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Your single source for new lessons on legal technology, e-discovery, compliance, and the people innovating behind the scenes.

Stellar Women: 2020 Year in Review with Kenya Dixon

Mary Rechtoris

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.

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We’ve all had to pivot this year, including the Stellar Women community. Mila and I had to rethink how to engage with our community, and with each other.

We didn’t get to live out our mutual dream of becoming influencers in the recording studio … But what we did find was better. With 2020 including 18 episodes and more than 20 guests, the podcast allowed us to engage in authentic and honest conversations with our community. We talked about everything from rethinking career paths, to finding new ways to disconnect, to quarantining with family members, friends, or alone. We’ve all had a trying year, but it helped to talk about ways to uplift each other and continue to build our careers in a year where many lost their traction. Although it sounds like a cliché, this niche industry is here for each other and that is exceedingly important right now.

We were excited to welcome this year’s Stellar Women Innovation Award winner, Kenya Dixon, to open the next season of Stellar Women. In this episode, Kenya shares what she’s learned about herself this year, connecting with mentors both in and outside of your industry, and why you should always have a plan (and be okay if that plan shifts in a completely new direction).

Kenya Parrish-Dixon

Kenya Parrish-Dixon

General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer
Empire Technologies Risk Management Group


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.

MR: This episode is our third time ever doing our Year in Review. And as per tradition, we are reflecting on the year and bringing in this year's Stellar Women Innovation Award Winner. So we're really excited to soon bring in Kenya Dixon.

MT: But before chatting with Kenya, we wanted to share some quick highlights from Stellar Women this year. For one, we had some amazing guests on the podcast—shout out to everyone who joined us this year and those allies who joined us as well, including our 2019 Stellar Women Winner Stephanie Clarkson and Inés Rubio, Cassie Parker, Candice Corby, Susan Wortzman, Maribel Rivera, Lesley Chan, Kamaka Martin, Rachel Billstein, Heidi Girod, Raji Kaur, Joanne Fung, Kim Olivier, and Sati Soni. 

MR: Mila and I loved having some of our Relativity colleagues on here, whether that was Blair Heidenreich walking us through a lesson on improv to Karimah Campbell sharing how many are navigating these uncertain times. Thanks to all the Relativians who joined us. We truly think you all are stellar. Shout out to Winnie Lai, Walita Jendo, Clare Longworth, Megan Twibell, Janice Hollman, Bernadette Ford, Betty Nguyen. We also had some allies on the podcast to share some of their insights and thoughts. From Relativity, we had JC Steinbrunner and Johnathan Hill. We also had Terrence Searle from Altlaw Law and Michael Lalande from MT>3. Allyship is so important not only to us and our podcast, but for elevating women in any industry. We need our allies to help drive our message and further the careers for all-star female professionals.

MT: Just a plus one and a big shout out to all of our allies. Another thing that was really crazy this year was we all went virtual, including the Innovation Awards.

MR: For sure. Even though we were virtual, I think we found a cool way to engage with our community. We really loved working with some of our Stellar Women finalists this year at Fest. Thanks to Lekecia Barclay, Sarah Sims Thompson, and Kenya Dixon. We had them on the Stellar Women podcast. We talked about gender equity and how that can really help organizations not only retain but hire top talent.

MT: And Johnathan was the co-host for that one. He did a wonderful job replacing me. Another thing is that we had such good engagement during Relativity Fest this year during our Stellar Women Takeover. So, keep your eyes peeled for some programing coming in 2021. We love chatting with you. We love the real time questions and interaction. We're really going to try put some stuff together to continue that conversation and let us all keep connecting with each other.

MR: Awesome. So, with that, why don't we bring on Kenya.

MT: Go Kenya!

MR: Go Kenya.

Kenya Dixon: Thank you for having me. Good morning.

MR: How are you?

KD: I'm great. I mean, it's a sunny day. We don't have snow yet, but we're healthy, busy, and productive. So I have a lot to be grateful for.

