This year’s International Women’s Day theme revolves around “breaking the bias” and imagining a more gender-equal world. This topic seems particularly relevant for the legal and technology fields, which both have long histories of being male-dominated industries. In 1980, just 8% of attorneys were women, with that number growing to 37% percent by 2021. While the number of women in the technology field has actually declined over the last 40 years, from 37% in 1985, to 33% in 2022.
But cold statistics, while helpful, don’t tell the full story. Numbers can be helpful to get a 10,000-foot view of how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go – but they can’t tell us how to get to that gender-equal world or what it’s like to live those statistics. For that, we need to listen to women in the legal and technology space.
We need to understand the perseverance of the women who broke through the glass ceiling when they were one of a few in the profession. Like when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained how they had to install a women’s bathroom in the justices’ robing room after her appointment to the Supreme Court in 1993. We need to hear the stories of the women who broke barriers while dealing with the intersectionality of gender and racial bias. Like Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman and second woman to be confirmed as United States Attorney General in 2015, recounting the story of a client who directed all of his questions to Lynch’s co-worker – a young male associate – who had nothing to do with what Lynch was presenting.
And we need to listen to the women leading our industry today and paving the way for the next generation. In that vein, Lighthouse is honored to feature seven women who are innovators, champions of equity, and models of leadership in the legal technology field:
Vanessa Quaciari, eDiscovery Counsel, Baker Botts L.L.P.
Kim Foster, Discovery Services Manager, Lane Powell
Kelly Clay, Assistant General Counsel and Global eDiscovery Counsel, GSK
Jani Grantz, eDiscovery Manager, DaVita
Marilyn Caldwell, eDiscovery Director, Siemens
Moira Errick, Litigation Support Manager, Stripe
Margaret Dolson, Global Head eDiscovery Services and Archiving Technology, Deutsche Bank USA
We had the honor of interviewing these women about their experiences in the legal technology field and asking them their thoughts on breaking down biases within the industry. Their perspectives and advice can serve as a helpful guide for all people who strive for equality.
- Recognize the achievements and contributions of women
Recognizing the achievements of women is a simple but powerful tool in the fight to break down bias. When women’s achievements, contributions, and ideas are recognized within a firm or organization, it helps dismantle harmful stereotypes that women are not as present in the workplace, or that they don’t achieve as much as men.
Talking other women up is so important. When you have a seat at the table and an opportunity to promote another talented woman – you should always do so. —Margaret Dolson
From a cultural perspective, you have to be intentional and lead by example. Elevate female voices by echoing their comments and ideas while ensuring they receive full credit for their contributions. Seek out their counsel in front of others, and do it often, so that it becomes the norm within your culture. —Kim Foster
However, for a variety of reasons, women may not feel comfortable recognizing their own achievements. They may also be more reticent to accept recognition or downplay their contributions. Many of the women we spoke to mentioned that accepting recognition was just as important as giving it, because recognition of one woman serves to amplify the voices of others.
Women are far too often dismissive of their own achievements. We don't want to be seen as someone who brags or calls attention to ourselves. Frequently, we fall into the societal trappings of even going so far as to be dismissive of our own accomplishments – if we even make them publicly known. I strive to normalize being proud of ourselves, to share what we have achieved, and know that even if it may seem small to our own eyes, it's an accomplishment. I encourage a safe and supportive environment where everyone can feel free to share in their own way, through their own voice, or through the help of another. We all deserve recognition for what we do. —Moira Errick
I remind women that your achievements may seem like just doing your job, but they are so much more for each of us, and it is important to accept and recognize the appreciation. —Kelly Clay
I’ve joined organizations to get my name, knowledge, and experience out there to show what women are capable of and be encouraging to women and other genders. —Jani Grantz
To help facilitate and encourage this recognition, it’s important for firms, organizations, departments, and teams to have a dedicated method for acknowledging achievements, wins, and contributions for all employees. This can be as simple as an email chain, or as formal as a dedicated system.
My company as a whole strives for equality in all areas, be it gender, race, or any other identifying factor, and that allows my team the ability to recognize accomplishments from everyone including women. In my department, we do Friday emails where people get shout-outs for their contributions and wins, all inclusive of genders, as everyone’s achievements are important to the growth of the village. —Jani Grantz
We are proud to have extremely talented women throughout our firm and are constantly making sure we help raise their visibility. —Vanessa Quaciari
We celebrate achievements both formally and informally, including day-to-day support and recognition in broader team meetings, postings, and events. —Marilyn Caldwell
- Work to increase representation
Both the legal and technology fields have been historically male-dominated. While the statistics are improving incrementally, there is still a way to go before there is equity in the legal technology industry.
