Editor's Note: Because Stellar Women in e-Discovery operates on its own publication schedule, you may notice an episode or two missing, or appearing out of order, in 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.
After chatting with Maribel Rivera, it came as no surprise that she was the winner of our inaugural Inclusion Breakthrough of the Year Award. This Innovation Award celebrates an individual who is a driving force in creating a more equitable industry, organization, and/or local community where everyone feels like they belong. And Maribel is the epitome of what this award means.
In this episode, Maribel openly walked us through her life's events that led her to be the compassionate and driven leader that she is today. It was such a pleasure to learn about the strong network of people she has created for herself, as well as how to be the CEO of our own lives.
Senior Director, Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists | ACEDS
Sales & Marketing Event Specialist | Maribel Rivera Marketing and Event Services
Mary Rechtoris (MR): Hey, Stellar Women fans, I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.
Mila Taylor (MT): And I'm a co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in legal tech.
MR: Today, we have Maribel Rivera on the podcast. Maribel is an independent marketing consultant and she's also the senior director of community relations at ACEDS. Thanks for joining us today. How are you?
Maribel Rivera (MRA): Mary and Mila, I am wonderful. Thank you for having me.
MT: I have so much I want to get through with you, so I'm going to dive right into questions, if that's OK.
MRA: Let's go.
MT: Since you've been involved the tech world and really e-discovery, how have you seen the field become more or less diverse?
MRA: Great question. I have been in the tech world for a very long time now. I was 10 years with Nortel, and I've been in this industry for what feels like forever, maybe 15 years or more. I think that the tech world has become more and more diverse. When I first started, there weren't as many women doing the project management pieces, the analyst side, or things of that nature. Over the years, I've gradually seen more and more women embracing that tech side—embracing those skills, taking up that part, getting more curious, using their innovation, and really deciding to jump in and do the tech side. [They are] really doing more than just things on the administrative side or operational side.
MT: That's great. It's always good to hear that. What challenges do you think women face in the industry? What challenges do you think that companies might face in trying to recruit female talent?
MRA: I think it overlaps for both companies in recruiting talent as well as females coming into the field. This is one of the things that I think goes beyond just legal, but in every industry, perhaps, but it's really about the sense of confidence in your skills and that you belong in the role that you're in, or applying for a role. I think that's the biggest challenge. I don't know if you two have done this, but I know I have. It's that imposter syndrome. It's wondering, can I really do this role? Do I have the skills that are needed? Quite often we don't see men have that approach to things. They don't look at it as maybe I don't have the skills to apply for this job. They're like, you know what, I'm going to apply for it and let's see what happens. I think to embrace that is the important part. It’s saying, “I've worked on my skills. I've gone out and I've gotten certifications. I've gone to law school. I understand processes. I understand all these things. I know how to use Relativity. I know how the e-discovery process works. I've been working in legal technology for so long that I can do this job and I should go out and apply for it.” I think that's one of the things that we need to embrace more and mentor women to do—not just younger women, but also women who are older than us. Women who are the same age. We need to show women that it's okay to show that they have that skillset, to have that confidence, to say, “I deserve the seat at the table.” I think that's one of the challenges that we have to overcome. Thankfully, we're doing it—but we have to do more of that because there are still so many women who second guess themselves.
MR: I think that is a great point. I think that even extends to once they get the job, whether it's advocating for a promotion or a raise, the research that shows women don't do that at the same rate as their male counterparts. I think it's probably because they have the mindset of—well, am I really excelling at my role and checking all these boxes? The more you second guess yourself, the more reason you can find to not advocate for yourself. It could be a myriad of things that women face, whether that is getting a role, applying for a role, and just having that confidence in themselves and their skillset.
MRA: Right. Then I think what you have to do in those cases is also, once you are in that role, you have to look for allies. Look for champions and look for people who are going to help you move forward and who are going to advocate for you. What I've seen quite often is that there are men in organizations who have helped women far more often than another woman has. We have to change that. We have to change that mindset and really get other women to start advocating for each other as well. We are not competitors. We're advocates, and the more that we can bring each other up and forward, the more important it is. Then we can help other women climb that, not the ladder, but go across that jungle gym and get to the next job.
MT: That's a good point. I think for the longest time there's been a finite seat at the table for women and it's created this almost competitive nature. It became almost that there can only be one of us in the leadership position, so I've got to make sure that that's me. I really like that point that you just said about kind of reshaping and reframing how we look at it. And who's to say that the whole table can't be women?