MT: We have so much that we want to talk to you about, so I am going to jump right in. And let's start with you winning this Stellar Women Innovation Award. What was it like learning you won the award? And, why is it important for you to elevate women in tech? How can we continue to support each other?

KD: Let me tell you, I was so excited to learn that I had won this award. I'm very, very excited to be recognized by the industry and by Relativity. I was so excited. My friends and family were excited for me because I talk about the industry, work, and Relativity quite frequently. They were happy for me. I was happy for me. And so, we're just happy. Thank you again for that. With regards to women in the technical industry now, I was a litigator for a number of years. I'm a lawyer and I remember sitting in a meeting many, many years ago and the partner that we worked for saying: “The law belongs to women. So, women, get out there and market and I will support you.” And the interesting thing about that was that partner, at the time, was very aggressive in supporting the women that work for him. And that made a difference in how I felt about marketing and how I felt about myself and how it changed my understanding of who I was in that space. I think that type of support of women makes it easier for women to recognize their own skills and what they bring to the marketplace. Women are fabulous innovators. We work twice as hard for half as much pay. Women contribute so much to any industry that we're heavily involved in, but we usually are very afraid to put ourselves out there. You need someone to say, “Wow, you're dynamic, you're smart, you're innovative, and you're going to really be the difference between where we are and where we're going.” I hope to be that for other women in the industry just like so many people have been for me.

MR: If somebody doesn't have that champion, maybe they're newer to a company or newer to an industry … They may not have that person to really push them and validate their work ethic and who they are as a professional. What advice would you have for them to build their network and find those champions who can be that voice for them?

KD: If you don't get it naturally and organically in your workplace, I think there are a number of things you can do to reach out to other people, and you don't have to just reach out to women. Many of my mentors over the years have been men. I think men are wonderful mentors for women when they're willing to be that. If you find somebody that you connect with, connect with people on a human basis. So recently I started doing this thing where when I meet women who I find are stellar, I ask them if they would want to have a virtual lunch or a virtual coffee. And it's not even business related. It's just like, hey, let's connect. And I think when you connect with a number of really smart women in your industry or in any industry, you learn a lot of different things. I would also say connecting with people who are not in your industry, that's important for your growth. And I'll give you an example. I was reading a book about how to be a chief operating officer. I had never been a chief operating officer, so, I was reading a book on it. You can read a book, you can look at podcasts, listen to podcasts, and read a lot of materials out there. I was reading the book and my boss said to me, “Hey, that's an interesting book that you're reading.” I said, “I'm learning a lot because I don't know how to do this job yet, but I'm learning.” And I said, “You know, I've done most of these things before, but I've never done anything with regards to sustainability.” And he replied that sustainability is really hot right now. Apparently, CEOs and boards are looking for people with skillsets, but they must include sustainability. And he said, “I sit on a board on sustainability for some county.” And, he was like, “I’ll invite you on the board.” Having that conversation is really important. Have those conversations and pull resources from any place you can to learn and keep growing.

MR: I think that's a great point to expanding beyond your industry, because there's so many talented women out there. We all face similar challenges, and sometimes it's not having your voice heard effectively. I don't think that's solely the tech industry. Whether it's friends or even your LinkedIn connections, you can just have a conversation and bounce ideas off one another.

KD: Chat to people you know are rock stars. You know, I have reached out to cybersecurity experts, including Amanda Fennell at Relativity, many, many, many times. I am not afraid to call up cybersecurity people and pick their brain and have conversations about that with them. Will I ever be a cybersecurity expert? No, because I don't have time to do that full time. But I need to speak the language. I need to know what the requirements are and what the industry is asking. I need to be updated on the latest breach. I need to be aware of those things. So, call up someone you know who has expertise and have a conversation with them. People love talking about what they do. No one has ever said to me, “I'm not going to have that conversation with you about my industry.” Amanda loves talking about cybersecurity and she's a rock star. Right? So, I would say just call people, and have conversations.

