by Mary Rechtoris
on June 25, 2020
Stellar Women in e-Discovery
Editor's Note: Because Stellar Women in e-Discovery operates on its own publication schedule, you may notice an episode or two missing from our blog coverage of the show. To ensure you don't miss any insights, find Stellar Women in your favorite podcast app and follow along to catch each episode as it airs.
Cobra Legal CEO Candice Corby has made it her mission to empower women—both within her company and throughout the world. Stellar Women chatted with Candice about the importance of elevating female professionals across many industries, and how her team takes the bias out of hiring top talent.
Tune into this episode to learn about how Cobra’s female attorneys are succeeding against a slew of obstacles in Chennai, India, and how the company has thrived with an 80-percent female workforce.
Mary Rechtoris: Hey, Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.
Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.
MR: Mila and I are really excited for today's episode. We have Candice Corby, who is the CEO of Cobra Legal Solutions. Candice, thanks so much for joining us today.
Candice Corby: Well, it's a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much, Mary and Mila.
MR: Candice, before diving in: We have a lot we want to cover today, but want to see, with everything going on with COVID-19, how you, your team, and your loved ones are doing?
CC: We are actually doing quite well, I have to tell you, and this is a huge shout out to both my management team and my IT team. They have done an absolutely marvelous job. Cobra is headquartered in Austin, Texas, but we also have a large contingent in southern India, in Chennai. It's an area where, over the past five years, there has been significant flooding. When I say flooding, that means the rain won't stop and the floods go up to your chest high. If you think about that, we have had to put in place, over the last five years, a business continuity and pandemic plan to handle working from home. It’s because none of our folks could get out of their houses because of the floods, so we were very poised to handle such a pandemic, probably more so than most of our comrades in arms in the e-discovery industry because of our location. I travel abroad quite a bit, and I was in Egypt in early March. We began deployment of our business continuity and pandemic plan in the beginning of March. We were fully ready and had our entire team on remote work standby, prior to shelter in place in the US and/or lock down in India. Cobra is 100 percent operational, and we are fully VDI, and VDA compliant.
MT: I've definitely seen that on our team at Relativity—how motivated and passionate people are still. They’re thinking let's like try get as much done as we can while at the same time, caring for each other in a different way that we haven't had to do before. I think that's the silver lining of this.
CC: Just as an FYI, and a plug for Relativity from a company that uses Relativity extensively, our team is really excited because they're doing a lot of Relativity training. That's been a positive as well. I think the ability and knowledge to use the platform will be increased during this time as well.
MT: Our training team has been kept very, very busy, so it's nice to see that people are trying to better themselves and educate themselves in different ways. I'm going to jump into some questions because we have a lot to get through and I'm very excited to get to know you and get to learn about Cobra a little bit more. Mary has filled me in on some of the conversations that you've had about your career and the amazing work you've done to empower women across the globe. So, to kick us off here—why is female empowerment such an important mission for you?
CC: Well, I think as a female leader, and a female CEO, first of all, there aren't many of us that are out there. I feel a pretty strong responsibility, a big social responsibility to bring others along with me. I've worked really hard throughout my entire career to sort of “break through that glass ceiling” and now it's more of pulling those up onto the platform with me. I think that's why it's so important to me. I've made it this far in my career and I think it's an opportunity to help others to do the same thing in theirs. It's not necessarily a negative, it's a pull those up with me, and behind me, and in front of me. Push them up beyond me and pull them up with me.
MR: You have led a great career doing that for women. This year, based on your LinkedIn, I noticed you have taken on some very important roles. I'd love to dive into those! In addition to being CEO of a global company, you're the executive mentor of the US Department of State Global Women's Mentoring Partnership and you're also president of the eastern division of the Women’s India Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I want to dive into both but before doing that, how do you do sleep?
CC: Well, nobody succeeds alone, Mary, and I think that's what this is all about. It’s about bringing women across geographies, across countries, and across the globe together as kind of sisters in solidarity. Our former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created the US Department of State Women’s Mentoring Partnership years ago. She put this partnership together. It brings together women leaders and women entrepreneurs from around the globe, and allows them to come to the United States and have a mentor that is a CEO role who has succeeded in their industry. We mentor someone else who might be just starting out or beginning her own entrepreneurial journey. [The program aims to] give them the wind in their sails to get beyond where they are. My mentee is a fabulous gal. Her name is Phetogo Molati. She is from South Africa. She was supposed to be here on March 20, her birthday, but unfortunately, with the global pandemic, the sails have been pulled down for a moment. She'll be coming later in the year hopefully. She started her own law firm in South Africa and is trying to get that up and going. I think she has about 14 employees so far, which is very exciting. That's a wonderful program. It's been going on now I think for 15 plus years. A lot of women from across the globe come to the United States to understand how to continue their business. So that's Global Women's Mentoring Partnership. Now the WICCII (Women's India Chamber of Commerce & Industry), that is a collaboration between the US and India. Obviously that's pretty near and dear to my heart because I have 80 percent women that work for me worldwide. Many of them are in India. What I want to see are those women able to continue their careers against what sometimes can be amazing obstacles. What WICCII does is fosters that back and forth in regard to women's commerce by supporting it through governments, local establishments, and businesses in both countries. What I have in the United States is a team of 20 women business leaders in the eastern part of the country that will come together weekly and quarterly to facilitate commerce across countries. These are women who are business leaders and entrepreneurs here in the US. We will coordinate with our counterparts in India as frequently as we can to foster commerce across industry and across country. So those are those two roles. And yeah, it's been busy, I guess I could say!