MRA: There is a book called “How We Rise,” and it's really focused on bringing diversity more and more to the table. I'm sure the two of you have done a lot of research. When you start to bring more women to the table and more diversity to table, companies are more successful. It's researched and it's a fact. We need to start doing more of that. When women are in leadership roles, more companies have been shown to be successful. We need to find ways to make sure that that's being done.
MR: So, with inclusion, diversity, and belonging, that's really important not only to Mila and myself, but also our entire company. I am co-chair of Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWOW). Mila is a member and Relativity is really dedicated toward our community resource groups. We have several of them. It really is for marginalized communities to have a voice and spread awareness about the challenges they face and how we as a company are stronger when we have those diverse opinions, and where employees feel like they can be their authentic selves and bring their best selves to work. I notice that you are part of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Awareness, and Action Committee for ACEDS. Can you talk about how this came to fruition and why this is important to you?
MRA: Of course, and it probably takes shape in many forms. ACEDS is a subsidiary of BARBRI. BARBRI has been a longtime sponsor of Pipeline to Practice, which cultivates diversity in legal by supporting and nurturing diverse law students. They've been doing that for a long time. For ACEDS, one of the reasons I was brought in was to help ACEDS as far as diversity. We are a diverse group. We've got quite a few women in leadership roles in ACEDS. We've got men in roles. My goal was to also look at the chapters in the community. As a senior director at ACEDS, I helped to grow our chapters, bring our members together, meet the needs of our membership globally, and to bring that all back to make sure that ACEDS is practicing that diversity and equity and inclusion. I would say through the idea committee, this is fairly recent that we've just started, but the goal is to help cultivate equitable and welcoming environments for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and those persons with disability. Our goal for the committee is to do just that. We've got a number of leaders from various chapters and we'll be bringing in members as well to start working on those things. The aim is to help our chapter leadership be responsible within the chapters themselves, but also to provide collaborative experiences and guidelines and resources for them. [It is also about] engaging diversity changemakers and champions within the legal community, such as those like yourselves and others at Relativity. We want to bring more of those individuals to the table and help create guidelines and resources for others. I think that's important. Outside of legal, I'm engaged in quite a few different initiatives. I am able to bring others into the community that can talk about things like the challenges, let's say, people of color face as far as the workplace, and what kind of assistance they may need to overcome those challenges. I've got a number of individuals who talk about men in the workplace, men of color in the workplace, and how they need to be changemakers and how they need to be advocates as well for the women of color in the workplace. I work with quite a number of people in anti-human trafficking and in the homeless community as well. I am trying to show that we need to bring some of those individuals and teach them skills. Quite a few of them have just have not had the access to the things that they can do. We’ve got a lot of goals that we want to achieve, but we'll start off slowly and then gain momentum over the coming year.
MR: That's really cool, it seems like you have a lot of great plans and it seems like you have a lot on your plate. I know that when we chatted via e-mail, you mentioned that you have eight sons, six of whom are fosters, which is amazing. I think right now is particularly challenging for a lot of working parents—just having two working parent households or one working parent household and their kids are at home and their work is at home. Taking a step back, what inspired you to become a foster mom and what do you love about it?
MRA: I will say that I did not have a lot of opportunities and mentorship when I was growing up. I come from domestic violence, and so for me, I was always giving back in some way because I knew that there was maybe someone like me. There was another little girl like me out there in the world that needed somebody or another person in the world that needed somebody. I'm very all about giving. I mean, I will give the clothes off my back when I'm walking down the street. I'm the type of person that will carry a pair of socks for the homeless person on the train. I think it was just important for me to do that. My sons, Dean and Victor, they're both very giving since they were little children. All my boys are all grown now, but when they were little, you know, they would see some of their friends growing or going through something and so that's how that came about. My older son had two friends who were going through some challenges and they came home one day and said their friends needed help. That's how it all began. Then I had some girlfriends who were going through some challenges themselves and they came to stay with me. When they left, the children didn't want to leave. Basically, the children went through junior high and high school living with me and staying with me for all that time and we had a two-bedroom apartment. I was a single mom and worked a lot of hours. I would come home, make dinner, try to sit down at the table with all of them, and have those conversations about how was your day? What do you want to do? They’re all very creative and artistic, so there was a band in my house every Friday practicing until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. We had football practice. We had soccer practice, wrestling matches. I was the mom that everybody jumped in my car so I could deliver them all home. It wasn't always easy. There were times where we had some really difficult weeks. There were weeks where it was like, how do I have to take half my paycheck to pay for something? It wasn't always easy for me, especially with eight growing boys. They eat a lot. We still do Sunday dinners or big dinners together when we can, when we're all together in the same state and same place, when there's not COVID. We are always try to get together and do things together. For Thanksgiving, I have two Thanksgivings. There's one on Thursday and then there's one on Saturday because they all play football. It’s all about being there for each other and really doing it. I think it was all about me making sure that, because I didn't have those mentors or those individuals around me, I made sure that I could do that for someone else because I knew how important it was.
