Senior Leadership at JAMS: Women at the Helm
Each year, International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month (March) remind companies to refocus on gender-parity efforts. Sadly, though, many of these efforts fizzle out—which may help explain why in 2020, the number of female executives at S&P 500 companies averaged just 18%.
At JAMS, things are different. Nearly half of the company’s top executives—five out of 12—are women: Kim Taylor, Laura Martinez, Gina Miller, Liz Carter and Sheri Eisner. JAMS recently named Taylor president of the company; at the same time, Martinez, Miller, Carter and Eisner became senior vice presidents.
We spoke with each of these women to learn about their journeys to JAMS, why they’ve stayed, the challenges they’ve faced, why diversity is important and their advice for those following in their footsteps.
Tell us what led you to JAMS.
Kim Taylor, President: Before joining JAMS, I worked as a paralegal in a law firm, and I went to law school at night. After I graduated and passed the bar, I stayed with the same firm and practiced law for a few years. When the partner whom I worked with most closely decided to retire, I left the firm to clerk for Justice Steve Stone at the California Court of Appeal. After a couple of years, Judge Stone retired from the bench to join JAMS, and he persuaded me to come with him.
Laura Martinez, Senior Vice President and Chief HR Officer: My first job out of college was in retail. It was a seasonal job with a bunch of high-school kids. I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that it was probably time to find a real job—and that job was at JAMS. I started out answering the phones.
Gina Miller, Senior Vice President, U.S. West Region: I was still an undergrad when I came to JAMS. My godmother was good friends with a clerk who left the superior court to open the JAMS Los Angeles. office. She told me they had a client coordinator position available. I interviewed for it, and they hired me. I’m outgoing and enjoy engaging with people, and the folks at JAMS thought that would be great for their clients!
Liz Carter, Senior Vice President, U.S. East Region: I had just moved to Chicago, and I was working with an executive search firm to find a job as an attorney. But I ended up working for the search firm instead, as a headhunter. One day, a position at JAMS came across my desk, and I thought, “I’d be really good at this job.” So, I placed myself at JAMS!
Sheri Eisner, Senior Vice President and General Counsel: After law school, I immediately went to work for a huge, international law firm. I was a litigator there, and I stayed for 16 years and made partner. I got some amazing legal training and had some outstanding mentors, without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. Then, when I was 39, my best friend died suddenly. It was a profound turning point for me and forced me to question the decisions I made regarding work-life balance. I gave myself two years to make some changes and was fortunate enough to find JAMS.
What do you find to be special about JAMS?
Kim Taylor: One thing I love about JAMS, and that has kept me here for 22 years, is the caliber of the people I work with—not only my colleagues on the senior management team, but also associates throughout the organization, not to mention our neutrals. And, it’s very rewarding to be part of an organization whose mission it is to help people resolve conflict.
Laura Martinez: I love the fact that JAMS brings peace to the world, one case at a time. I’ve just always believed in it. Also, for 32 years, JAMS has given me opportunities to keep learning, growing and networking.
Gina Miller: When I started at JAMS in 1989, staying so long wasn’t part of the plan. My college best friend and I were on our way to New York, with my goal of becoming the future editor of Vogue magazine! Later, I did get an opportunity to work for Condé Nast, but I turned it down. JAMS has always been an organization that recognizes its associates’ contributions. My manager at the time was a great mentor to me and offered me more and more responsibility, and I felt valued and just wanted to do more for the company.
Liz Carter: I’m fortunate to have worked for 14 years at a company that does such important work. As a former litigator, I find the opportunity to resolve disputes outside the courtroom to be very rewarding. In addition, my team keeps me at JAMS. I work with the best people in this industry, and I learn from them every day.
Sheri Eisner: I have learned here every single day, from the moment I started in 2008. It never gets boring. I work with a tremendous group of people, period, but the women I work with on a daily basis—Kim, Laura, Gina, Liz—they’re just remarkable. They’re not only some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with, but they’re also very supportive.