MR: Definitely. I've had the opportunity to not just speak with you about your office in Chennai, but I've spoken with some of your employees who are just fantastic! I'd love to kind of talk about Cobra. Women across the globe have challenges we're all facing in terms of gender equality, but specifically in India. What are you seeing female professionals face in that regard? And what are some of the policies that Cobra has implemented to really empower its female employees?
CC: Yeah, well, let me just say, I think you interviewed my most senior female attorney Bharathi. Bharathi came to us as a fresh attorney right out of law school. She's been with us for 12 years, and she has gone up the ranks rapidly. She subsequently got married and then she had a child. And those, believe it or not, are massive obstacles in India for a female's career. When you get married in India, there are still joint family arrangements. So, in many respects, the woman would move in with her husband's family. At that moment, a lot of times, she would then shift her career to that of a homemaker, or in Bharathi’s case, a lawyer. We were supportive enough to her and gave her the flexibility and support to let her know we understand. We do all kinds of discussions with our women and we focus on what they have to say and what their obstacles are, [including] getting them home on time, providing a safe environment, and a safe methodology to get home in the evening if they have to work late. That's a huge deal. Safety is also a huge deal in India, as you might have seen in many different publications. Safety and violence against women is still really rampant, and so getting them home safe and having a safe work environment is huge. After 8 p.m., we send all of our women home in taxis and black car service. We also call to make sure they get home safely. If they don't arrive back home or to work, we go to the home to make sure that nothing has gone wrong. So those are huge obstacles. Then, the second one is she had a child. Bharathi is just absolutely an amazing individual. Her family was so supportive of her career that her parents actually took care of the child for her during the week so that she could work in the city. The baby would stay with her mom and dad in their village during the week, and then Bharathi would go on the weekends to be with the child. Now subsequent to that, he's moved into the city. What an amazing thing that she's done by continuing her career. And again, we make sure that we can provide everything she needs from being able to handle childcare to leaving on time to remote work to being able to support her teams, wherever she is. Obviously she's one of those that's working from home and availing her Relativity skills. She is doing an exceptional job. But, I think it is the support system that we have created and because we have 80 percent women, there are a lot of very young mothers. Our average age is 28. There are young mothers and colleagues and they all support each other and lean on each other to make sure that they can get over some of these huge career obstacles.
MT: That was really inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing.
CC: Another really inspiring woman in our organization is Nithya Chandar, our global human resources manager. Well, first off, she's just an amazing human. She speaks seven languages and has multiple advanced degrees. As she speaks so many different languages, she can talk to some of these women in their native tongue. And that, of course, relieves a lot of stress. She talks to them about what it's like being married, what it's like to have a child, what is going to happen when they go to the hospital. These are things that you would think in the US are just known. They're not there. These young girls don't have any idea what to expect. There's a lot of counseling. It's beyond just career. It's really social engagement I guess you could say.
MR: Candice, diving a little deeper into maybe what gender equality or inequality looks like in India. What are some progress areas you've heard or seen, being a leader and having employees in that office?
CC: The thing that's so fabulous is when you have families that are supportive. Cobra does a get together each year when I'm in India. It is one of the trips that I make probably three trips a year. When international travel is allowed, I will go and we'll do a family day. What that entails is a full day and we invite the husbands, wives, and their children, and also their aunts, uncles, moms, dads, and grandparents to the Cobra family day. I go and I talk to their moms and their dads. I tell them that I will keep their daughters safe and we will put in policies to make sure that there's a safe environment where we will get them home safe and continue their career. You can’t imagine the amount of loyalty that that springs from a dad or a mom who is worried about their daughter or the safety of their child. That shows the difference. I mean, look at Bharathi’s family helping with childcare so that she could continue her career. That's a major shift. Usually the family is the opposite and would be pushing for her to stay home and to be a mom, a provider for the family at home rather than pursuing a career. In Nythia’s standpoint, she is a major financial support of her family and that gives her opportunity as well. I think one of the things I always say is if you can give people a financial freedom, you give them a choice. One of the things that we do at Cobra is for every single employee, we create a bank account for them. In the US, you might say, “Well, everybody has a bank account.” In India, they don't—and specifically women—don't necessarily have their own bank account. If they come to work for Cobra, we personally, as a company, set up a bank account in their name and pay their salary into that bank account so that they have control of their finances. I have said this in many a speech around the world that if you give someone financial freedom, you give them a choice, and that then gives them a voice. When you have a voice, you create hope. And that's what we try to do. I can't take every obstacle out of the way for women around the globe, but I can give them some hope.