MT: I think that's such a good point. For some people, getting on the phone and calling people is a hurdle in itself. But there's so many avenues now where you can reach out to people, especially being remote. I feel like you can reach out to people on LinkedIn. You can send them an email. There's just so many ways to get in touch with people and build those relationships. And that is such a good, tangible piece of advice. Thanks for sharing that. On the podcast episode with the [Stellar Women] finalists, you mentioned that this year will be important in terms of focusing on the planning and the strategy of your team's processes and plans. What tips do you have for listeners who may be finding it a little bit hard to devote time to the strategy part of their work? And what have you found successful when planning for what's to come?

KD: I have a vision of where I think I want things to go, and I always start with a really big dream. I always dream big. I start with: “What is a goal for the company?” It may be a three-year goal, [such as] how much we need to earn, and these are the industries we need to be in. And all of that's in my head. I have a lot of conversations in my head and oftentimes they seep out of my mouth. I walk around talking to myself, especially early in the morning and late at night. I'm having these conversations like okay, what's the next step? What am I going to do that gets me to where I want to go? I start with a really large, extremely unrealistic dream. And then I write that dream down. It's so funny because we refer to my refrigerator as the magic refrigerator, because when I have a really large dream, I write it down. I put it on the refrigerator. I think it's really important to visualize, to see your end goal and then start working toward that goal. And you can then jot down [things like]: What are the next steps? And take bite sizes of strategy and steps. Who do I need to help me with this? Do I need to ask for help? What are the resources I need to accomplish this? Is that realistic? And you will change directions a little bit. When working towards that goal, what I think happens is you're progressing and progressing rapidly, and people say, “Oh, my gosh, you move through things so rapidly.” This is because I create really large, magical dreams that people say are impossible. Plenty of CEOs have told me my dreams for this company are impossible. I just say, “Okay.” Now, if I missed that goal, that's fine, but you better believe that we accomplished something, and we will be progressing through a lot. Dreaming big and visualizing is the first step. Or, maybe those are two steps: having the big dream and then visualizing it. The industry has to realize … There are names of companies that I desire to acquire on my refrigerator. When I have company, I take those names down off the refrigerator and put them in the drawer, so when company shows up, they aren’t terrified about me buying their company. I have always put the gold on the refrigerator. Not everyone does that. Some people have vision boards. Some people keep lists or journals. [Whatever it is], get it out of your head. If you can visualize it, get it out of your head and onto a piece of paper or someplace where you can see it regularly. Put it out there and makes sure that you work toward it.

MR: That's great. That reminds me of our recent episode with Heidi and Rachel. We were talking about five-year plans and how it's often the dreaded question. But I think, as Heidi said, if you don't think through where you want to go and what that big dream is, you might be in the same spot, which is fine if you're content and happy with that. But for a lot of people, you don't want to be looking back and think, “I wish I would have thought about this more strategically.”

KD: You often never end up exactly at the same place. But where you end up is so amazing. It's so amazing. Like, I had a goal. I knew I was going to go here. I was going to do that and try this. But other things get in the way of that. And if you keep progressing towards a goal, magical things happen. That's just the way the universe works. You’ve got to work hard toward those goals. But my girlfriend and I say, “Have a plan, work the plan.” It gets you to the next step.

MR: And so, you started your career as a litigator, then went into the government sector, and now you're at Empire Technologies Risk Management Group. So, you haven’t necessarily pivoted careers as much as [gone into] different sectors that you've been embedded in. In the new year, especially this year, 2020, being kind of crazy, it brings up a big time of reflection. And there might be some people who are considering switching titles or industries or whatever that may be. So, what advice would you give for people who are contemplating that shift? And what did you find successful for moving from one sector to another?

KD: I would say before you leave, sit down and figure out what you've learned during that job. If you haven't yet learned anything there and there's something for you to learn, stay and learn it. Learn something wherever you are. Then, if you want to jump, jump. If every two or three years or three and a half years, you move on to something different, that's fine. There are so many building blocks that you have to achieve to get to the next step. Your career really is a jungle gym. It's really seldomly a ladder. I know one person that I've ever met who has had a career that is just one company. They went to a company as an intern and then went to that company when they graduated. Many years later, they are at that company and they're steadily going up the ladder at that company. I know one person like that. For everyone else, it's a jungle gym. You jump around back and forth here, but make sure you learn something. And every stop and every pivot needs to be a learning opportunity where you grasp something new. Get a new skill set that you can take with you to the next job or two or three jobs down.

