In Conversation, Women Shaping the Future of Legal: Ava Guo and Gina Willis

March 19, 2024



Gina Willis
Gina Willis
Ava Guo, Assistant Vice President and Senior Legal Counsel, AT&T

In our series, In Conversation, Women Shaping the Future of Legal, leading women in the legal industry discuss how diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts can help improve work and the world. By sharing personal stories, tested strategies, and new ideas, these dynamic conversations offer advice to individuals and organizations and help evolve the legal space for the future. To learn more about all of our interviews, we recently wrote about how inclusion is fostering innovation and changing the future of legal.

Ava Guo, Assistant Vice President and Senior Legal Counsel at AT&T, joined Gina Willis, Associate Director of AI & Analytics at Lighthouse, for a conversation to explore these issues. The transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Gina Willis, Associate Director of AI & Analytics, Lighthouse

Gina Willis: What does inclusion mean to you? Why does it matter and how does it impact women's empowerment?

Ava Guo: I think it's much broader than just women's empowerment. Inclusion is baseline in the workplace nowadays. I can't think of the last time that I've encountered a company or law firm that hasn't had that as part of their core mission for several years now.

Inclusion seems very basic and fundamental to just bringing the best out of all your employees. And without that as sort of a bedrock principle, in this day and age, I don't really know how you get anywhere.

I agree with you. And in what ways do you think organizations can foster a more inclusive environment for women if they aren't already? You just mentioned that it's a baseline, but in the case that some folks are behind the times, what approaches have you seen be most effective?

I don't think it's necessarily you would be behind the times; it's just you can always do more. Even organizations that I think are very forward thinking—and are front of mind when you talk about DE&I issues—are always looking to do more because there's work to be done.

One of the most important things to me is providing a space to have conversations— whether that's among your employees, across the industry at these many conferences that we all attend every year, within your company, or outside your company.

But just giving people the opportunity to talk about these issues and reminding the industry why it matters and having the space available to do that, I think it's probably one of the most important things.

Can you think of groups, alliances, events, or conferences that do a good job of fostering this type of environment? I know Women in eDiscovery is one that we’re both familiar with.

Women in eDiscovery is one. I think the focus for me tends to be more within individual companies.

I don't think I've attended any big industry events that I've come out of and thought, “Wow, that was really self-affirming on these issues.” But I think companies can do a lot by having employee engagement groups. We have a DE&I committee here within AT&T. I was previously at a law firm, and they had a DE&I committee as well.

Just making sure that you have that resource available is usually a good sign that you're in a place that values those things.

Are there specific ways that you think we can challenge some stereotypes or biases that may hinder women?

For me, this is more of an introspective issue. One of the biggest things that you can do to address biases is to look at your own biases.

I find myself checking my own prejudices and preconceived notions about people all the time just based on my background—whether that's about other women, about men, about whoever it is that I'm interacting with. The first step if I form an opinion is to ask: What is that based on? And why do I think that?

Outwardly, one of the most important things that we, as women in this industry, can do is speak up. And whatever stereotype you're seeking to challenge, challenge it yourself, and be the opposite of what that perceived stereotype would be.

How can intersectionality foster inclusion?

To me, they're kind of one and the same. Especially for me—I'm female. I'm also Asian American. I'm also an immigrant, rather than being first or second generation here.

The more experiences and the more dialogues you can have with people of different backgrounds, the better. Eventually you will find that people have the same struggles regardless of what makes them different in the first place. And I think it can just bolster those communities and relationships, and you will find a lot more common ground when you start to share all your experiences.

How can we inspire the next generation of women coming into the workplace to embrace this kind of inclusion? What advice would you give them to make sure that they're pushing the ball further and making sure that everyone feels safe and included?

I think set an example. Be what you want others to be. If you want a group of your direct reports, or a group of people you're working with, to be open and to be their authentic selves, then you should present yourself that way. Don't be afraid to share your own experiences. Don't be afraid to be you. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and own them.

And if you stumble, you stumble. That's okay, we're all human. If you are relatable and walk the walk, that will inspire others who are working with you to hopefully do the same.

I like that a lot. Are there any specific resources that you would recommend for folks who want to be more inclusive leaders? Is there anything you've come across recently that you liked?

No, and not for lack of trying. It’s only because I have no time. I have 4-year-old twins at home so my life for the most recent years has been subsumed with taking care of little human beings.

But I do think one of the most important resources is just to look around. There are others who you work with, or you've encountered, who have something about them that has contributed to their success. What are they doing? Reach out and have those conversations.

I think the most important resource you can have in this industry are your relationships.

That’s absolutely right.

I think so much of how you get to where you are is dependent on who you work with.

Part of that is luck. Part of that is knowing who to seek out and not just as mentors. I'm a firm believer that you need to go look for champions.

If you've gone through big law and a corporate company, like I have, chances are you've been exposed to many kinds of mentorship programs and you're lucky if you found one that stuck. A lot of that is just the system trying to help, but you can't rely on that.

You do need to go out there and find your own people—personal mentors, professional mentors, but also finding a champion who is really going to be your sponsor and the person who’s going to bat for you and make things happen.

About the Author

Gina Willis

Gina Willis is an Associate Director in Lighthouse's AI & Analytics group. For the past nine years, she has implemented solutions that help clients successfully and defensibly reduce data volumes for review while increasing review efficacy and accuracy by leveraging structured analytics and machine learning technologies. Prior to joining Lighthouse, Gina worked for a ‘Big 4’ consulting firm, providing her expertise to several high-profile federal investigations and pharmaceutical litigations. Gina completed her B.S. in Neuroscience at the University of Michigan and received an M.S. in Clinical Research Administration from Eastern Michigan University.