happens. When we are not bound by our own (often unrealistic) expectations, can we build confidence in our abilities, intelligence, drive, intuition, judgment, decision-making, team-building and other skills? We are talented. No question. Let's embrace it, own it. Be confident. And let others draw comfort from choosing us to get the job done.

It's Just Lunch

(First published April 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)

My office looks out onto the entrance of my firm.  I see who comes and goes and often get a friendly wave as someone comes up the walk.  Occasionally, I see a group of men heading out to lunch and I think, “why are there no women in that group?”  For a split second, I may even feel slighted that I wasn’t invited.

I’m not alone in this.  I’ve heard from other women or seen discussions on blogs how women are sometimes excluded from the informal networks that are so important to succeeding in our professions.  We cannot control whether we are invited to lunch, but we can control our response.  For that split second when I feel slighted, I sometimes remember to ask, “why didn’t I invite them to lunch?”  I know that they didn’t intend to exclude me.  They work in a different group, they interact more often – it’s natural to just say, “let’s grab lunch” to those around you.

So I decided to try an experiment.  I would take the initiative.  I would invite others to lunch and not wait for them to invite me.  And, you know what?  They came.  It was fun.  We got to know each other better.  And, now, they think to invite me to lunch as well.  They have even sought me out to help with projects because they now know me better.

But, you say, the guys always want to talk about sports and I’m not interested in that.  Do I have to fake my way through a sports conversation just to join key networks at work?  Not necessarily.  There is always a middle ground – find out what it is.  What are your shared interests?  Kids?  Pets?  Food?  Wine?  Travel?  Hiking?  The list is endless.  We’re women.  We’re good at finding out what people are interested in.  And there is usually more than just one thing.  We can find something in common.  It just takes some effort.

Our Challenge:  take the initiative.  Invite the guys out to lunch.  Find out those common interests.  And keep inviting them.  It will be worth it.

We All Have Power

(First published in February 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)

Leaders come in all forms.  Often we think of leaders as those who lead countries, businesses, teams.  Those who have “power.”  But that is too narrow a definition.  One of my childhood heroines was Harriet Tubman.  She was, perhaps, an unusual heroine for an East Bay suburban 10-year-old, but her story moved me.  She had absolutely no power as society viewed power.  Yet, she helped create the Underground Railroad, led hundreds of slaves to freedom and, in the process, affected history in a dramatic way.  She didn’t do it for glory or money, or even to change history.  She did it because it was the right thing to do.  And, she did it in the face of great danger to herself and those she led.

Reading her biography, I remember thinking, “she could have made one run through the railroad and she would have been free.”  But she went back.  That surprised me.  She must have felt a drive beyond herself, to help those who needed her, those who did not have her strength, her resolve.  She was absolutely selfless in the face of unfathomable danger.

How did Ms. Tubman succeed?  She was the ultimate networker – connecting with other abolitionists who formed the Underground Railroad as well as with those bound by slavery.  Working tirelessly, day and night, she gathered information, ensuring the path she charted was safe for her passengers.  She figured out logistics.  She inspired – and challenged – her followers.  Women and men alike trusted her with their lives.  No passengers were lost under her leadership.  Amazing.  She succeeded with so little and against all odds.  She overcame unimaginable barriers.  All with no conventional “power.”

Our challenge: overcome our barriers to success.  We have more power than Ms. Tubman.  We have voices that are heard.  We have better tools to network.  We have support.  We can go where we want.  What is stopping us?  If Harriet Tubman can make such a difference and be such an effective leader with so little, why can’t we?

Silence The Voices

(First published August 2013 on www.theclubsv.org/news.)

Sometimes I am amazed at how thoroughly and viciously I can beat myself up. Not physically, but I can really take myself to task for any and every mistake I make, no matter how minor. “How could you be so stupid?" I ask myself. Unsatisfied, I observe, “what a horrible mistake!” Then, I envision a parade of horribles of how whatever project I was working on will soon spiral into destruction – all because of my mistake.

Every now and then, I am able to take a step back and stop the cycle of self-destructive chatter. On those occasions, a lyric from a Pink song resonates in my head,

“Change the voices in your head

Make them like you instead”

- “F**kin’ Perfect”

How profound! How perfect! Think of what we can accomplish if we support ourselves in the same way we support our teams. When our colleagues make a mistake, we don’t (please don’t) say “how could you be so stupid?” So, why do we say it to ourselves? And, how many times has a mistake really resulted in the worst outcome we envisioned? Once we give ourselves a break, allow ourselves to fail once in a while (after all, we are human and we learn and grow from our mistakes), we open up so many more opportunities for success.

Our challenge: make the voices in your head like you instead. Can you change the negative-speak in your head to a positive conversation? When you do, observe how it changes your outlook and your opportunities. Extra credit: can you make that a permanent habit?

