In-House Counsel: A Grounding Force Of Change And Leadership In Turbulent Times
As long-time residents and employees in Silicon Valley, we realize that we live in a “bubble” full of promise-driven optimism, an unabashed entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of opportunity, and a certain sense that if you work hard, you will be rewarded.
This isn’t to say that Silicon Valley is a utopia, but it’s generally thought of as a place where your knowledge and talent is what matters — not your country of birth or religious affiliation.
Nothing in recent history shook our bubble harder than the election and subsequent recent executive orders from newly inaugurated US president Donald Trump. Perhaps most shocking to two lawyers who came to this country as refugees seeking political asylum because of religious and ethnic persecution, is the recent executive order on immigration, creating a temporary ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
As engaged members of the Silicon Valley community whose core companies, such as Google, WhatsApp, Yahoo, and YouTube, were created by immigrants, we, along with much of the United States are wondering what will come next? The late Steve Jobs’ father was an immigrant from Syria, one of the countries affected by the executive order. If he had not been let into the country the innovation giant known as Apple would not exist today. How will President Trump’s actions impact incoming talent to the valley?
And, as women of action, how can a general counsel lead and educate her company through this crisis?
- Stay connected with your feelings. The current political climate is causing shock, awe, disbelief and a slew of other strong feelings. To be the best support system for others, make sure you take time for yourself. Self-care and mindfulness can be a vital part of being an effective advocate and leader during stressful times.
- Stay resilient. A key characteristic of Silicon Valley success is to get through tough times. After all, some brilliant ideas, movements and revolutions (technological and otherwise) came out of stressful circumstances. Communicate to executives and management that this is merely turbulence, not a crash. Develop a consistent communication plan across your company to help all employees stay grounded.
- Stay cool, calm and collected. A crisis is a leadership opportunity. Others look to you for guidance and will mirror your reaction. Continue paying attention to how you feel and how these feelings are manifested in your words and actions. Consciously project a reaction you want to see in others.
- Be aware of misinformation. Very few employees understand what executive orders are, their legal status, and the timeline for them be challenged or codified. It may be a good idea to explain these legal basics across the company.
- Show you care. Identify employees who may be directly affected by any resulting changes and help them to address their individual situations. In the current climate, this may mean suspending or minimizing international travel.
- Helping versus discriminating. Be mindful and actively manage your hiring and onboarding processes, especially if they involve information requests that may implicate anti-discrimination laws. Identifying employees based on their nationality or citizenship must be well managed and done with discretion, even if you do so with intent to help them manage this political climate. Of course, manager trainings and compliant file maintenance practices are a huge part of this risk management.
- Stay current. One of the most immediate results of President Trump actions was immediate confusion. Your executives, management and employees will look to you to be up to speed on the latest developments and their impact. Regularly review official government guidance and websites. Having your hand on the political pulse will be vital in the first 100 days of this presidency, if not longer. Take time to carefully consider how these changes impact your company and its business, practices, policies, employees, partners, customers, and other stakeholders. It is a good idea to work with outside counsel to interpret and proactively manage various short-term legal risks, especially those that are employment related.
- Manage long-term risk. If you heavily rely on a global workforce and various immigration procedures for your hiring, consider focusing on retention of the key employees you already have. Focus on inspiring them to stay and continue making your company great. Invest in training and developing junior talent, both within and outside of your company. In the short term, any discipline can look like rocket science, but in the long-term, everything is learnable. Also invest in telecommunication technology, outsourcing options, and your partnerships. Now is the time to set up an infrastructure that will help you manage what may be up to eight years of turbulence.
Few times in recent history have given lawyers the opportunity to shine and be pillars of change and support. While these are, undoubtedly, turbulent, and disturbing times, we know that our community has the best leaders to tackle whatever comes our way. By standing together and staying strong, perhaps these tense times will be the catalyst of great change.
This article was originally published in Above the Law.