Guest post: Women in (Legal) Tech – planting acorns
Thereza Snyman of Baskerville Drummond charts the failures of previous efforts to boost diversity in legal tech; the recent progress with a well-deserved shout out to Daniel Pollick for helping to drive progress and thanks to a number of initiatives including Legal IT Insider’s Legal Tech Diversity (LTD) group; and an example of how making a small personal pledge – which is at the heart of LTD – can make a huge long term difference.
My concern about the scarcity of Women in Tech – particularly in Legal IT – goes back many years. Not only am I an unapologetic feminist of the old school (i.e I love the male of the species, I have many feminine interests but I believe women should play a full and equal role in society), but effective technology critically depends on team work. An increasing flood of research – and my own observations over many years – clearly demonstrate that gender and ethnically diverse teams significantly out-perform (up to 87%) teams not so constituted.
Our first attempts to encourage women into Legal Tech some 8 years ago came to nothing. The senior women (IT Directors and Heads of IT) were far too busy with the day-job, and lacked the administrative resources to be effective. But the idea stuck, and germinated, even while at the same time, our numbers went down. Some women moved on into other industries, others retired and increasingly, it became hard to recruit female candidates, particularly younger women for number 2 roles (so that they can take up the baton from us, when we moved on). The stats are startling. In our heyday some 10 years ago, 23% of the IT Directors/ Heads of IT in the top 100 law firms were female. Today it is less than 3%.
Something clearly had to be done. Our concept – born 8 years ago – now had to come to fruition. Fortunately, there is increasing concern – in government, in industry, in the media and importantly, amongst law firms and the legal tech community to promote Diversity and Inclusion. And not only on moral, ethical grounds, but because it makes good business sense. It is an idea whose time has come.
Thanks to a male – Daniel Pollick, former CIO of DLA Piper – who stood up to present (on another subject) to a room filled with Legal CIO’s, IT Directors and vendors in February 2018 and pronounced it unacceptable that the room should be “pale, male and stale” (there were three female IT Directors present, out of probably 70), “something” is now happening. Daniel’s galvanic call to action has resulted in two influential LawTech media organisations taking up the baton and organising groups of us. With their support, organisational capabilities, communications expertise and industry-wide influence, effective measures are on the cards. Thank you Daniel – you are a tireless champion – and thank you Netlaw Media and Legal IT Insider.
And thank you all those wonderful enthusiastic people in the Legal Tech community who have already promised support and have started taking action.
For those of you who want to become involved, please email Caroline Hill of Legal IT insider at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or join the DELTAS Group, spearheaded by Frances Armstrong of Netlaw Media at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8665501
A final thank you to my colleagues at Baskerville Drummond Consulting, who are so supportive of these initiatives that we are undertaking, and who encourage me in every respect. https://baskervilledrummond.com/about-us/corporate-social-responsibility/
In my view, there is no “quick-fix”. Several CIO’s and Heads of IT complain – and that has also been my experience – that there is a serious shortage of female candidates for roles in Legal Tech. The pipeline has reduced to a trickle, or in respect of some roles, has even dried up completely. This is part of a much larger problem which the UK faces – the lack of skills which will help us survive and thrive in an increasingly digital (particularly post-Brexit) age.
I have therefore pledged – and it is my personal contribution, albeit very small – to work with schools to encourage teenagers (particularly girls) into STEM careers. A very small contribution, likely to have only limited impact – but if we all do “something”, we can collectively achieve a great deal.
As a start, I attended the A level careers orientation day at a local comprehensive school last week. The catchment area is ethnically diverse and somewhat “challenging”. For two and a half hours, I faced up to a group of 16 / 17 year old girls – alas, only 10 girls of the entire cohort have expressed some interest in STEM subjects (out of a total group of 120 pupils in STEM subjects). Having presented to law firm partners and at industry events many times over the years, this was probably the toughest, most challenging audience I have ever faced. Their interest was only captured about half-way through, when I asked them to debate what dating would be like in 10 years’ time (Match.com having already announced that their matching engine will be AI powered!). And then the discussion sparked! Particularly when it came to the potential moral and ethical implications of emerging technologies such as “designer babies”, the loss of certain job roles and the “dehumanising” of society and social interactions.
The results were small, but gratifying. Some of the feedback was:
From 1 to 5, with 1 being not at all and 5 being very likely, how likely are you to research more into the careers/sector you have learned about today?
75% likely or very likely
Has today made you feel more confident about a career in the sector you learned about today?
Come September, I will continue with this group, but will also start working with years 7 and 8. The younger the age at which we can interest kids in STEM, the likelier the chances of engaging them.
A small acorn was planted – may it grow into a large and shady oak!
Former Kingsley Napley IT director Thereza Snyman (pictured) this year joined leading independent legal IT consultancy Baskerville Drummond as a consultant, focussing on the likes of strategy and security, as well as vendor management and change management.