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Women’s History Month: Interview with Chief Legal Officer Lora Blum

Women’s History Month: Interview with Chief Legal Officer Lora Blum

March is Women's History Month. To honor the occasion, WIN—our employee resource group dedicated to supporting women in the workplace—sat down with our Chief Legal Officer, Lora Blum. As one of SurveyMonkey's most respected executives and an all-around powerful woman, we wanted to get Lora's thoughts about what the past year has meant for women, what we still need to overcome, and what comes next.

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To celebrate the "history" part of Women's History Month—is there a woman from history that you find especially inspiring

1)Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and women's rights activist. She was born as a slave and ultimately was able to escape to freedom with one of her children and then sue to regain custody of her son in the 1820s (she was the first Black woman to win a case like that against a white man).

She was also key to recruiting Black troops for the Union Army during the US Civil War. It's incredible to imagine what she had to overcome to accomplish all that she did as a Black woman in the US during the 19th century - it's impossible not to be inspired by her.

2) Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the US cabinet (the Secretary of Labor under FDR and the longest-serving Secretary of Labor in US history). Many people think of FDR when they think of The New Deal, but fewer people know that Perkins was a primary architect and a key advocate of some most important programs that made up the New Deal, like the Fair Labor Standards Act and Social Security. I have read and thought a lot about her as we are working to get ourselves out of the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic, and think we could learn a lot from how she navigated the challenges of the Great Depression and championed the policies that ultimately pulled the US economy out of that crisis.

Why is Women’s History Month important this year, and how has that changed since last year? 

It took me some time to understand the importance of having a dedicated period like Women’s History Month, but I’ve learned that looking back on history is so important not only to see how far we’ve come, but also where we’re at risk of repeating the same mistakes. There’s certainly a good deal to celebrate in terms of women’s progress, but we also need dedicated time to focus on and amplify women’s voices—and to hold our leadership in business and politics accountable. 

According to the National Women’s Law Center, 100% of the jobs in December lost in the US were held by women. How has COVID-19 set us back, and will we recover?

It is really frustrating because it feels like 1 step forward, 2 steps back. At the beginning of the pandemic, some of us thought maybe the burden of childcare and homeschooling would fall equally on both parents but we’ve seen that that hasn’t been the case. Women are often working, helping their kids with school, doing the housework—so even for women who have secure jobs, the prospect of doing all of that additional labour is exhausting. 

It’s not surprising that we’re seeing women drop out of the workforce voluntarily, on top of the job losses in women-dominated sectors like the service industry. I don’t know how we’ll recover from this—I think it’s going to depend on the economy, which I believe will continue to require additional stimulus from the government—but we certainly need more support than ever from allies, and I think that has to start with childcare. 

For allies, how can they better support women through these changing times? What is the impact that allyship can have on women’s advancement?

The number 1 thing I think any ally can provide is compassion. I feel like we’ve done well leading with compassion here at SurveyMonkey. We have to notice the extra burdens that women are carrying at this time and help in any way we can, and so, as a business, we’re allies to our employees by offering flexibility in work schedules, work from home benefits, and mental health breaks. It’s such a hard time for everyone, and so I think the most important thing is recognizing that and having empathy for everyone you’re interacting with.

In past years, we’ve looked at Women’s History Month as covering the experience of all women, but in fact, white women have made great strides in the last decade towards equality, while women of colour continue to face additional hurdles and a massive pay gap (Black women’s equal pay day is in August, Latina in November)—how can we ensure that we’re amplifying the voices and concerns of these women? 

I think that one of the most exciting things that happened in 2020 was Kamala Harris, the first female and Black Vice President in the US, being sworn into office. I believe and hope that breaking that barrier is going to have a positive impact on women of color everywhere who are in leadership roles or working toward them. 

At SurveyMonkey, we’re aware that tangible action is required to address the injustices that women of color face in the workplace, and so we’re really thinking about diversity from a business decision and a hiring mindset. Last year we launched an increased referral bonus for diverse hires, and we’re already seeing an impact in the makeup of our employees as a result of that program. We set some really ambitious targets this year for diversity, and our CEO, Zander, has made it clear to leadership that our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy will directly impact our compensation. 

We hired a Chief Diversity and Social Impact Officer, Antoine Andrews, to help us develop and continue to grow in these areas. We’re making diversity, equity, and inclusion a key part of our business and measuring it just like our product, engineering and sales goals. 

We’ve seen some exciting advancements for women recently in the news—dating app Bumble went public with the youngest ever female CEO and a board made up of 70% women and Roz Brewer has moved to Walgreens to be the only black female CEO in the Fortune 500. What does this representation mean for women? 

There’s a really great quote from one of my personal heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When asked when there would be enough women on the U.S. Supreme Court, she said, “When there are nine.” I can’t wait until it isn’t a surprise that a woman is in a leadership role.

 In my years as a corporate attorney I spent a lot of time in boardrooms, where I was the only woman and today when I spend time with our board which is 50% women, there’s such a difference in the environment and how comfortable everyone feels  making their voices heard and expressing their opinions. Seeing women in leadership roles provides a way other women can recognize themselves in those leaders. It also means opinions from other backgrounds are being heard, and that’s good for inclusion, and it’s good for business. 

Where do you want to see us this time next year? 

Joe Biden has said he’ll nominate a Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and so I’m hoping we might see that happen this year! Despite the setbacks we’ve seen with the coronavirus, I’m feeling very optimistic about the growth of representation of women this year. 

This year, my kids got to see Kamala Harris, a woman of color, inaugurated as vice president, and, as we mentioned before, we’re seeing more and more women in C-Suite positions and boardrooms.These things are normal from my kids’ perspectives, and I think the more progress we make in representation, in seeing women in leadership, the more normal it becomes for everyone. I have a lot of hope for future generations who are being raised with a lot more diversity in leadership, and I think that if by this time next year we’ve made more tangible steps towards normalizing seeing women in these positions, we’ll be continuing to make progress.