MT: That's great advice. I also think it's great advice for people to just practice doing that at their current job, even if you're not thinking about leaving. Something that I found helpful is building my resume while I'm still at my job just to keep like a mental list of the things that I'm learning and achieving. Because, you know, you could look back at two years and be like, what have I actually done? But when you actually break it down and you sit and you look at the things you've accomplished, you’ve surprised yourself. That can be an enriching and empowering exercise to do so. I love that—devoting time to actually thinking about what I have learned, what I have achieved, whether you are ready to make a jump or not. [It’s like] self- gratification and empowers and motivates you to keep learning.

KD: One of the interesting things about being in the government is that you have these performance reviews that you have to fill out for your supervisor. You put down what you think you've accomplished. And in preparation for that, every year I was keeping a list of all the things that I accomplished. And they did this personality assessment and said that I was a driver. So, I'm driving towards a goal, a product, a project … I'm driving all the time. That's just my personality. So, I was keeping a list of everything because in the government, you have to go through this evaluation. You have to document it and send it to your manager. Then, management can send it back to you with some feedback about your performance. What that made me realize was that, one, I'm a highly productive person. A lot of people are productive and don't know it. A lot of times when you get into a slump at work and you feel like you're not satisfied, go back and look at what you've accomplished. Document it out so you know your value and you know what you've done. You also know what projects that you haven't completed that maybe you need to run back to and seal that up. And what projects can you take on? I think when you see what you've done, then you know what you can do. Then that's the place where you say, “Well, there's a void here. I could build something else.” I think documenting what you've done is really important.

MR: It reminds me of a conversation I had with Karimah Campbell, who's in our UK office. We were talking more about imposter syndrome with women and how often we face that question of, am I good enough to do this? Am I excelling? She says that she just writes down in her notebook when she thinks she did something. So, on those days where you feel like you might not be good enough, you write those down and say, “Wow, I really am doing well.” It’s a pick me up, which I think is important for men and women in your professional careers.

KD: Remember that the world will try to beat you back down into a box if they're given a chance. I mean, someone just wrote an article telling Jill Biden to take the doctorate off her name because she's not actually a PhD. I mean, it was just a ridiculous article and people responded to it. The reality is we are always feeling the pressure of being beaten back into our box. You get to a certain age when you see through that. There's certain experiences that come that you can see through that and you can push that aside and still move forward. It is really important to jot down our accomplishments so you can see them, and that helps you break out of the box that others may be trying to put you in.

MT: When we chatted earlier in the year, you mentioned how your interests are constantly evolving and changing. And I think that the last time we spoke, you said you were into entertaining and table scaping, which I'm sure took an interesting turn this year with the lack of entertaining. Mary and I are always looking for new hobbies, because we feel like we have none. Have you picked up any fun hobbies?

KD: Well, I haven't given up on the table scaping. What I did was I started buying books on home décor and decorating and table scaping and some antique books—that sort of thing. I've been learning about things from the home. But I used to be a golfer. I golfed all the time. It got me out. Every Saturday morning, I was up and every Sunday morning I was up. I spent all day outside golfing. Even as it got colder, I still got to the driving range. Then, I stopped doing that for years. And, [recently], I was in a storage unit pulling out Christmas decorations and saw my golf clubs. And my heart just was like, ah! So, my announcement is that I'm going back to golf.

MR: I love that.

KD: I used to live in Florida, but now I live in Washington, D.C. So, there's a place here called Top Golf that is out by the harbor. I think I'm going to run out one weekend and see if I still have a swing. It's a wonderful sport. It can be expensive. And back then I bought all the shoes. I think I still have 12 pairs of shoes and all the outfits which no longer fit. I have all the equipment. I'm going to dig it all out and I'm going to go back to it because I saw the clubs and I just thought, this is it.

