Stellar Women in e-Discovery: Joanne Chua-Robertson [Podcast]

The e-discovery community is a global force for innovation and creativity—and our latest Stellar Women in e-Discovery nominee proves it.

We took this episode of Stellar Women international—back to my very special home town of Sydney, Australia. My cohost, Mary Rechtoris, and I had the opportunity to chat with the incredible Joanne Chua-Robertson from Deloitte. Joanne has thrived in the face of rejection, navigated the complexities of standing out in a small, rural town, and ultimately created a career for herself that is undeniably stellar.

It was an added bonus for Joanne and I to bond over Australian culture and the vernacular that makes the country great, as well as the coined lingo that encourages everyone to “give it a go.”



Joanne Chua-Robertson

Senior Manager - Risk Advisory - Forensic





Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women e-Discovery fans. I'm Mary Rechtoris, your host of Stellar Women e-Discovery.

Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women in e-Discovery shines a light on female leaders making their mark in e-discovery.

MR: So today we're really excited to introduce our guest from Australia.

MT: Mary, I was on the podcast last time.

MR: Mila, this is our guest. You are the Dwight to my Michael, my fellow co-host.

MT: Sorry, Mary.

MR: While on this topic, I have a funny tidbit for our listeners. In Chicago here, it's about 7:30 p.m. When I was asking Mila where she was recording, she said she was recording “at me.”

MT: At me. I mean, my apartment—at me—where I belong.

MR: I was very confused. I thought maybe there was a new restaurant in Chicago or a new coffee shop I didn't know about. So, I would like to turn the floor over to our guest who's also from Australia. Is this a cultural thing or is Mila just making up her own language? So, without further ado, I want to welcome Joanne Chua-Robertson from Deloitte. Joanne, hello. Can you help us weigh in here a little bit?

JCR: Hi, Mary. Hi, Mila. No, I can’t. When I was asked that question, I was just quite surprised that I didn't know. But, I thought that was actually me, meaning myself not understanding what “at me” is because it's a generational difference. I just put it down to that. I don't think I am weighing in heavily at all. I just don't know what that means. I look forward to finding out.

MR: Listeners, let us know if you are in the same boat as Joanne and me that “at me” does not ring a bell—or if you're with Mila that “at me” means in your home or apartment or wherever you reside. We're really interested in this little slang we have here. So, let us know.

MT: Maybe I've just created a language. I could be on to something.

JCR: Yeah, I think so. I really do.

MT: Wow, this is great. All right, I guess we'll just jump in and switch gears a bit. So, Joanne, will you tell us a bit more about your role at Deloitte?

JCR: So at Deloitte, I'm a senior manager working in Deloitte’s e-discovery and forensic technology practice. So, what that means is that my role involves primarily working with clients. It's all about data—identify it, manage it, review it, analyze it. [I deal with] all matter of data, in discovery, litigation, and investigation and regulatory inquiry.

MR: Awesome. And Joanne, when we talked previously, you told me you started out, before going into e-discovery, in journalism.

JCR: Yeah, that was when mostly data was hard copy. Electronic data is what we’re in now. This was back in the day, and I'm talking about the early 90s. I've always been a cause-driven person. So, I've always wanted to seek truth and fight for justice. So that's my sort of personal take on wanting to go into journalism. I was also determined to write and present stories on a commercial news channel, but also from a different perspective. And that is [different] from the norm—which is still predominantly white male, Anglo-Saxon. People in the news, like news leaders or news producers, essentially dictate the agenda and put out what's actually important. Ironically, in that day and age in the 1990s, Australia was not ready to have an Asian face on television. My background is Singaporean and Chinese. So, I came to a small rural town in Australia during the late 1980s. When it came to university and doing journalism and wanting to actually make a difference, ironically, Australian news channels were not ready for an Asian face on the telly. I was told that by a news producer. What I did appreciate was that he was upfront in his decision. He didn't beat around the bush. He didn't say that, “Oh, we just don't have any openings at the time,” or any of the usual stuff you hear. He also chose not to waste my time by just telling me exactly why he couldn't hire me. So that's why I went into it and that's why I stepped out of it at the time.

MR: How did you react when he told you that? Obviously, you admired his honesty, but that's pretty a hard thing to hear.

