For this Stellar Women episode, Mila and I chat with Gina O'Neill from Herbert Smith Freehills. Gina highlights the importance of undergoing regular training so you stay current in the latest technical trends and advance your professional development.
Having been in the industry for 29 years, Gina also shares how the industry has evolved, and how gender norms have shifted over the years. Check out the latest Stellar Women episode below or in your favorite podcast app!
Senior Manager, eDiscovery and Legal Technology
Herbert Smith Freehills
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. Mary and I are excited to chat today with Gina O'Neill.
MR: Gina is the senior manager of e-discovery and legal technology at Herbert Smith Freehills.
MT: Hi, Gina, welcome.
Gina O’Neill: Hello Mila and Mary. How are you?
MT: Good! How are you?
GO: Good, thank you.
MR: I’d love to just learn a little bit about you and your role. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Herbert Smith Freehills and your favorite part about your job?
GO: I have been in this industry now for about 29 years. For 19 of those, I have been at Herbert Smith Freehills. And I must say, I don't think there has been a job or role that I haven't had in my way up to senior manager. I have almost certainly been through all the stages. In the senior management role, I oversee 33 staff. One of my main tasks entails the training and development of our team and also onboarding new technology. I also have a global role which we're trying to develop as part of our global support model. It is essentially having a global e-discovery team where there are no borders or boundaries, and to do that we have the infrastructure to put in place. It is about overseeing the technology that goes into that platform and training globally.
MR: So being at HSF for 19 years or so, what's the secret to retaining such awesome staff for all those years? What makes you stay?
GO: Just when you think you know it all, it changes. We're constantly evolving, and the engagement. So, there is no reason for me to go anywhere.
MT: As long as you are learning and growing, then you can keep doing that in the same place. So Mary and I have chatted with you before and we know about the great work that you've been doing. Could you share with our listeners how you've worked to elevate emerging leaders in the field and within your team?
GO: I am technical myself, so I have had a very strong technical background. For me personally, one of my goals is to ensure that everybody with me is gaining new skills. It is especially important for an e-discovery team, being quite a technical team, to elevate them and ensure that they have the technical skills behind them. I do a lot of one-on-ones with people and guide them through the industry and bring them up that way as well.
MR: Why is training so important in your opinion, especially for this industry? And why do you think companies should allocate resources to get their dream team members trained up?
GO: When you're doing training, it actually forces you to open the book. It doesn't matter how good you are or how far you’ve come. You have to actually sit there and listen to somebody's training or read with Relativity or read the content online. It actually forces you to become current again. I found that hugely beneficial to actually sit through training material for Relativity. I'm also finding now, with COVID, there's a lot of content. For soft skills, you can find free webinars and training sessions to attend. I think that it’s really good for you and your development.
MR: Could you define what “soft skills” means in this context?
GO: For me, soft skills have been time management, project management, and how to how to deal with people. It's actually really interesting that people need to work out how to work as a team and under stress. With stressful environments, you don’t know how you're going to perform, but those soft skills [can help with] working with others, time management, and delegation.
MT: I think those soft skills can be harder to train. If you have someone joining your team, you can teach them the technical stuff. It’s the working as a team, understanding team dynamics, and the unspoken, soft skills that people tend to not put on their resume or focus on. But it's really important because it's harder to actually teach. So I found when people join my team or if I've joined other teams, having those soft skills has been like hugely beneficial.
GO: Absolutely. Communication is another one that's really important, particularly for us, as well. Given that we work across four cities, we are looking to be able to support our models and our clients globally as an e-discovery team. So, being able to communicate with people that aren't sitting next to you is going to be hugely important. That's a really big one as well.
MR: I agree. And especially how you come across in the way you communicate. I took a presentation training class earlier in my time here at Relativity. Something that I really learned was avoiding fillers, which sounds so easy to do. But it's a muscle that you continually have to stretch. Now I notice that if I take a second longer to pause and think through what I'm going to say, I sound more competent or that I know what I'm talking about versus people being distracted when I say “like” every other every other word. It's really tricky. And I think, as I'm saying fillers now, as I'm trying to form a thought, it is definitely something I'm really thankful for. I took that day or two to get that training and was thankful to Relativity for that.
MT: I'm going to switch gears in quite a big way now. So, Gina, in your career and based on what you’ve seen, what are some norms and stereotypes around female professions that have kept cropping up? And how have you worked to break these down?
GO: Interesting question, this. I can think of a couple of examples. One of them was that I actually overheard somebody telling a female that she wasn't technical enough. Given that I'm a technical person and I've made this my career, I thought about that for a while. I really wanted to look at how I was going to break that down. And actually, it's really about the person's development. This person may not have been in the industry for a long time and may not have built up their knowledge. So that was breaking down their pathway. And if they wanted to prove differently, break it down for them. When I first started in the industry, it was male dominated. So 29 years ago, you didn’t move a lot. You stayed where you were because there weren’t a lot of firms doing what we do. So, you know, you didn't want to burn all your bridges with the five law firms or whatever in a city. So we pretty much had to stay there and develop our careers. And over the years, I actually have seen more females coming now. And it's really exciting to see. I hope, as a leader, that people can see that you can make a career in a technical industry as a female and it's all about nurturing talent and finding out what works for them.
MT: Yeah, I think it helps as well to have, you know, leaders and people around you who don't see it as a barrier. Growing up, if I think back on my life—if I was a therapist and trying to analyze my own life—I have an older brother and my dad treated us exactly the same. He'd put me on the boy's netball. I played on the boys’ teams for everything because my dad was like, “She's better than them so she should be on the boys’ teams.” So growing up, I never saw those boundaries for myself. And I'm really lucky in that way. I've had people who might have had amazing bosses who don't see barriers now. If you weren't lucky enough to have those people in your immediate circle, seek those people out.
MR: Not to give ourselves a pat on the back, but having these conversations [is important], whether it's a networking session, podcast, or content you read. These types of barriers do exist for some people and there are ways to change [them]. It needs to be men and women changing the nature of the workforce. I think that's important, too. So anyone here who is dealing with stuff, that happens to a lot of us. Hopefully in five years we'll begin to see that shift.
MT: So this is a really broad question and it can be personal or professional or anything related. What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
GO: The best piece of advice that I've had is that you can be anything that you want to be or anything that you put your mind to. You can achieve it. You may need help navigating it from others, but if you really set your goals, you can achieve it.
MT: I like that bit about having help because I feel like you hear that a lot. It’s a mental thing that you achieve whatever you want. And I think that thought can be overwhelming to people. I know it is for me. That thought is like, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to do it?” But I think acknowledging that you can achieve what you want and also just tap into the people around you and there's going to be people along the way who are going to help you get this [is enlightening]. It’s not going to be like you wake up tomorrow morning and “I'm going to start my own business and I'm going to do on my own.” So, I like that bit that you added about having some help along the way.
GO: I think that's part of mentoring, isn't it? When you can’t see it for yourself but somebody else can see it for you?
MR: Yeah, a lot of the time.
MT: Okay, well, Gina, thank you so much for chatting with us. It was great to talk to you.
GO: It was wonderful to talk to you today.
MR: Thanks, Gina. And for Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And I'm Mila Taylor.
Both: Signing off.