MT: I think that that is all amazing. I mean you can't see me because I'm in my apartment. We're all kind of separated, but my jaw is wide open. I'm just so impressed. You mentioned before we started recording that you're an energetic person and I believe it, because that is a lot. I just take my hat off to you because you've created this incredible network and support network in your house. I think that's something that, as you mentioned, can change people's lives. That’s incredible. What tips do you have for other working parents out there or other people who are trying to create a similar support network?
MRA: I think it's important to look around you at other individuals around you who are raising children. It really does take a village. Sometimes you don't realize it and it doesn't have to be family members. Family is really who you make it. There are individuals out there who can be family members. I've been blessed with really great friends throughout the years that are at my side when I am having a bad day, or when I need a chocolate bar, there's that one person who's like, get in the car, get away from the kids, and we can go have a chocolate bar, because you have to hide chocolate sometimes from your children. There’s that important piece. There are people that if you can’t pick up your kids because I have to work late, there's that individual that you can depend on. You have to create this support network. You have to rely on each other. You have to sometimes be vulnerable. So, you can be strong—but it’s really important to sometimes just break down and depend on other people and rely on people. You may have a really hard day, because maybe the kids were fighting or because you just have so much on your plate at work and now you have to come home and be strong for your kids, especially right now. Kids don't have the ability to be as social as they want. There's a lot going on. Parents have to be home and also be a teacher and also entertain their children because they can't really go out and have entertainment as much as they used to. It's really important to know that it's okay to have those moments where you break down and depend on other people to help you through, to be your shoulder, to be that column of strength for you. Sometimes we think that people look at us as parents and always think you've got to be strong, you've got to do everything, but it really does take a village and you have to surround yourself with people and the likeminded individuals in a village who are all there for each other and helping each other to succeed and helping those children to succeed. I think that's the important part.
MR: I love that you said right now it's of the utmost importance. I think we're seeing that whether people have children, or [something else], this is a really trying time for a lot of people. I think it's really made us see each other more as humans versus just colleagues when you're in the office, whether it's someone having to work adjusted hours because they there wasn't daycare, or the schools aren't opening, or you're just exhausted from all your Zoom meetings and you need to take a few hours to just not look at your computer. I think we're all a little bit more compassionate, and I think that's a bright side of what craziness has gone on in the last few months.
MRA: I totally agree with you. I think it's really important these last few months have shown you the humanity of individuals and the love, and support that people are really there for one another. I think that we need to just continue growing that, nurturing that, and being there for one another.
MR: Going off on mentorship a little bit, you mentioned why it's important to you as a mom and as a professional. In your role at ACEDS, what part does mentorship play? Who's been really important to you as you navigated your career? What advice do you have those who are interested in mentorship opportunities?
MRA: I've got quite a few people in my in my life that have always been there and mentored me. My sister Kelly. She has been an absolutely terrific mentor throughout my life. Still to this day, she's someone I can rely on. My sister Marisol as well, she's done the same. When I started my career at Nortel Networks, I would say Betty Booth, she was my manager. She was the only woman that sat at the table with a room full of men. She was in a room probably with 10 men, all in leadership. No matter how hard they tried to not let her have a voice at the table or not let her be who she needed to be, she was a force to be reckoned with. She taught the other women within her department and other areas of the organization to do the same. I would say then the other person, as far as women, my friend Phyllis Salimbeni, she's no longer with us. She passed away a few years ago from cancer, but she was also someone that was just like very good at telling me to be who you are. Don’t worry about everything else, speak up when you need to speak up with. She was also a force to be reckoned with. When she walked in the room and she had something to say, she spoke her mind. She was a beautiful woman, and sometimes there was that piece of looking at her and making sure that people saw her as a professional and not just a woman. She taught me that as well. It’s not about appearance. It's not about all of the things. It's about how you are with other people and making sure that they know that you have something to say and it's important to say it. She was a great mentor for me. Then there's been quite a few men who have been not just mentors, but maybe champions and advocates for me. They've played a huge part in my life. I can say quite a few of them have been the individuals that I go to when I need advice. I did an interview with Matthew Altass a few months back during LegalTech. I did say I have created for myself a board of advisors. I look at myself as the CEO of myself. Each of us needs to look at ourselves as the CEOs of our own brand. I am a personal brand. I am who I am. I need to create, just like Relativity has a board of advisors, any other organization should have a board of advisors, I have my own board of advisors and those include people who mentor me and provide me advice on what roles I should take as an independent consultant. Who I should work with? How do I upskill myself? Where should I go? How do I take certain roles? I've been asked to sit on different nonprofit boards and things like that, so understanding those needs and getting involved in that. I've created that board of advisors for myself, which is very important and has taken my mentors to a different level for me.