75¢ on the Dollar is Not Okay: A Playbook to Achieve Equal Pay in Law Firms

Equal pay for lawyers in law firms. How many headlines have we read about women making less than men? I’ve lost count. It's old news. And, yet, it's still a huge problem. I’m tired of hearing about this. I’m even more tired of women making less than men. The reasons for this pay inequity are complex and often subtle, but it’s there, it’s real, and it needs to end. For those firms who want to do the right thing, but don’t know how to go about it, I offer this blog to you. (For those who don’t think this is a problem needing a solution, keep in mind that I am now a client – as are many women – and I will ask about your numbers. I encourage other in-house counsel to do the same.) This is not an easy problem to solve, but it can be solved … if those who can impact it want to change it.

A couple caveats (I’m a lawyer, after all). I am not an academic or expert who has studied this market from the standpoint of some economic model. My approach is practical, based on having been immersed in this system and this problem – and having seen what works and what does not – for 20 years. I've been in a small firm. I've been in a medium sized firm. I've been in a large firm. I've been an associate, a junior partner, a senior-ish partner, a practice group leader, co-founder of a diversity committee, co-founder of a firm – a wide variety of attorney roles in a firm. I've talked with associates and partners (women and men) in many other law firms. It is from this experience and these conversations that I offer some practical solutions.

Second caveat: I’m a woman. I have been personally affected by this issue and I want it solved for all of the female lawyers I know (and those I don’t) who work as hard as the men they practice with yet still see their compensation fall behind. Having talked with many women about this topic, I also know that they often don’t feel they can speak up on this topic. They worry about backlash, about being ostracized. They worry about losing their jobs or professional opportunities. They are often the sole breadwinner, with kids, who cannot afford to speak out. So, for those of you in law firm management who think you don’t have a problem because women don’t speak up about it, think again. And, make it right anyway.

Before we get to how to solve the problem, I have a suggestion for how we can motivate firms to solve it. Years and decades of the media drawing attention to this problem has not mobilized firm leadership to solve it. I bet pocketbooks would. What if - until there was equity in pay in any given firm - men were paid 75% of their usual salary and women were paid 25% more? Or, if that's not enough incentive, the highest paid man in a firm gets the highest paid woman's salary (and vice versa), the second highest paid man gets the second highest paid woman's salary (and vice versa), on down the ranks. I suspect we'd solve this problem faster...

So, now that firm leadership and partners are engaged, what can you do?

Step 1: Look at your data (if you don’t have it, collect it). What are your numbers? Without data, you don't know how far off you are and it is impossible to quantitatively measure progress. What data is important?

A. Demographics. Take a look at the demographic breakdown of your attorney ranks - men and women, underrepresented persons of color, LGBTQ attorneys, etc. Where are groups overrepresented or underrepresented? Where do you need to improve?

B. Pay. Then, look at what you pay people in each of these groups. How do those numbers look at all levels - associates, junior/non-equity/income partners, equity partners. Do you see men (or white men) disproportionately represented at the top of each group?

C. Leadership. Next, look at your committees and management or leadership teams. Who populates what committees? Who sits in leadership positions? Where are there gaps or disparities in comparison to your firm demographics?

Step 2: Evaluate Your Policies and Take Action if They Are Inadequate. How do the policies that govern the running of your firm impact inclusion? How do the attorneys in your firm get opportunities? Is it managed or is it "organic?" Does it depend on who you know, how much you speak up, or with whom you play golf? Are partners reviewed and compensated by how well they train, mentor, and sponsor all men and women? The following areas tend to result in a disparity in pay if not properly managed:

1. Who are you hiring?

Recruitment is the first step to ensure pay equity, by ensuring you are hiring a diverse work force. Are you hiring a representative number of women and other protected groups? If not, take a look at your pool of candidates.

Actions: Firm Leadership: Based on your demographic information, identify where your numbers are low and recruit in those spaces – particular law schools, or leveraging your attorneys’ networks.

2. Who is selected to pitch a client's work?

This is the first point of access to a client and can result in a 20-year long client relationship that benefits the attorneys who work on that pitch. A recent trend is to include a woman or person of color to give the impression of diversity. But pandering to clients by bringing a junior woman or person of color does not solve the problem. It's insulting to women and people of color. And it pays lip service to diversity. Having a truly diverse bench from which to draw is what makes the difference (see issue #1).

Actions: Practice group leaders (PGLs): have a defined process and manage this to ensure all attorneys get the opportunity to pitch for equivalent work.

3. Who gets assigned to a case or matter?

Some matters are more prestigious or profitable than others. Routinely getting stuck on bad cases can ruin an attorney's professional progress.

