Part 2: Diversity in tech vs law
“- I am sorry but my lawyer has to be a man.
– Absolutely no worries, my client has to be someone with EQ.”
The first part of this conversation actually happened once, at the beginning of my career as a lawyer entrepreneur. It was at a ‘smart casual’ startup event on a boat on the Danube one summer in the early 2010s. The answer also happened, however, for the sake of simplicity, only in my mind. I actually see this as a funny moment in my professional history. Okay, I admit I might have a strange sense of humor, but sometimes I was simply unable to keep a poker face on hearing these silly remarks and burst out laughing, which somehow always took the speaker by surprise (wonder why).
Obviously, in a perfect world, women should absolutely not be subject to comments like those but it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Even though I personally do not encounter that attitude anymore, the problem is far from being resolved. I personally see the core of it more in the silent phenomena. Being the only woman with actual decision making power around the negotiation table. Being the only woman in an email thread about a $M financing round of a startup. Seeing one woman in a speaker pool of 21 at a VC event. When cases like those occur on a daily basis in 2020 in my field, I simply reject to consider the topic of diversity overemphasized or boring.
One of the most frequent comments I get from women who don’t work in tech is that the scene must feel more like a stag party than a work environment, and I must generally be the only woman in the room. I’m trying really hard to think about even just one time that this happened, but the truth is, despite having a flawless memory (occupational hazard, trust me, it’s not always a blessing), I can’t. I don’t want to lie, it is definitely true that the majority of the founders of tech startups I work with are men, and it is also true that the only place on Earth where the queue is not in front of the ladies’ room but in front of the gents’ instead is a tech conference. (For all the girls who are frustrated about having to spend ages in their lives waiting for bathrooms I recommend attending a tech conference purely for that satisfying moment.) Still, I feel like people in tech are actually open to having women on their teams or as their advisors, and there is a lot less resistance than one would think. Point proven, in the past few years, I’ve been approached by ever more women founders seeking advice, which I’m thrilled about.
The same can not be said of the legal field, however. Being a tech lawyer and business advisor, my job includes not only tech conferences, pitch training and legal drafting, but the contract and investment negotiations as well. That is, when you let the parties—and mostly their attorneys—talk through the points of a deal and come to an agreement. Well, at least that would be ideal.
I personally believe that in these situations, we’re all there to create something amazing together and come up with a deal that is beneficial for everyone. We are there to make the goal of the whole future cooperation become a reality. We’re there to build, not destroy.
But in my experience, frequently in these cases, I am indeed the only woman in the room. And even if I’m not, the woman on the other side is most likely just a silent sidekick of the male attorney actually leading the negotiations. Even though these women are just as qualified as their male counterparts, maybe just a couple of years younger (oh ageism, my friend), they’re usually only there to bring the coffee, handle the projector and look stern (definitely not smile, I assume their bonus would be revoked right then and there) as requested by the secret code of the tough-guys-around-the-table society.
As you can see, in my personal experience, it’s not the tech field, it’s the law, where the lack of appreciation of women professionals is still a noticeable trend, sometimes even evolving to hostility, and where gender discrimination is still a huge issue. Diversity is certainly a problem in tech too, but hostility is another level. And honestly, that is only one of the many problems of the whole profession. The core of which is the mentality, the mannerism and the fact that a huge majority of attorneys have the tendency to think that the whole world revolves around them. This atmosphere is super toxic and one of the main reasons why turning to a lawyer is one of the last things entrepreneurs want to do. We at KassaiLaw consider reckoning with these diverted socialization patterns, accompanied by entrepreneurial solution-oriented thinking instead of the traditional problem focus of lawyers to be matters of the utmost importance. While solving the seemingly unsolvable definitely takes longer than creating a list of reasons why it’s impossible, the latter is not how groundbreaking ideas and innovation happen.
Startups and entrepreneurship have brought together the three divergent fields of my interests: being a creative and constructive entrepreneurial lawyer in the field of technology. The perfect synergy.
Of all the compliments I have received “Wow, you are not a typical lawyer” is my favourite, and I hear it on a regular basis, basically from every new client we close. It is a firm reassurance that yes, we are indeed on the right path. One on which we are determined to serve a better future and work day by day for a more balanced and diverse legal and entrepreneurial ecosystem.