MT: I've heard of having your own board of advisors before. I love it, but I haven't heard someone say, “be the CEO of your own life.” I think that's such a nice way to look at it, because I think it makes complete sense for a company or an organization to have a CEO. You are your biggest thing.
MRA: You are your biggest thing. You are someone that can be marketable. All of us have that opportunity in our brand. You are your own brand. Even within Relativity, each of you has built a brand. You have to look at yourself that way. You have to look at yourself as I am a brand and ask how do I continue to build my brand?
MR: I love that, and as your brand evolves, your board of advisors might stay the same or you might recruit new people. It is kind of contingent on your goals and what you're trying to get to.
MRA: Exactly. I have a friend who said it best when she said: “There should always be three people. First, the person that you were—so you should have somebody in your life that is in the position where you used to be. You should look at somebody in a similar position to yourself right now, and then you should look at the person who you want to be and create the relationships with all three of those individuals to help you build your life even further.”
MT: What is something that you want to share with the larger tech community about yourself or the work you're doing or any programs outside of the general world of e-discovery?
MRA: One of the things I'm most proud of, and it's because I work with quite a few people in legal technology on this, is the Life Preservers Project. The Life Preservers Project is an anti-human trafficking nonprofit. It is one of the things that I dedicate a lot of time to. What we don't realize, and this comes back to the diversity piece, is that there are a lot of men and women from communities that are underserved such as people of color and our LGBTQ community, who are being trafficked here in the States from our local communities. They come from foster homes. They come from orphanages. They come from broken homes. They come from places where they don't have mentors. I think it's really important for us to look at those people and really focus on how we can do better to help serve those communities and help each other. The other thing I do is some mentoring with Coalition for the Homeless and they have a first step job program to help women. A lot of times, they are they are scared of rejection, but they have skills. Some of them are legal assistants, and they no longer have a job. They lost their job. They're trying to get back on their feet. There are so many people out there who have skills or who have the capability to do great things. Our community, the legal technology community, has the ability to really go out there and help. We've got all these kids in underserved communities who need help just having that first step, getting that first job, and getting those skills. They're knowledgeable. They can do things. They just don't have the opportunities. Legal technology is a huge industry. We make billions of dollars. Even e-discovery itself is a billion-dollar industry. There's ways for us to give back and help those individuals in those communities and help those in our underserved communities move forward and find ways that they can feel like they're making change in their own life. I think that's the important part. I think it's about giving back and finding ways to give back. If anyone doesn’t know how to give back, I'm happy to have a conversation with anyone. [It could be on] how to be a mentor or how to get involved in some of the local anti-trafficking organizations that are all across the US and how to work in underserved communities. It’s small things like just going to your local community and figuring out what programs they have and how you can be a mentor for somebody in that local community or working in one of the schools and providing help within one of those schools. It's really small little things that we can do. The one thing I love with Life Preservers is that these are all people from legal technology who take the time on a monthly basis to give back. We put programs in place. We interview people. Right now, we're making hand sewn face masks and donating them to those living in shelters. Things like that help to make a difference. I think that's the important part. Our legal technology community just really needs to know, and a lot of them do, that we need to do more and help more because there's so many great people, especially the kids out there, in our community. They have such great skills and such capability. We just need to nurture it. I think that's the one thing I would love to see more of from our community.
MR: Our CEO, Mike Gamson, is super passionate about a program we launched, Relativity Fellows, and a quote I think encapsulates what you said really well that we use a lot from Leila Janah: “Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.”
MRA: Exactly. I couldn't agree more, and I love that quote. I'm going to probably post it somewhere because I love it so much.
MR: I'll send it to you.
MRA: Thank you. I love it.
MR: Thanks so much for joining us.
MT: Thank you so much.
MRA: Well, thank you both. I love that I've started my week off this way. Thank you both for having me. Thank you so very much.
MR: And for Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And I'm Mila Taylor.
MT & MR: Signing off.
MT: We missed it again.
MR: No, we got it.