Actions: PGLs: manage this process to ensure the "good" assignments are equally distributed.

4. Who gets the assignments that result in growth and visibility, including client contact?

This generally is handled by the partner in charge of a matter - it's too micro a decision for PGLs to manage. But, partners need some accountability. Partners with free rein often hand out plum assignments based on who is top of mind, who happens to be in his office at that time, or his favorite attorneys rather than ensuring equity in assignments.

Actions: Partner Compensation Committees: develop and implement a process to review, measure, and compensate partners based on the inclusiveness of their matter-level decisions.

5. Who is placed in management or leadership roles?

Firms tend to be managed by attorneys. And, there are many tasks that need to be done - many of which are not fun or sexy. But, committee level work usually can be readily categorized into the prestigious committees (executive committees, management committees, compensation committees - those that affect firm strategy or finances) and the more administrative (less prestigious) committees (diversity committees, training committees, impact committees - those that are not directly - at least, visibly - contributing to the bottom line and are seen as "softer" work). The work of all of these committees contributes to the firm, but they are not valued the same. Often, women get unduly burdened with lower prestige committee work, serving on multiple committees, none of which helps their careers, and which takes their time away from building their practices (the things that advance their compensation) and gives them less visibility and prestige within the firm. Firms need to ensure that all committees have roughly equal numbers of men and women. If they don't, this reveals either a pipeline problem or an access problem.

Actions: Firm leadership: Manage committee assignments to ensure equal access and review annually. For less prestigious committees, give meaningful credit or compensation so those who participate in them are not penalized (or limit terms and rotate committee members). If you have the committees, they must be important. If they are important, ensure people get credit / compensation.

6. Who has access to key mentors and sponsors?

Good mentors and sponsors can pave an attorney’s path to partnership and beyond. Often, mentor assignments result from the luck of the draw or organically form from work relationships. But equal access to mentors and sponsors can be accomplished. Partner or senior associate mentors can be assigned to associates for 1 year periods, then rotated. By identifying the skills and experience an associate needs to develop to reach partnership with the talents and experience more senior attorneys have to offer, deliberate assignments can be made to help associates develop critical skills. Such a rotation has the added benefit of exposing senior attorneys to a more diverse group of attorneys. While sponsors often develop organically, they can be assigned as well. Sponsors need to know an attorney's work and talents, so if they are not familiar with her work, they need to get to know her and learn about her work from others.

Actions: PGLs: Create a rotating mentor/sponsor program and ensure the assignments are fair. Tie an attorney's success as a mentor or sponsor (through the success of those he or she mentors or sponsors) to his or her compensation to make mentorship and sponsorship a priority. Other mentorship tools include glassbreakers.co.

7. How are partnership decisions made?

If the above steps are taken, the partnership decision should be a data-filled comparison of qualified attorneys against identified criteria. Decisions should not be made based on who is on the committee or in the room when a candidate is considered. They should not be made by anecdotal evidence from one partner who just likes candidate A but not candidate B.

Actions: Partnership Committees: Create a system that ensures partnership decisions are based on data, and that attorneys had equal access to the opportunities that develop and showcase their abilities and potential as a partner.

8. Who inherits work when a partner retires or leaves the firm (assuming the work stays)?

This action alone can make a career. This should not be a casual decision. It should not be left to the retiring partner, to pass the work onto his "buddy." This is where the “birds of a feather” impact is greatest.

Actions: PGLs: Work with the retiring partner to ensure the work goes to appropriate persons, who will properly serve the clients.

9. Who gets billing credit, supervisory credit, origination credit? Follow-on question: which of these credits matter and how?

This is such a critical issue that has many facets of impact. The PGLs need insight into and tight control over each of these types of credit. Too many partnerships are the wild, wild West when it comes to deciding among partners who should get credit. Usually, credit has a direct impact on a partner's compensation, so there is incentive to obtain as much credit as possible. Senior partners have a decided advantage over younger partners who may be reticent to even ask for the credit because it creates a really uncomfortable conversation that potentially puts the junior partner on the wrong side of a senior partner (which can impact many other decisions). To the senior male partner who says, "if you can't stand up for yourself to ask for credit you're owed, how can you vigorously represent a client?" I direct you to all the research on women negotiating vigorously for others (like their clients) but less so for themselves, as well as the dysfunctional environment in law firms in which some senior male partners are virtually "untouchable." The casual approach to this disadvantages junior partners and, in particular, women and persons of color.

Actions: Firm Leadership: Create a policy for what credit matters and why/how. Communicate that policy officially to all attorneys (there is no reason for it to be a mystery) and ensure it is actually followed (not undermined by the “real” policy being passed down through oral tradition among men at the bar after work). PGLs: Participate in the assignment of credit. Revisit the assignment of credit periodically. Often, one attorney will bring in a client, but 3 years later, his second in command is managing all the work for that client, yet the credit never gets adjusted to recognize her effort. The contribution of the second in command needs to be recognized and compensated.

