Be A Bold Lawyer
What are you doing to drive change?
Those of you who’ve been reading our column for some time, won’t be surprised that we can’t stay quiet in light of the latest and most definitely not so greatest string of realities, fallouts, apologies that came too late, etc. stemming from the revelations at Binary Capital, 500 Startups and the overall venture capital community in our Silicon Valley back yard.
What do you do when you are a woman in Silicon Valley, smothered by sexism, surrounded by sexual harassment, and shut out of economic opportunities?
Do you become a VC? Not unless you like being treated as a second class citizen, closing deals at strip clubs, and appearing to lack business acumen.
The answer is simple. You become a lawyer.
Although legal has its own share of gender-related problems, I’ve found that the legal industry is the perfect place for me to fight Silicon Valley’s pervasive misogyny. In my case, I use my skills to write and speak publicly against the mistreatment of women. I use social media to shame those who miss the mark of decency. I even draw cartoons to make a point in pictures in case my words have failed to deliver the message.
Yes, this goes beyond my everyday duties as general counsel. But it is our duty as lawyers, especially in-house lawyers, to change the unsustainable status quo, and help shape the future of this incredible community we’ve dedicated our careers to. And as lawyers, there are certain duties we must fulfill — even though they may be beyond our strictly “legal” realm.
At a minimum, we need to work with our clients to help them become enlightened, so that we never see another fiasco. We need to train them on both legal standards and acceptable human conduct. Ultimately, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure our companies are taking sustainable actions and doing the right thing.
And specifically as in-house lawyers, we need to objectively take a look at our companies. We need to identify where we’re falling short. And we need to help the company as our client — not just the CEO or other stakeholders — to address gender issues across the organization, from hiring, to rank-and-file employees, to leadership and boards.
Finally, we need to use our voices. As lawyers, we are trained to be tactical communicators and expert negotiators, with sharp analytical skills and strategic foresight. We need to use these skills to speak out against wrongdoing when we see it. It’s time to call out the bad actors and demand accountability when it’s due. This will be difficult, of course. Lawyers also happen to be highly risk-averse and introverted. But if so many Silicon Valley players have had the nauseating audacity to take part in such insidiously misogynistic behavior, surely we can be bold enough to speak out against it.
And yes, this applies to every lawyer — not just women, not just in Silicon Valley, and not just in-house lawyers! We all need to work together to reach a true solution. This is the only way we can help ensure a sustainable future for our clients, their major stakeholders, ourselves, Silicon Valley, and corporate America generally. After all, if that isn’t good legal advice, what is?
Though it was so incredibly naïve, in my twenties, I thought that gender disparity and sexism wasn’t “so bad,” and if I just worked hard enough, I could somehow avoid the whispers that would soon become my reality. Fast forward to my early thirties, and, too many times to count, I came face to face with the open secret that is sexism even in a place as, seemingly, open minded as Silicon Valley.
Though sadly unsurprising, the scandal rocking Binary Capital is more black and white than many of the daily drops in the sexism bucket women in the corporate world face. Well-known VC, Chris Sacca, described this struggle with great precision in a recent Medium post: “But’s that’s the crucial lesson I am learning right now in real-time: It’s the unrelenting, day-to-day culture of dismissiveness that creates a continually bleak environment for women and other underrepresented groups. I contributed to that, and am thus responsible for the unfairly harder road that everyone other than white men must travel in our industry.”
I am not an adrenaline junkie, thrill seeker or lover of rodents and/or spiders. For as long as I can remember, I have been fearless with my words. Yet, as a member of the corporate world, speaking up can be, at best, complicated. Many of us became lawyers because we were never ones to shy away from a verbal spar. Yet, over time, lawyers become risk-averse, and by not saying anything, we become part of the problem.
It’s time for change. I am committing to saying the wrong thing, the “too bold” thing, have bad timing, or risk repercussions than stay silent. I hope you will join me.
This topic can be loaded, and it’s important to think through timing to maximize impact, learning how to have productive conversations versus biting sound bites, and attempting not to solely rely on an “us” vs “them” attitude in order to effectuate palpable change. Some days, as Olga writes, we will truly feel like “tactical communicators” who successfully deliver messages that brought a greater sense of awareness and understanding. Other days, we will fail or succumb to the pressure to stay quiet. Yet we must try hard to have the former outweigh the latter.
Being a bold lawyer means using all of the legal skills together with a commitment to corporate sustainability and good old-fashioned empathy, to work together and create the cultural shift the working women of both today and tomorrow deserve.
What are you doing to drive change? We’d love to hear from you! @olgavmack @bloomkatia