MT: That's so amazing. And I'm almost at a loss for words. I think that’s incredible what you and the team are doing. Hats off to you and the whole team and the team of Cobra Legal. I think it goes to show that the type of workplace you cultivate really attracts the type of people like the ones you've mentioned. You're obviously doing a great job and you have a great team. The majority of your team at Cobra is women, which I think is also great, especially because of the gender imbalance in legal tech. What advice would you give to companies that say they struggle to find female talent in the industry?
CC: The reality is that I didn't set out to be an 80 percent women employer. I didn't try to increase diversity across the globe. That hasn't been my goal. My goal has been to hire the best talent for every single job opening that I've had in my company. In many times, that has been a woman or a person of color, a gay individual, or whatever it may be. I hire the best person for the job regardless of what their status is, if you will. In India, we do what I call a double blind test, so I don't even know their gender or their preferences when we're testing them. They take an exam on campus similar to the LSAT here in the United States. They take that exam, we score it, and we don't know if they are female or male or anything. The top scorers are brought in for an interview. It just so happens that we've had such an abundance of high scoring women across our testing. Again, we can't say that the test is skewed. We continually revamp the test with both men and women revamping the test. We just hire the best people for the job. I think that a lot of times by not doing that kind of a testing upfront, we have a bias towards hiring people that are like ourselves. If we have a lot of men in e-discovery and in technology and they're interviewing and the first thing they know is whether it's a male or a female, they already have an inherent bias. I would say take the bias out before you do the interviews by doing the test first and then bringing in those that score the best on the exam. That's how we've done it. Again, it just has continued to grow across the globe. I joke that I've hired various folks. Do you guys know Doug Kaminski? He worked at Relativity for years. He's now with us. I joke with Doug that I hired him because I needed some diversity at Cobra.
MR: We’re talking a lot about inclusion, belonging, and diversity at Relativity. It's been a big initiative and something that's talked about a lot. I don't think people maliciously or even consciously choose people to mentor that look like them, but if you do see someone that's early in their career, you relate to that person and feel a connection. I think being cognizant that we do have that bias is important and I love that you have this test that you're taking all of that out and then you're getting the top talent. I think that's a really amazing way to conduct your hiring.
CC: Thanks! It's definitely changed the face of Cobra.
MR: What benefits have you seen having employees across the globe with diversity of cultures and opinions?
CC: I think what comes out, is diversity of thought. I press this with all of my teams—utilize their vacations, go out in the world to travel, and experience other cultures and other people and see what it is that makes them tick and what's different about them. The more you interact with folks from different countries, from different aspects, from different areas, that to me is true diversity. You're able to then take all of those experiences and make them part of who you are and your character. All of a sudden you have a way different global vision. You become a global person rather than just a local person. Your collective experiences make you who you are and make you better able to deal with obstacles in front of you. From my perspective, it's that diversity of thought. It's diversity of vision that comes with different people from different walks. I think it just makes us stronger. It makes us more collaborative. It makes us a really amazing global team.
MR: Candice, this is so fun talking to you. I'm so glad you got to meet Mila and share all the insightful and great stuff you and Cobra are doing and just think it's really amazing work.
MT: I second that. It's honestly really, really inspiring. Thank you so much for what you're doing and for sharing with us and for your time.
CC: Well, thanks so much. I would love to share one last thing with you. I think that keeping in contact in that human touch is so, so important at this time. But what I mean, because we've had a pandemic business continuity plan for a long time. We use WhatsApp and I do periodic CEO video updates to my team and to my clients. We send those out. Lately, I'm doing a lot more of them. I think initially probably my team was like, “Oh, my gosh, here's another CEO video update.” Now, I think that they welcome the update and the connection and are using that themselves as well. I would recommend that for any CEO or any manager is to give periodic video updates to your team. It makes a huge difference.
MR: Now everybody's using video, and I do think it's just an extra way to feel connected. You can see people and help each other through this, even if it is just turning on your camera. I think that's been really helpful for me and for what we're doing as a team.
MT: Yeah, I totally agree.
MR: For Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And I'm Mila Taylor
MT & MR: Signing off.
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