This article was brought to you by Brown Rudnick.
Hannah Choi, deputy general counsel at Alorica, noticed some discouraging trends on her way to being a leader in the legal field.
“There are a lot of women in law schools and even when you enter the legal profession, but over time there’s fall out,” she says. That insight is backed by a 2022 American Bar Association profile of the legal profession. Although more than half of all law school graduates are women, the number of women in senior leadership roles at US law firms is far less than half. However, at Alorica, most of the legal department is made up of women.
Fellow Alorica leaders Mikee Ong, vice president and associate general counsel, and Kai Williamson, senior paralegal and global director of corporate governance, have made similar observations throughout their careers and in their different corners of the world. Today, all three women leverage their experiences to shape culture in the global customer experience company’s legal department. They are the change they want to see in their industry.
“A key factor that drives our work is to look at other women as partners rather than competition,” Ong says. “It’s important that we look at each other as advocates for one another and for ourselves, as this aids collaboration and helps us be our true selves. We shouldn’t be too afraid to be vulnerable and we should learn to leverage qualities that are normally seen in this industry as weaknesses. We should recognize that other people in the room share these traits and can also use them as strengths.”
Even though the three don’t work together every day, they’re united in their efforts to enhance Alorica’s employee experience for women and other underrepresented groups. In addition to participating in the organization’s Women’s Initiative, they inspire and support others in their own ways. Choi, an employment law expert and a leader of an all-woman team, does this by just being herself, even though that wasn’t always the kind of leadership style she saw as a young attorney.
“The few women that rose the ranks before me from my experience typically displayed very aggressive personalities,” she recalls. “And I noticed that a lot of other female attorneys would try to mimic that because they believed that’s how they could forge ahead, get a seat at the table, and be heard. But, over time, I realized that just wasn’t me.”
Choi’s previous experience paints the picture of a dilemma women in leadership roles commonly face: the double-bind. Women who exhibit stereotypically feminine traits are seen as lacking strong leadership qualities while those who exhibit masculine traits are seen as unfeminine and mean. In the grip of that dilemma, Choi decided to chart her own course.
“While I’m by no means shy, I’m not that alpha, my-way-or-the-highway kind of leader,” Choi says. “I tell my team that if you are your authentic self, it helps you grow personally and professionally. It’s less exhausting putting up this act that’s not you and there’s not just one type of leader.”
Ong has seen the value of being an authentic leader too. As a female attorney from the Philippines, she saw how gendered stereotypes and expectations were also deeply ingrained in up-and-coming attorneys.
“We were always taught that lawyers were male with big brief cases,” Ong reflects. “You grow up and enter into this career with that stereotype to crush, The challenge has been not just to break the stereotype, but help people recognize the strengths that a women leader can bring to the table.”
That’s why Ong aims to empower women in her country and abroad by talking at conferences and events, showing underrepresented groups that they can be leaders, too. “Our employees love to see someone who looks like them and sounds like them on stage,” she says. “It’s both empowering and educational.”
“I enjoy working with the Alorica team,” adds Leo Presiado, partner in the Orange County office at Brown Rudnick. “It’s a vastly rewarding experience, especially since my firm’s views on diversity, equity and inclusion align so closely with their ethos.”
Williamson, who has had a decades-long career working on M&A and corporate matters, runs Alorica’s internal and external internship program. Outside of work, she has made an effort to push for change in her local community in Orange County, California. There, she is a president of a paralegal association which has upwards of 1,200 members.
“Being a diverse leader, I can tell you that I was the first Black woman to be president of this organization and it’s been in business for forty-five years,” Williamson says. “I know that inspires other local leaders, people working in the industry to do bigger and better things.”
The leaders each offered a wealth of advice for women in their field aiming to follow in their footsteps.
Williamson advises them to know their worth. “Sometimes as females, we sell ourselves short even when it comes to salary negotiations,” she says.
Choi admits that her piece of advice is something she’s continuing to work on. “Don’t sweat the small things and look at the big picture,” she adds.
Ong suggests attorneys to “never be afraid to say yes, even to the craziest opportunities.” “We should never be afraid to fail,” she advises. “When we say yes, even when there’s a large possibility that we will fail, more than giving ourselves the chance to succeed, we’re giving ourselves that valuable opportunity to learn from our mistakes.”
“Littler is honored to support Hannah, Mikee, and Kai. No matter the issue or country involved, they constantly show concern and empathy for their business partners and internal clients. Their work is a masterclass in cross-cultural leadership through authenticity and respect. Alorica continues to meet its external clients’ ever-evolving customer service needs on a global scale due to its team’s confidence in Hannah, Mikee, and Kai. Each of them exemplifies the excellence produced by empowered women in law. Littler proudly salutes them and our own team of industry-leading women driving us forward every day.
—Fermin Llaguno, Shareholder, Littler