A quick search for law firms and diversity on Google will return a myriad of “Diversity Scorecard” news. Since at least 2016, ALM Intelligence, an information and intelligence company, has been ranking the diversity of a law firm’s composition as firms have been advocating for greater diversity in the workplace. Among the actions taken by law firms to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) is the hiring of dedicated DEI directors, such as Nelson Mullins’ Kat Taylor.
As any person who identifies as a minority knows, rankings and actions can look great on paper but lack impact. At Nelson Mullins, that has not been the case, and we can look at WinFin as a case study. To us, diversity is more than a buzzword. We recognize that diverse teams boost creativity and innovation, and lead to better decision-making. We sought to bring these benefits to our practice areas.
In the fall of 2021, we met up to catch up, ask each other who to speak to about FinTech, and share our experiences of being women in industries that are often described as “boys’ clubs” (big law, technology, finance, and FinTech). The answer to who can speak to in that cross-section was a resounding silence.
So, what do you do as two young female associate attorneys who do not see yourselves reflected in your specialization? Make space. That is what we did. Within a month we had reached out to leading women and FinTech partners at Nelson Mullins and together we decided to start a group for women in FinTech, what quickly became “WinFin.” In creating WinFin to bring together women working in FinTech, we found a need to go beyond our internal network. With the assistance of the internal WinFin group and Kat Taylor, what had started as a desire for professional community became the inaugural WinFin conference. In partnership with Miami Dade College and Silicon Valley Bank, Nelson Mullins brought together leaders with experience in different aspects of FinTech and diversity. The primarily women-led panels discussed everything from how traditional banking and financial institutions are addressing FinTech to challenges for FinTech startups to the importance of diversity. Moreover, we sought to recognize speakers of different ethnic backgrounds.
The fact that WinFin came together at all is a testament to not only Nelson Mullins’ dedication to DEI, but also to the need for this type of event and community. But the buck doesn’t stop there. Though WinFin is still in its infancy, those of us who created it and want to continue growing both the group and the conference have recognized that our impact can be far-reaching. In addition to the inaugural conference, WinFin and its members have spoken on the Business Case for Women in FinTech, as part of Nelson Mullins’ FinTech University and sponsored Boston Blockchain Week.
Internally, WinFin spurred a series of changes as well. Many of the attorneys who helped found WinFin had felt they were unable to find space to learn more about FinTech and integrate it into their work. In fact, many of them had never gotten to work with Nelson Mullins’ pre-existing FinTech team, though they were interested in doing so. However, since the creation of WinFin, at least two of the founders have switched from their original practice to the FinTech practice, including a partner. The Chair of the FinTech team has also made it part of their job to ask WinFin members how much FinTech work they have and if they would like to be doing more; he among many others has been a true ally.
In the end, however, WinFin is a case study, and not a promise that this can happen as easily elsewhere or with other minority communities. So, what can you do to try and make space in a field where you feel underrepresented?
- Find a Peer. Find someone with similar interests and goals that can hold you accountable to striving toward your maximum potential. Bounce ideas off one another and build each other up. Play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Find an Ally. Find someone internal or external to your organization that can help you build your network and credibility—someone that can help make introductions and get your foot in the door. You will be surprised to find how many people are willing to help if you bring them a plan or idea about which you are passionate.
- Make it Happen. Come up with realistic, achievable plans and execute on them. Do you want to be recognized as a leader in your office or field? Do you want to get staffed on certain matters? Utilize all of the resources available to get you there.
Eventually, we hope and expect that WinFin will no longer be a case study, and instead it will be just one of many success stories of minorities finding space and building community access where we feel marginalized.
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