JCR: Yeah, it was because I was quite young, very impressionable, and very, very determined. It was quite a blow to the self-esteem. It took a while to actually overcome that, but you know, I'm still doing what I'm doing. Deep down, it's always going to be there. You might have people who may not necessarily support you along the way, but there are so many more who will. Unfortunately, some of these people are not in the places that they can actually give you a go or give you the opportunity to make that difference. At the time, yes, it was crushing. But I think you learn from that. And I think, as I said, I did appreciate his honesty, and I'm glad I didn't waste more time knocking on closed doors. It definitely built character and then, going forward, gave me a different perspective, and probably even more determination to make a difference.

MR: And after you transitioned out of journalism, you went to law school, right? How did that decision come to fruition?

JCR: Law school was always going to be my second to journalism and I think it was one of those failsafe decisions where I thought, okay, well, if I can't do this, I will just fall back on this. The law has always been a very traditional route in a career and I just thought that this was something that could be a good safety net as I progressed through my own career. But also it lends itself very well to knowing what laws are out there, what is the system of justice, and also how to work within that institution, as well. [I wanted] to help others to bring forward their claims and fight for them as well. So, it was very much still within my purview of what I was interested in doing.

MR: And I think having that journalistic background isn't common necessarily for law school or e-discovery.

JCR: Yeah, I found that, but because a lot of what journalism teaches you is how to write things in plain English or in plain language and how to make complex concepts [simple] by writing them in a simple way so that the layperson can understand. Also, to look at the situation from both sides so impartiality as well. I think both sides, both types of careers, have pros and cons. This has all led to me supporting and being quite an active participant in the diversity and inclusion strategy at Deloitte as well. That strategy aims to focus on fostering an inclusive culture. [It aligns with] what I've experienced in trying to get into being a journalist and in commercial news, as well and issues in trying to get into a prominent law firms. Now, it’s sort of turned into more of a fight for diversity and inclusion, which promotes people from all different backgrounds and religions and diversity of opinion to reach their full potential.

MT: I was going to say, you mentioned that things have changed with diversity and inclusion over time. I'd like to hope it's progressed. Do you think it's progressed in a large way or is there still a lot of room to grow? Where do you think Australia, in particular, stands today?

JCR: I think, at the moment, it’s a little bit divergent. You’ve got a few—well, actually, probably more than a few—people with quite extremist views. But, I think that's happening globally as well. It's sort of this reaction to people of different colors and backgrounds. But, at the same time, you also have this surge of views that are very, very inclusive as well, because I think we're starting to see that innovation and opportunity actually spring from people who are diverse. To get ahead, especially in technology and innovation, you need to be creative and you need to be different. Standing out is no longer a bad thing. You actually have the edge.

MT: Certainly, and I think emotion and human intelligence aside, there's a business need. There’s tons and tons of research that shows the more diverse team, the more backgrounds and opinions on the team, the more successful that team is. Whether someone from their heart believes in having a more diverse team, or someone who is business-minded, there's a really strong case for more diversity so it's cool to see that there's that there’s progress and big leaps being made.

JCR: Yeah, and the more we have different people, especially in teams working together directly, it becomes a petri dish of cultural interactions. This lends itself to growing in a diverse way and an inclusive way as well.

MR: Mila and I actually went to a workshop this last week that just talked about ways we can be more inclusive. Something [we discussed] is cultural differences. Mila can attest a little bit to this—and I'm sure you can Joanne as well. In America, people are applauded for speaking out, and dominating the conversation. But, that's not necessarily the norm in Australia. Isn’t that right, Mila?

MT: No, it's more so in Australia there is the term “tall poppy syndrome.” For a long time, we’ve almost been afraid to stand up as ahead of anyone. No one wants to say “I'm the best at this,” “I'm the best at that.” There's kind of this feeling, you want to kind of be the same as everyone else whereas in America, I found it's almost the opposite. In this workshop, it was just bringing light to all these different cultural norms and expectations. It was just so interesting to hear from different people on how this can be the perceived, and how without even realizing you could be more inclusive or how you are currently being exclusive.