Step 3: Assess implicit biases that affect compensation. Bias in itself is not a bad thing – it’s necessary to help us move quickly based on information we have. We make biased decisions every day. But bias based on gender (or other protected groups) is not okay and can have a very negative impact. Here are a few ways gender bias can surface in a way that impacts compensation:

A. Work assignments. We need to acknowledge and head off the assumptions we make about men and women in the assignment of work. Men may want more than 2 weeks of paternity leave. Men may want better work-life integration. Women may not want to miss travel opportunities for work after having a child. Train your partners to ask and not assume.

B.  Performance reviews. How do our assumptions play into the language we use in performance reviews? How subjective are the reviews? What trends do you see? Are women being judged differently? Is different language used to describe them? Confident v. Aggressive. Go-getter v. Bossy. Collaborative v. Indecisive. Words matter, and women tend to be judged differently. This issue impacts advancement and compensation and is a key factor for income disparity.

C.  Training. Women are often seen as better trainers or educators. As a result, they can receive a disproportionate amount of training work (that usually is not recognized and does nothing to advance that attorney’s career). Training is critically important. But, if you find that women are being tapped more often than men, find a way to recognize and compensate that contribution (or even it out). If it is truly important, it deserves commensurate compensation.

D. Birds of a feather. Left to their own devices, senior attorneys will mentor, sponsor, train, and transfer work to those with whom they are most comfortable, or those who remind them of themselves. This is not a sustaining model for a diverse firm. Objective policies and processes with oversight need to be put in place to ensure the current makeup of the partnership does not sustain simply through “like tapping like.” Find ways to get all of your attorneys together to interact and get to know each other, and ensure they don’t just hang out with their buddies, but actually talk to someone in a different demographic. It can be awkward or uncomfortable for a senior male partner to invite a junior female attorney out for a drink – create “safe” opportunities to get to know each other than don’t require such invitations.

E.  Stop rewarding men behaving badly at the top. Those with a “book” can do what they want. Management hates to have to correct his bad behavior because they are always concerned he will take his marbles and go to another firm. Create a culture that doesn’t reward this kind of selfish behavior, and that doesn’t invite mistreatment of professionals who work with that partner.

Step 4: Action. Okay, you know your demographics, you’ve reviewed your policies, you’ve addressed harmful implicit biases – now what?

A.  Identify what is already in place. What are you already doing well and where do you have gaps?

B.  Create a plan. For those areas where you have gaps, put a plan in place (see actions above). You can’t build Rome in a day, so set short term and long term priorities – but set priorities. Ensure the plan sets SMART goals and that partners are held accountable (i.e., their compensation depends on advancing the plan).

C.  Message the plan. Tell partners and associates what you’re doing. You will likely gain loyalty from the female lawyers and lawyers of color in your firm and you will get questions from those who do not believe in the plan. Listen to them. Maybe they have helpful ideas. At worst, this gives you the opportunity to educate those who don’t appreciate the depth of the problem or the benefit of solving it to the whole firm.

D. Be transparent. Publish your associate and partner demographics, publish your committee numbers, publish your compensation variances (or, publish with pride your compensation equity). Show you're trying to solve this problem through action. Show you care about providing the highest quality work for your clients. Without women and persons of color in top positions, you can't produce top quality. It will never match that of diverse teams. And, you will attract top talent from other firms who are not taking action.

So, now you have a playbook. No excuses. It’s time to close the gap. Let's do this.

Men Need to be Part of the Women's Leadership Conversation

Insightful article by Mary Juetten on the question of whether women-only groups help or hurt. Thanks, Mary, for shining the light on this issue.  http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/blog/techflash/2015/07/do-we-still-need-women-only-events-and-panels.html?ana

Having co-founded the CLUB (the Women's CLUB of Silicon Valley) a few years back, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this question and asking men and women about it.  After hearing a mix of opinions (one of the benefits of not talking just with one gender), I came to the conclusion that both are important.  Women need space where they can build confidence and skills, show vulnerability and get support without being judged in the workplace, and help each other see and realize the potential we each have (which we tend to undersell, often hurting ourselves when it comes to promotions).  This type of support and growth flourishes in women's organizations and helps us advance our internal development faster.

But, without bringing men into the conversation, we will make very slow and minimal progress in balancing out our workplaces.  There are many sides to every issue (not every man shares the same view, nor every woman) and the more we discuss and listen to each others' perspectives on gender issues (as well as race, sexual orientation, etc.), the faster we will see the progress that will make our workplaces and society better places.

Glad this conversation is happening!