‘Courageous story sharing’ over sexual harassment during legaltech conferences sparks ‘inspiring response’

Social media post lamenting high prevalence of harassment at industry events prompts flurry of initiatives
New york city - times square, Manhattan at Night, blurred pic

Times Square, New York: ALM said alleged incidents took place at off-site venues emin kuliyev; Shutterstock

A LinkedIn post highlighting multiple alleged instances of sexual harassment and assault against women delegates during legaltech conferences that went viral has sparked a flurry of initiatives to tackle the problem. 

A pledge by legal service providers to deter staff from behaving inappropriately at events and the establishment of a central pool of volunteers to address the problem are among the initiatives that have surfaced since the post by Deloitte executive Deeanna Fleener was published on 1 February, the last day of the annual Legalweek conference in New York.  

A badge or pin for delegates to wear during conferences reminding everyone of the need to behave responsibly has also been mooted, while events providers have been reviewing their policies. 

In her post, Fleener, vice president, solution management at Deloitte, had lamented that “a great Legalweek has been clouded by some unfortunate actions” before observing that of “a group of 29 women, 20 had personal stories of inappropriate behaviour at a conference”. 

The examples she listed were drawn from the long-term experiences of the group and included a woman who was “pulled into the men’s room by a man who then wouldn’t let her leave” and a young salesperson who was “grabbed under the skirt by a co-worker”. 

These experiences were supplemented by several more allegations of harassment at legaltech conferences scattered among the 230 comments that Fleener’s post attracted. 

While the outpouring of anger was spontaneous, frustration had been building within the female legaltech community since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and the return to in-person events. A marked increase in aggressive behaviour by men had been noticed alongside the attendance of more women at industry conferences. 

Kalina Leopold Oak, of Legal Tech Consultants, is part of an informal network of women legaltech executives who have been providing advice and support to each other and especially newcomers to the sector. She is encouraged by the response to Fleener’s post. 

“There is no group of women I have ever been a part of – professional or otherwise – that does not have these stories,” she said. “Many of us have multiple experiences with these kinds of traumatic situations. 

“It is sad, infuriating, and it is exhausting. What feels different right now, is the inspiring way our legal community has quickly mobilised to affect positive change and the courageous story sharing from many of our peers, regardless of gender identity, that is moving the conversation forward.” 

Perhaps the most potent initiative in the immediate aftermath to the outcry is the SPLASH pledge – Service Providers Leading Against Sexual Harassment – which was devised by Cimplifi general counsel Marla Crawford and had been taken by 35 businesses by the end of last week. 

Organisations that have signed up to the pledge promise to ask attendees at conferences to “represent our company with professionalism and courtesy” and secure their acknowledgement that “any inappropriate behaviours, including sexual misconduct or harassment, will not be tolerated by our company”. 

The pledge adds: “Failure to adhere to these standards may result in consequences, including termination and forfeiture of certain compensation, as individual behaviour reflects on our collective reputation and values.” 

Businesses that have signed up to the pledge include Epiq, Everlaw, Integreon, Nuix, Relativity and Reveal among many others. 

In the immediate aftermath of Fleener’s post, Legalweek organiser ALM “vehemently condemned” alleged instances of harassment and assault at “unaffiliated venues” during the conference, which attracts 6,000 delegates.  

It added: “While these acts did not occur on site at Legalweek or at any conference-sponsored events, ALM prides itself on the community connections it creates and is committed to partnering with other key stakeholders to prevent harassment of any industry member.” 

In an update on its response, ALM told GLP it had already made some changes to its policies while it was continuing to work “with the larger legaltech community to address the issue”. 

“All event participants must now affirm our anti-harassment policy during their event registration,” ALM said, adding that it was also “rolling out updated terms and conditions for our sponsors and exhibitors which emphasises ALM’s strong anti-harassment stance”. 

Meanwhile, in a follow-up post, published a week after the event, Fleener reflected on the “incredible” response to her original LinkedIn post. 

“The support and activities being taken are proof of that and I am humbled that so many of you turned my words into a call for action,” she wrote. 

She pointed to the SPLASH initiative, as well as a project to collect the details of volunteers by Gunderson Dettmer practice innovation attorney Stephanie Goutos, and Women in eDiscovery, which is establishing a taskforce drawn from the legaltech community to address the issue. 

Fleener also urged people not to avoid industry events, a sentiment endorsed by Leopold Oak, who is disappointed by reports that some organisations are thinking of not sending women to tech conferences. 

“The idea that it would be a solution, is part of the problem,” she said. “I want to be very clear: the answer is not to remove women from social situations.”

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