Next up on The Lawyer Whisperer Q&A Series: Melissa Frugé! Melissa currently serves as the Chief Legal Officer, Executive Sponsor of Diversity & Inclusion for FinancialForce, a cloud-based applications company that provides a cloud ERP solution for Force.com, a cloud computing platform from salesforce.com. Melissa is also a Founding Member of Chief, a private network designed for senior women leaders to strengthen their leadership, cross-pollinate ideas and effect change, all with a focus on diversity and inclusion.
Melissa’s own professional journey is incredibly inspiring. She earned her BA with honors from USC and then graduated at the top of her law school class at Santa Clara University School of Law. She started in Big Law as a corporate securities associate with tech startup heavy hitter Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich (now DLA piper) and then moved to GCA Law Partners where she honed her General Counsel skills with a wide range of companies. Melissa forged into her next career chapter as a sophisticated General Counsel and legal executive with companies including Borland, Khoros, Brandless, OYO and HomeAway.com, where she led the company through a successful IPO…with 22 acquisitions along the way.
Not only is Melissa a superstar in the legal world, she is deeply engaged in civil rights, equality and diversity & inclusion causes. She is an Orphanage Volunteer for Eagles Nest, which cares for Guatemala orphans and she sponsors three children in the Nicaragua Resource Network, which enables them to maintain their education, health and basic necessities.
This is a woman who walks the talk.
Melissa was kind enough to provide her thoughts and views on the current pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. I am grateful for the opportunity to interview her. Please read on to be inspired by Melissa’s message to our community.
From an executive’s perspective, how can an employee increase his/her value to the organization during these challenging times?
Self care, connect and be flexible and creative should be ongoing and they all really apply to employees at every level. It is really important to start by asking ourselves whether we are starting each day from a place where we can be successful. Assess and continue to assess whether you have the support you need for the challenges you may have at any time. This should include the ability to nurture your physical and mental health, to having a work setup where you can be productive in your home or office workspace, to getting the flexibility you may need to be able to attend to personal needs, such as homeschooling kids. The challenges and needs will change, so this needs to be an ongoing check in with yourself and discussions with your manager. The right support for you may be unique for you and what works on one day may not work for another, so approach this with creativity and don’t be afraid to experiment. If we all can start the day with energy, the right mindset and a workable plan to attend to the demands of the day, we are much more likely to be set up for success.
Then, team members should connect: make sure you are talking with each other, both for work as well as on a personal level. For work, it is nice to have frequent conversations about everyone’s action items and to see how we can help each other, such as by fairly distributing work or to lighten the load for anyone who may need extra time for taking care of the needs of their kids or themselves. Don’t hesitate to contribute new ideas, which is needed for these challenging times that are new and ever changing and there is no single right answer. We should also make sure to allocate time to team bonding or casual conversation, to keep up the personal rapport and connection. Virtual activities can be really fun and I always appreciate getting ideas from others for fun team events.
Finally, connecting is not just for the team, but also for our business partners. I am always aware, and even more so now, that our business partners may not always find joy in working with legal (yes, it is sometimes true ….). Many of those in the business have, unfortunately, had bad experiences in the past with lawyers. So, it is important to demonstrate that it will not be painful to work with your legal team. Continuously talk and build relationships with business partners to ensure trust and rapport. In addition, being effective in the legal function is dependent on staying informed, on a real time basis, as to the current (and every changing) business goals and strategies. This requires frequent meetings and conversations. By creating and nurturing relationships with your internal partners, you are much more likely to be included. You will be able to then contribute real value and creative problem solving, get ahead of issues, avoid being a roadblock, and ensure business partners’ goals are met, with minimal risk and on time.
What is your management philosophy during this pandemic and how are you keeping your team mentally healthy, motivated and positive?
Building on my thoughts above about what employees can do to add value, much of the same applies to me as a manager. I do my best to attend to self care, be creative and flexible and remember to connect and interact. In the morning, I find quiet time to exercise and meditate, practice gratitude and simply check in with myself. This helps me get the right perspective and set my intentions for how I want to show up that day. I remind myself that, as I navigate the day, I should assume best intentions and take time to think about the teams or people I am meeting with (consider their thoughts or their agendas for each meeting and not just mine) and how I can tune into and encourage their ideas and contributions. Ideally our discussions are ones where diversity of thought is welcomed so that we can challenge each other and find innovative ways to address issues. I balance all this with the needs of the business to move quickly, which means I endeavor to make time for the right discussions and thought processes to lead us to positive outcomes.
