This is the second part of Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law’s interview with Caren Ulrich Stacy. In the first part, we discussed the creation of the OnRamp Fellowship, a “returnship” which helps bring women back into the legal profession.
Caren Ulrich Stacy is an innovator who has launched the OnRamp Fellowship and Diversity Lab, two initiatives that address the gender gap problem in the legal profession. Stacy also created the “Women in Law Hackathon” — a pitch competition to generate ideas to boost retention and advancement of women in law.
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law continues its conversation with Caren Stacy to discuss the Hackathon and where these initiatives will take the legal industry next.
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: What was the origin of the “Women in Law Hackathon”?
Caren Stacy: As we were kicking off and expanding the OnRamp Fellowship, I had so many different people saying, “I’ve got another potentially great idea that will help boost diversity.” I kept thinking that there wasn’t really a forum for ideas about lowering barriers to women’s retention and advancement to really be fleshed out beyond the initial talking phase.
The Hackathon was born out of the idea that if we gave smart people six months, took them out of their own four walls and provided them with a process along with two expert advisors and a law student who’s approaching it from a completely different perspective, we could give them a license to be innovative, collaborative, and thoughtful to create and further flesh out new ideas.
One of the rules of the Hackathon is that we’ve asked folks not to say, “This won’t work.” Instead, we’ve asked them to say, “This will only work if …” and then fill in the blank.
The Hack-a-thon started in January of this year. They’ve been working in teams of nine. Six high-level partners from six different law firms, two expert advisors — folks like Jenny Waters who’s the executive director of the National Association of Women Lawyers; Carol Frohlinger who founded Negotiating Women; Manar Morales who’s the head of the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance; and Deborah Epstein Henry, author of Law & Reorder, who has worked to advance women with her work on several initiatives. Those are just a few of the amazing advisors these teams are working with, as well as with students from Stanford Law.
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: So, how does the Hackathon work exactly?
Caren Stacy: The teams have been working together virtually for the last six months. They then showed up on the doorstep of Stanford Law School last month to present their ideas to a group of 10 high-level judges who are thought leaders in the legal field and beyond, including Tony West, general counsel of PepsiCo; James Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation; and Lucy Endel Bassli, Assistant General Counsel of Microsoft.
The judges viewed the nine pitches and had 10 minutes of Q&A with each team. A first, second, and third place team were picked. The members of the audience also had “play” money to invest in the ideas that they liked best — two teams ultimately tied for crowd favorite.
You can see a digital, interactive overview of the Hackathon, including the winning ideas and teams; and you can also view a summary of all nine ideas.
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: Going into the Hackathon, what were you expecting?
Caren Stacy: I have to tell you that I had some trepidation about how innovative the ideas might be, because at the beginning when the teams were first working together, there was a lot of talk of building a better mousetrap for mentoring. So, in the first month, I sent an email to the teams saying, “Please stop talking about mentoring. It hasn’t worked. Let’s try something else.”
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: You think they need to go beyond that?
Caren Stacy: I do. We just keep doing mentoring the way we’ve done mentoring for a long time and it hasn’t advanced the ball. If there is a different spin on mentoring or if there’s something about it that we’re doing wrong and we could do it differently and better, that’s perfect fine. But don’t just build or tweak the current mentoring process, because that alone, even in a lot of different iterations, has not worked.
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: Overall, looking at all of these initiatives that you’re involved with —the OnRamp Fellowship, Diversity Lab, and the Hackathon — how are you going to determine what is a success? How will you measure that?
Caren Stacy: I love that question because I’m such a data geek. Data is the foundation of everything we do. There are two points of measurement. The short-term measurement is, can we gently nudge organizations to try new things, evaluate the results using data, and share their wins and failures so others can learn from them? To me, that is a big win in itself because we don’t really have a culture of trial and error in this profession. Instead, we have a culture of perfection and certainly not one of transparency.
The long-term goal is retaining and advancing more women into leadership. It’s too early to measure our progress yet. But for the Fellowship, for instance, we have already placed 43 women in 11 cities who are now getting the opportunity to return to the legal profession — just with those women returning, we’ve increased gender levels in specific law firms.
Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: Looking forward, what else are you hoping to accomplish with these initiatives?
Caren Stacy: In addition to encouraging creativity and innovative, which we believe will cause law firms to try new ideas that will boost diversity in the legal profession, one of the other things we’re trying to do is to create a culture of knowledge sharing.
For instance, now that we have interviewed more than 400 high-performing senior associates and partners, both men and women, at large law firms, banks and legal departments for the benefit of the Fellowship, we have some very interesting data in the aggregate about the commonalities among high-performers that others who are moving up through the ranks could absolutely benefit from as they navigate the trajectory.
We plan to start publicly announcing the results of our research in an effort to create and stimulate that culture of knowledge sharing. We want firms to start sharing information as well, including what works and what doesn’t work along the way as they try new ways to increase diversity. It’s not about the idea. Anybody can have a great idea. It’s about the implementation of the idea, including the messaging and the nuances specific to each culture — the devil’s in the idea. We’re telling law firms to do that so we, as a company, are doing that as well. We want our data to be available to the universe so that others can benefit from it.
It’s the multiplier effect. We plan to do something good with the goal of creating a ripple effect of five good things. So, if we put our research out there and five more women or five more attorneys of color benefit, then we’ve created that multiplier effect, which are a part of our guiding principles.