Many times in my career, I have been the only woman in the room, in the meeting, in the planning session. —Marilyn Caldwell
Generally speaking, both the legal and technology fields have up to now been male-dominated. Even in the eDiscovery niche, the technological knowhow is typically something that is provided by men. This likely is the result of the relatively low number of women historically graduating with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related degrees. —Vanessa Quaciari
Historically, there has been a perception that women are not as technically inclined or analytical as men. This is simply not true, evidenced by the many exceptional women in eDiscovery at all levels. The legal and technology fields both suffer from stereotypes of having fewer women in them than many other fields. While more women have been entering law school and the legal field generally, there are fewer women at the higher levels of ownership (partners) and leadership. Women want equitable opportunities for growth and development, and they want to be considered for leadership roles. —Kim Foster
Over the years I’ve seen men get bigger matters, better pay, and faster promotions because “historically men know more about technology” and they support their own first. —Jani Grantz
Thus, the importance of women representation in the industry cannot be understated. A more diverse team is stronger and more innovative. Representation also breaks down barriers and moves organizations toward gender equality.
When there are more of us in the room, more women who have a seat at the table and have the ability to influence decision-making, it puts us in a better position to recognize the potential of other women and help move them forward. —Margaret Dolson
More women in leadership positions bring a more well-rounded, balanced, and holistic perspective to business. —Marilyn Caldwell
There are a variety of ways to increase representation of women, both on a small scale and across the entire industry. On a micro level, team members can ensure that there is diversity across projects, matters, and teams. Co-workers can prioritize diversity of thought when setting important meetings. Outside of work, people can strive to improve representation by getting involved in technology and legal education programs or join industry groups dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field. On a macro level, organizations should develop systems to ensure their hiring, pay, and career development practices are driving diversity. Companies and firms can also support organizations that are dedicated to increasing diversity in technology and legal education.
We get to increased representation in the industry by listening, by intentional discourse, and, most importantly, by supporting and identifying women with talent to fill these roles.—Marilyn Caldwell
Breaking gender biases starts at home. I have two daughters and a son, and I try to instill in them all an interest in science and technology, rather than perpetuate the misguided notion that those fields are only appropriate for boys. —Vanessa Quaciari
Take stock of your current compensation program (i.e., how are people paid, do we have consistent methodologies to establish pay ranges for a specific role, provide pay increases, etc.). Develop hiring and recruiting protocols that evaluate individuals based on observable skills, measurable outcomes, etc. In hiring, this may entail ensuring that recruiters use similar questions for each candidate, improve validity and reliability within the candidate selection process, and give weight to candidate attributes that actually count and ensure that scorers are consistent. —Kim Foster
I personally have worked to change that gender stereotype by increasing my eDiscovery tech knowledge, learning the front and back end of relevant software, getting my RCA, and staying current with legal tech updates. —Jani Grantz
Before implementing these systems at the organizational level, however, decision-makers may need to be trained to understand their own implicit biases to ensure they are not unintentionally hampering diversity efforts.
Educate your decision-makers about bias and implicit bias. Decision-makers could include, but are not limited to, your organization’s recruiting team, hiring managers, supervisors, those in leadership roles who hire individuals, including positions responsible for ongoing professional development. —Kim Foster
One of the things I’ve championed within our organization is unconscious bias training and exposure – because I think the awareness of that is what can really lead to change. Discussing unconscious bias and its effects is not about assigning blame. It’s about talking through the things that may cause us to be inherently biased against others, and even ourselves, within the workplace. And that discussion can lead us to shift those perceptions so that everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. —Margaret Dolson
- Boldly be yourself… and then don’t be afraid to use your voice loudly
Many high-achieving women often speak about facing “imposter syndrome” – the feeling of doubting your own ability in a role while feeling like a fraud masquerading as a leader. This experience may be exacerbated for women in a male-dominated industry because other leaders and experts in the industry are predominantly men, and therefore, don’t look or sound like they do.
One way to overcome this feeling is to recognize the implicit bias you may have around what an “expert” or “leader” looks or sounds like – and then working to stop trying to fit into that mold. In other words, strive to be your authentic self.
Imposter syndrome is a very real issue because we may never fit into the template of what a “leader” has traditionally looked and sounded like within the legal and technology industries. So, we end up trying to fit into a mold of someone who is not remotely like us. But when we are able to be our authentic selves, and we know our subject matter – we can show up as competent, charismatic, and confident even when we don’t fit into a blueprint. However, it can take a lot of courage to do that. —Margaret Dolson
Once you are not afraid to use your own voice, you can then start using it loudly – not only to demonstrate your own expertise and knowledge, but also as a voice for others.
