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Building Diverse Teams to Thrive

Blair Cohen

Catherine Pray is a people person. You get the feeling immediately upon meeting with her.

For some people, after being in the e-discovery industry for over a decade, some of the shine of managing teams and people may have worn off. But not for Catherine. Building and cultivating teams is her passion and the energy is simply contagious. So Stellar Women had to share the wisdom and lessons that Catherine has cultivated while managing teams throughout her career. The main theme: diverse teams are the key to success.

Now, diverse teams have consistently outperformed homogeneous teams—a 2015 McKinsey report showed that companies who were in the top quarter for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above the industry means. Make that 35 percent if the team is racially diverse as well. When we bring colleagues with different backgrounds into our teams, they bring their unique perspectives to the proverbial table.

“Having a diverse team is only half of the battle,” Catherine says. “Getting that team to share and challenge each other to think differently—that's when the magic happens.”

Embracing Different Perspectives

In our industry, we're all about data. When we’re in the discovery phase, we want all of the data we can get our hands on: emails, texts, voice recordings, et cetera.

“As a manager, sometimes it can feel like we’re on an island, making decisions by ourselves,” Catherine said, “but if we tap our teams to bounce ideas off, then we can make the most informed decisions.”

It’s easy to assume that our perspective and approaches are shared by the people we’re around. But when we tap into the perspectives of our different teammates, we’re collecting the data that we need to create a holistic solution. Unless we’re open to hearing and encouraging different perspectives, we may not consider another experience or skillset—which can lead to a huge gap when providing services or a solution.

“We need to get comfortable saying that we don’t always have all the answers,” Catherine claimed.

Being a female leader, there can be internal and external pressure to be perfect; to always have an answer; to always know what to do. Once we become open, honest, and vulnerable with our teams and say “I don’t know it all,” then we open up the conversation to embrace different perspectives.

“So often, we can take our reality as being the only truth, and that’s just not the case.” This reinforces that our team’s viewpoints and ideas are welcomed and heard, Catherine told me. Rich perspectives lead to innovative problem solving.

The People

Catherine says it’s easy to get caught up in hiring people that are like-minded; that’s human nature. “We’re naturally drawn to people who are like us,” she said, “but when we bring in people who are completely different from us, we open up our world to a myriad of perspectives.”

These perspectives can have a immense impact on us—from a different workflow in Relativity, to keeping your desktop organized, even to seeing the world differently.

When building out her team, Catherine shared, a resume came across her desk that wasn’t “typical.” This resume had immense experience—but it wasn’t e-discovery. This applicant had a few decades of experience working on other industries, including more than 10 years in the military.

Unfortunately, it’s a resume that not all hiring managers would look at twice. But Catherine Pray saw it differently: she welcomed the change of pace in the applicant pool.

“This person ended up being one of the best employees I’ve had over my entire career. I learned so much from him that I never would have if I didn’t take a chance.” When Catherine took this leap, she made the decision to hire a person rather than a resume.

RelativityOne Silver Partner PLUSnxt is no stranger to building diverse perspectives into the fabric of their organization. Take Sophia (Fia) Aragon, creative director at PLUSnxt, who joined the company with no e-discovery experience. When Fia joined the team with a graphic design background, she was the only woman and the youngest on her team.

“I was nervous I wouldn’t fit in, that there wouldn’t be a place for my creativity in tech. When I first started, I was trying to blend in, which I didn’t realize was my way of subconsciously stifling myself,” Fia shared. But, if you’ve gotten the pleasure of meeting or talking to Fia, you know that blending in isn't an option for her. 

The energy and passion she brings to everything she touches is infectious and anything but ordinary. Once Fia started leaning into who she was and started bringing her authentic self to work, things started clicking. Fia has exceled so much in our industry that this year, she joined us at Relativity Fest for the Stellar Women Lunch and Learn, “Building Your Personal Brand,” where she shared her expertise about building a personal brand with our community.

Fia's unique perspective brought our Lunch and Learn to a new level and the audience walked away knowing and believing that your authenticity should be a powerful tool in your arsenal—not one you hide.

Meeting People Where They Are At

“By having a diverse team, you can expect to have diverse needs,” Catherine said, “and if you want to walk the walk as a manager when it comes to diversity, you need to be prepared to meet those needs.”

If Catherine somehow manages to prioritize her team’s wellbeing while also balancing deadlines and quick turnarounds. She’s able to do it by utilizing the tips below:

Create the Space for Connection

It’s easy to deprioritize casual conversation in the day to day, but these interactions are key to creating the space for connection on a team. “It can be as easy as a water-cooler invite,” says Catherine.

“Sending out an invite to your team for even a 15-minute chat can do wonders for team morale.”

As we’ve transitioned to a more remote work environment, we miss out on the quick conversations that were had in the hallway. The more we foster connection, the safer the space we create becomes; the safer the space we hold, the more comfortable our team members become to share their perspective. 

Ask Questions

We all know the saying “there are no stupid questions,” but in this case, Catherine really means it: “Ask away! When you have a team member, put in that effort to know them—how they work, what they need to feel successful, their favorite food, how they communicate, what their pet’s name is. No question is too small.”  

It can feel trivial to ask these questions, especially when the pressure to perform and produce has never been higher. If you take the time to get to know your team, the benefits will outweigh the time you took to ask them. Studies show that teams with a strong personal connection are more motivated and inspired, and therefore more productive.

Leave Your Bubble

It can be really intimidating to try and be like Catherine; trust me, I’ve felt intimidated writing this article with her tips and perspective. But, as I’ve learned repeatedly both personally and professionally, the best things happen when we’re uncomfortable, even a little scared.                            

Throughout her career, Catherine has prioritized building teams with diversity—which has led to her leading successful, thriving teams for over a decade. She didn’t get there by following the status quo or sticking to what she knew. She challenged herself to think differently and continued to surround herself with perspectives that allowed her to see the whole picture.             

As we slow down and wrap up the year, I encourage you all  to take a page from Catherine’s book. though it’s new and can be scary, leave single-minded creativity in 2022 and broaden your horizons for 2023.

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Blair Cohen is a brand program manager at Relativity, representing the company with enthusiasm, authenticity, and her flair for humor. When she isn't shining a light on women in tech via Stellar Women or cracking jokes on the main stage at Relativity Fest, you can find her running around Chicago finding the best places to eat with her dog, Goose.

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