I also engage in regular conversations with my team, both as a group and individually, to see how they are doing with work and also juggling their home or other demands or struggles. I am very grateful that at FinancialForce we have adopted a compassionate approach, which starts at the top, and we are really trying to support and encourage our employees to be healthy, mentally and physically. I truly value this approach because, even if it may lead to drops in productivity from time to time, if it overall keeps people content with their work and feeling supported, it is well worth it. It makes our workplace, even if virtual, one that employees can appreciate.
As far as keeping myself healthy, motivated and positive, in addition to my morning habits, through the day I find time to keep my peace and adjust, and readjust, my mindset. A few weeks ago, I started experimenting by setting several reminders each day so that I intentionally have moments to take deep breaths and practice mindfulness and gratitude. I find that, regardless of these challenging times, I have a ton to be grateful for, which includes the FinancialForce team, as well as my health and simple things like having air to breathe, particularly during the CA wildfire season . . . I also have 2 amazing girls who are each attending school virtually from home. They are both close to leaving for college, so I am loving the extra time and conversations with them — and I am so thankful for this.
What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?
A lot! I realize how I (and so so many) are resilient and able to adjust to almost anything. There are long lists of what we’ve done in our virtual workplaces and in our lives to better deal with difficult and uncertain times.
I’ve also been reminded of things that I enjoy, but hadn’t been doing much. I really love to read and to be out in nature. I combine the two by listening to audiobooks while I take walks. This is also a great thing to do for a break during the day. I also learned that, although I have always needed my quiet time, I do miss the conversations and time together when we are in the office. I try to find virtual ways to engage and help cultivate that energy.
Black Lives Matter is a movement that has impacted the world more meaningfully than ever. How is your company/team “walking the talk’ and making a difference both personally and professionally?
We are a relatively small company with about 700 employees worldwide — and so many of them are passionate about BLM, social justice and other diversity and inclusion issues. This has increased recently, which is great. We have a D&I Committee specifically dedicated to this work, and I was honored to become its executive sponsor a few months ago. The Committee has been quite active in recent months. We have focused a lot on education and facilitating forums for open, honest and safe discussions. I’ve been able to listen, learn and talk with so many who have amazing stories, reflections and ideas.
Our executive team has tried to enable us all to “walk the talk” in different ways. For example, we gave all employees Juneteenth off of work to focus on D&I learning. The D&I Committee provided a ton of resources, such as impactful movies and books, so that people could learn and reflect on their day off of work. This also prompted further discussions afterward, both live and on our D&I Slack channel.
We also recently had the executive team engage in implicit bias training, followed by a mini course for everyone at one of our company town hall meetings. We are getting to the next stage of deciding on and rolling out various initiatives to support and grow a strong diverse and inclusive workplace. I really enjoy and am committed to these efforts.
The legal profession is one of the least diverse professions. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, what is your advice to the legal community and its leaders on how it can approach diversity and inclusion to effect real and positive change for people of color?
First, we should assess our hiring practices to make sure we’re hiring from a diverse pool of candidates, which is important for legal and all other functions as well. There are many things that can help such as by collecting and tracking diversity data, recruiting through diversity focused websites, taking names off of resumes, implicit bias training and so forth. Second, we need to think of diversity in all aspects of our business, including hiring counsel and other vendors. At FinancialForce, we are in the process of rolling out a supplier diversity policy and this will apply to our engagement of all service providers, including legal counsel. We will support the policy by providing resources to enable our employees to find and evaluate suppliers and service providers (including lawyers) that are majority-owned or operated by minorities, women, veterans, members of the LGBTQ+ community or disabled persons. I encourage everyone to consider diversity when engaging or hiring counsel because it leads to diversity in thought and advice which can remove blind spots and result in more creative problem solving — all very valuable for any legal function (or really all parts of the business). Please look at your law departments and law firms and assess how various elements of diversity are or are not represented, set goals on how to make the group more inclusive of different people and perspectives and take action.