Present yourself as you are, focusing on your skills and abilities rather than your appearance. Do not be afraid to put yourself “out there” for technical positions or projects, and never let anyone tell you that you are not capable. —Kim Foster
Continue to stand up for gender equality and don’t back down whether you’re a woman who is being treated unfairly or someone who is witnessing acts of inequality toward women and other genders. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion and bring notice to the bias. Even if it’s unintentional, it’s important that people see the affects bias has so that behaviors can be changed. —Jani Grantz
Don’t let inertia get you. Speak up, advocate for yourself the way you would for others. Take up more space than you need and keep moving forward. —Kelly Clay
There are very brilliant women who are leading the charge both on the legal and the technological side as well as the judicial side. Day in and day out they are demonstrating through case law, articles, and innovative technology expansion that the traits we prize in the workforce are equal opportunity characteristics that any human can demonstrate passionately. —Moira Errick
Lean in. Gather perspective. Be clear. Be diplomatic AND assertive. Be an example. Take a seat at the table. Be brave. Be candid. Listen to understand. —Marilyn Caldwell
- Find your tribe
It’s important to find your “tribe” – a group of people who support each other and can provide knowledgeable advice and an ear to listen when needed. When women have a support system and feel accepted as they are, they feel comfortable using their voice to advocate for themselves and for others. In this way, women can empower each other to break through barriers and bias.
I strongly urge all women to find their tribe. Find a mentor, be a mentor. Be active in both your professional and personal communities in whatever way you can. We don't have to network through these organized functions to be supported. We can support one another on the sidelines of the soccer field, at 3 a.m. on a group text as we cram in one more rewrite of that summary, or at 8 a.m. as we take a moment to ourselves. Find your tribe who will give you the support and respect we all deserve. —Moira Errick
Within the workplace, I recommend women align themselves with similarly-minded professionals, not only women in leadership positions, but people whose careers and knowledge are worth emulating and understanding. I think this helps break gender biases while creating goodwill with people with similar career paths. —Vanessa Quaciari
- Recognize the historic challenges women are facing today – and work to overcome those
Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on the workforce. But it has had a disproportionate effect on women. For instance, a 2021 policy brief from the International Labour Organization found that globally, women’s employment dropped by 4.2% between 2019 and 2020, compared with 3% for men. And a January 2021 report from the National Women’s Law Center showed that when the economy lost 140,000 net jobs in December of 2020, all of those losses fell on women (with women losing 156,000 jobs and men gaining 16,000). This disproportionate effect is because women are often the primary caregivers in family structures.
Covid has impacted all of us profoundly. For caregivers in a family its impact is amplified. I don’t want to assume that all caregivers are women, but many are the primary caregivers and also have full time jobs. —Kelly Clay
As a mother, I am aware of how the pandemic has impacted not only women lawyers with children, but parents in general, who now have their usual load of professional responsibilities plus the added duties related to having their children at home all of the time. —Vanessa Quaciari
I have seen many working women, especially those who also act as caregivers, facing a lot of added stress due to biased thinking. I have seen many women who have had to make life altering choices...family or career. Near and dear friends have had to step away from their roles because they are not afforded the trust by their employers to get their jobs done outside of the “correct” hours of the day. Covid has exacerbated that, but by the same token it has brought this issue to the forefront. It's not a problem that is unique to any one company, it is endemic in our nation. —Moira Errick
Indeed, while these hardships were felt most acutely during pandemic-related lockdowns, the pandemic simply highlighted and exacerbated inequities that already existed for women. Moving forward, this can be addressed by looking more holistically at the root cause and working to remedy from the ground up.
In terms of how to curb the disproportionate impact of the pandemic as we move forward – we need to shift our focus to include men in this analysis. Rather than solely asking women what they need, we also need to ask men, “What do you need in order to be equal participants in running a household?” Because running a household is very similar to running a business and when we focus only on women, we are saying that it’s solely on a woman to keep that business running. The disproportionate burden on women can’t just be addressed by trying to accommodate women, we need to also bring men into the equation. —Margaret Dolson
Corporations that support work life balance, in whatever terms the employee sets, are still unicorns. We have to recognize, as a nation, that the mindset that work can only be done in one location during set hours is simply not true in today's business world and given the disparate impact such restrictions have on women, it should not be tolerated anymore. We cannot close the door to half of the workforce because they are left with no other options due to inability to access childcare, lack of school, partners who also are beholden to unforgiving work schedules, and the many other hurdles that are out there. We need to recognize that work is work, whether it is done between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. or any combination thereof, so long as it meets the overarching needs of the business. —Moira Errick
The stories and advice of these women leaders can serve as a guide, helping to lead us to become a more gender-equal industry and world. Lighthouse is proud to amplify their voices.