MT: I just asked for my holiday present to get a golf lesson. When I told my dad that I was interested in golf, I mean, he obviously knows me really well. I tend to be someone who appreciates instant gratification over delayed gratification. And he was like, “I got to tell you that this is not going to be a sport. I’ve been playing golf my whole life and I still suck.”

KD: I don't think the goal is to be, like, a great golfer. I think the goal is to get through all of the holes and get to the clubhouse. And that's the goal.

MR: So you can have a good lunch.

KD: Pretty much, and a good couple of drinks and some laughs. You'll get one good shot in and you just talk about that shot for a whole week.

MR: Kenya, whether professionally or personally, what's 2020 taught you about yourself?

KD: That I don't mind being alone in the house for hours at a time—for days, weeks, months at a time. I've never really minded being alone in my own space because again, I'm always thinking about stuff and I'm having those conversations about what should happen next in my head. I’ve learned that it's okay to take the time to be careful. I have spent years racing through my life, and this year I wasn't able to race through everything. So, it's okay. I had more time to think and strategize and plan. I'm sending out holiday cards this year. I haven’t done that in 20 years. So, that’s a good thing. I'm reaching out to people and saying, “Hey, what's your address? Where are you at these days? How's it going? Let's have a virtual lunch or a virtual coffee.” And I'm keeping in touch with people that I normally would keep in touch with in different ways. Not everyone has to come to my house for dinner or coffee or for cocktails. Just call a person and say, “Hey, are you doing, what's going on?” I think I've learned that about myself … I’ve learned to look for good leadership. What I'm seeing now that I've seen for the first time is that we've had good leaders—whether in our country, corporate business, government, and other aspects of our lives—for many, many years. Understanding what good leadership looks like is something that I'm now getting a feel for. I understand more how important that is. I look for that of myself. Am I a good leader? Where can I improve in my leadership abilities? Where can I grow in those abilities? I understand now that if you are a driver, you often are impatient. So, breathe and take a step back and let your staff and people that work with you do things at their own pace.

MT: Those are good ones. So, that’s 2020. What should our listeners be on the lookout for in 2021?

KD: Shoring up cybersecurity around the legal industry is going to be a really big deal. Cybersecurity is going to really go to the next level. We tried in the government sector to be the most secure environment. I think this week we realize that if you are targeted, eventually a nation state can get in. So, number one, try not to be targeted. Trying to obfuscate where your data is located is one of the steps necessary to get through basic data security. And, then how do we build on that for the entire industry? For cybersecurity for healthcare, I read this week that for the first time we're seeing that the cybersecurity breaches can cause death. Right. They're causing deaths in hospitals and causing self-driving vehicle [accidents]. Different sorts of machinery that could be attached to the internet in some way could be breached. We're seeing that with regards to voting. That's a discussion and a conversation. Our lives are so connected to the internet and I think that data security is going to come to the forefront for everyone in our industry. Keeping data safe is probably going to be our number one call. I would say to people, look at the Association of Corporate Counsel Data Steward Program. Empire Technologies Risk Management Group is the only recommended accredited service provider for the services connected around the data steward program. And we really are serious about data security. It's a must. All of the work that we do for e-discovery, the practice of law, information governance, record keeping—all that stuff is going to fall away, especially privacy stuff, if we can't get a hold of the security. And I think 2021 is going to be a year of data security. We're going to come back strong. I think we'll see more entrepreneurs and more companies pop up. I think we'll see small companies. We'll start to see the money flow into data security companies. I think we'll see that as a growth industry attached to e-discovery, attached to the practice of law, and attached to healthcare and privacy. And I think boards will start to ask for CSOs and data security professionals to sit on the board and help corporations get a hold of that process within an organization.

MR: Kenya, we got through a lot, and it's always so fun to talk to you. I’m glad that you are well.

KD: It's lovely to see you guys. This has been a wonderful opportunity to have this conversation. I always love talking to you. Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun, and you're smart and that's good. Let's do it again.

MR: Wow. So, thanks Kenya! For Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.

MT: And, I’m Mila Taylor.

Both: Signing off.

Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.