JCR: Yeah, I find the same way. And I think you know there's pros and cons. There's definitely that cultural difference in Australia where people don't want to stick out too much. But you know, the disadvantages of that perhaps are that we're not going to be able to lead if we don't put our views out there. In creative thinking and innovation, we need to lead.

MT: Right. And I also think that idea is paralleled between men and women often. I think men—and this is a generalization—have no problem standing out, whereas women tend to, for whatever reason, not want to say “I should lead this team” or “I'm the best to lead this team” when they very well could be.

JCR: I think what women tend to do is they start to think: “How do I best support these views by research I might have done or my work experience and things like that?” Men may not necessarily think that way, and they just say, “Well, I support these views,” without necessarily needing to back it up.

MR: This is really interesting to me. If you are presenting your views as a woman, how do you find that that's been perceived? Well, do you feel like you have toe a line?

JCR: Well, it's funny, actually, because when I started in the industry, which was in the late 90s, that were actually more females that dominated at the time. Think scanning machines, lots of hard copy—it was called litigation support. So essentially, anything that was hard copy, we would scan; electronic data was quite off, but it was there. We put things on CDs. We had to process them and there was a lot of manual barcoding, which is putting stickers on pieces of paper. So, it was quite interesting and riveting—and I’m putting that in a really, really nice way. And at the time, it was actually incredibly female-dominated. I don't think I even recall any males in my team. It wasn’t until it became more electronic, I think probably toward the early 2000s, that we began to see more data scientists and analysts getting into this kind of area, but not directly into discovery. I mean, even the term “e-discovery” didn't come along until around that time as well. So that was still a very new term. It used to be called discovery litigation. For whatever reason, I think, men are attracted to electronic data more than perhaps the processing of hardcopy data, and it's become more of a game of computers and who's got the best algorithms to analyze and interpret data.

MT: That's really interesting.

JCR: And from my own personal experience in litigation and in e-discovery, as compared to my previous attempts at other careers, I haven't actually found any discrimination in terms of gender. From where I've been in e-discovery, that has been an incredibly positive. I normally don’t realize I’m the only woman in a meeting until I sort of then look at myself and start introspecting. Compared to being in a top-tier firm and also trying to get into a commercial news channel as a journalist, I think I really felt like I really stood out a lot more then in a negative way than in litigation support or e-discovery.

MR: So, I think Mila, since you both are from Australia, I can let you take over.

MT: Yes, Australia is a big place. Some people in the States don't quite understand that Australia is just about the same size as the States. So, I am sure you and I had a very different growing up experience. You touched on what your early career was like, but could you share just what growing up in Australia was like for you?

JCR: I moved from Singapore, a busy Asian city, to a country town in rural Australia in the late 1980s. Most of the reason why we moved were family reasons and wanting to be close to the family. A lot of my [family was my] maternal side, so my grandmothers had actually moved across due to just progressive people migrating either for work or for personal reasons. We just all wanted to be together and it just happened to be a rural town. Now being the only Asian female in high school, it was definitely hard to go unnoticed. There were times I just didn't want to be noticed. And also, I had very traditional tiger parents, which is very typical coming from Singapore. They're just like a dime a dozen. But when you put that in a country town in rural Australia where everybody was so laidback, it was very difficult to assimilate, and I just felt different all the time. You can take it as a good thing that people always notice you, but [it’s] hard to get into trouble without getting noticed. But it was also sometimes not a good thing because there were a lot of not very inclusive views, especially in high school. High school is generally difficult for most young Australians anyway to fit in with all the hormones raging, and also just trying to get good grades to get into university. It was always going to be a tough time, but I thought it was actually quite difficult.

MT: I feel like in high school, everyone just wants to not stand out. That's the goal of the day—go to school, get your work done, and not stand out. So I can imagine that'd be pretty tough.

MR: Australia or the US, you always just feel a little out of place, especially being from a different background. Mila is pretty chill and Australia is more relaxed. [I imagine] your parents being how a lot of parents were like where I grew up—very dedicated to school and on you to get those grades. It was probably a lot different.

JCR: Having a study session was just such a weird thing to even suggest, and that would be the only thing that my parents would probably agree to if I invited friends over. Yeah, so generally quite a tough time. But it was great when I eventually got out and went to university.

MT: Where did go to university?

JCR: First degree I did at the University of Newcastle. At the time, there were two universities—Charles Sturt or University of Newcastle—to do journalism. So, quite a new thing. Not many universities actually offered it. I did law school at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

MT: Cool. I actually worked at the University of New South Wales for a number of years. I worked at Student Central. I was answering phones all day.

JCR: What year was that? Was that in the early 2000s?

MT: Yeah, exactly.

JCR: We could have run into each other. That’s amazing.

MT: If you had lost your student ID, I would have been your gal. What are some of the things that you loved at university during that time period and beyond?

JCR: I think university was a great time for myself, but also I think a lot of people enjoyed university because I think when you break out of high school, you get to really focus on what you're actually interested in doing. University gives you that further exposure, but also the focus and time to explore what interests you and [lets you] go into particular subject areas that you're wanting to study a little bit more. Australia, I find, is such a diverse country. I think university opened my eyes to that because after growing up in a rural town, going to a bigger city, you could see that there were people from different cultures. There were international students as well, which I didn't actually get any glimpse of where I grew up. There were also different courses that people studied. It was so different, so many different varieties. And what I love about Australia as well is the typical slogan that you do here when you live in Australia, and it's this thing called “give it a go.” Now, I think Mila, you will probably hear that more than you would, Mary. But what it just means is that it's having an opportunity to explore something. And that's what “give it a go” means. People are willing to look at something perhaps in a new way, test something out, or do something differently without fear of any sort of failure or repercussion, but just giving it a go. It's an incredibly positive slogan that we have in Australia. I think growing up, that was the first time I heard it when I moved to Australia. It's still something that I say a lot myself, but also I just feel if we were to promote that a bit more [in our] diversity and inclusion policy, I think it would really make it something different that we can offer the world.

MT: I agree. And when you just said that I can just hear my dad in the back of my head just telling me to give it a go. No matter what it is. That sent like a warm shiver down my body.

MR: I am using it now too! I have a permission from you guys.

MT: I agree 100 percent with all that. There’s definitely that—have a crack, give it a go. And that's what it's all about.

JCR: And it's funny, isn't it? Because I think earlier, we talked about the tall poppy syndrome. You've got that, but then you've also got all these other terms. The other term I wanted to mention is egalitarianism, which I heard for the first time when I moved to Australia. It is about having a level playing field for everybody, having a fair go, which is like the same opportunity to all. It’s quite contradictory to the tall poppy syndrome, where you don't want to stick out. At the same time, when we say that we have all these differences or negativity that Australia may be known for, there's also all these positives as well that don't get celebrated enough. Egalitarianism, having a go, giving it ago, having a fair go—all these things, I think we really should be exporting to the rest of the world.

MR: How can we, as an industry, elevate emerging leaders in this space and encourage people to take on leadership roles and e-discovery?

JCR: I think it's so important to develop a company-wide sponsorship program, which actively targets emerging female leaders within the team—not promoting from outside, but promoting from inside and actually seek out opportunities to showcase their leadership potential. So, I've taken a lot of time to actually work out what is the difference between a sponsor and a mentor. Mentors are really great, you know, it's someone that you can actually bounce ideas off, who supports you in your endeavours and your career as well. But the difference with a sponsor is that they can actually have an effect on your career direction in where you are. They actually have the power to promote you, or to seek out very influential people that can then also support you in your career. I'm currently in a program at Deloitte. It's called Aspiring Women 2019. So, I was selected to be part of that program just this year. And this is something I'm really relishing in and it's just amazing. I’m grateful to be selected. A lot of the time we just spend all our lives just working away at the pressing deadline or something that you have to give to a client. But this gives you that option to focus on yourself—and look at: What is your capability? Where are your strengths? What can you actually do to contribute to the organization? Such a program I think is incredibly important.

MR: Joanne, this was really, really fun.

JCR: Yeah, I've had a really great time.

MR: Thank you so much to our listeners for tuning in.

MT: And with that, for Stellar Women in e-Discovery, I'm Mila Taylor.

MR: And I’m Mary Rechtoris, signing off.

MT: Signing off.

MR: Mila, you missed it.

Mila Taylor is on the marketing team at Relativity, where she specializes in building and supporting the Relativity community.