Has being a woman posed any challenges for you in the workplace?
Kim Taylor: I don’t feel that being a woman has hurt me in my career at all, especially at JAMS. I suppose that when I was a young lawyer, sometimes there might have been a tendency for male opposing attorneys or male judges to underestimate me, but I tried to always use that to my advantage.
Laura Martinez: The one challenge I did have wasn’t about being a woman; it had to do with my years of experience. I was very young when I became a senior manager at JAMS. Everyone else on the senior management team was a VP, but I was the only director, even though I was doing VP-level work. I didn’t become a VP for about four years, and I think it was because of the perception that I lacked the necessary work experience to warrant that recognition.
Gina Miller: When it comes to challenges, being a woman—a woman of color—is not the first thing that comes to mind. That doesn't mean that implicit bias doesn't exist; it's just that personally, whenever I face challenges in the workplace, I do not immediately think it's because of race or gender. However, I will say the past few years have been eye-opening for me because I thought things were evolving, and I realized that maybe things hadn't evolved as much as I thought they had. But I've always appreciated JAMS senior managements’ thoughtful approach to ensuring the fair treatment of all associates.
Liz Carter: My first job out of law school was at a small firm. One day, a male colleague and I were in court. He was a young father. We were setting a trial date, and he said, “I can’t do that date. My wife will be out of town, and I’ll have to watch my girls.” And the judge—in open court, on the record—pointed to me and said, “Well, can’t you babysit?” It was awful—just so humiliating.
Sheri Eisner: I had the stereotypical challenges when I first started as a lawyer—people assuming that I was the paralegal or the assistant. I took it as a challenge, and as I mentioned, I had some great male and female mentors who saw only the quality of my work and work ethic. Of course, there were some who didn’t have that evolved view, but I decided to plow through and eventually made partner.
How important is diversity, and how diverse is JAMS?
Kim Taylor: I think it’s generally well known that the more diversity you have in any particular group, the better the decision-making is going to be, and the more ideas you’ll have floating around. I don’t necessarily buy into stereotypes about how women lead versus how men lead, but I do think that having a diverse group of people is just going to make decision-making better and more productive.
Laura Martinez: I feel like diversity and inclusivity are baked into the JAMS culture. JAMS is 70% women—it’s hard not to be inclusive from a gender perspective given that number! And it's evident at all levels, from associates and managers to directors and general managers to the senior leadership team.
Gina Miller: I’ve never looked at JAMS as having a diversity issue. I don’t perceive it that way. But that said, on the panel side, it can be a challenge. We started with judges only, so you could only recruit off the bench what was available, which was mainly white men. When we opened the panel up to attorneys, it gave us better reach for recruiting women and people of color. Increasing diversity is the right thing to do, but also, our clients are diverse, and they want people who look like them and understand their walks of life.
Liz Carter: We’ve faced problems with diversity the same way the legal profession has as a whole, but we have a very diverse group of employees. When you go into our offices and see who’s working in them, they’re diverse in every way—in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political viewpoint, you name it. Teams are stronger when you have a lot of different kinds of people.
Sheri Eisner: The great thing about JAMS is that I’ve always felt that diversity is part of our DNA. I started here as an assistant manager in the Los Angeles office, and the local leadership was and still is diverse. As I’ve grown in the company, I see how organically diverse the entire organization is. And, you can see that in the stats and by how long people stay here.
What advice would you give to people following in your footsteps?
Kim Taylor: Be willing to share your power, knowledge and skills to pay it forward. And always strive to take the high road. It might not be the easiest path, but it’s the one that’s going to produce the best results.
Laura Martinez: Mentoring is important. It’s a pay-it-forward thing. You mentor, and hopefully those people mentor, and on down the line. Also, I’d urge people to know what they’re getting into before they join a company. Look on social media or Glassdoor. Check the company’s website. See what its senior management team looks like and what its value statement says. That’ll give you a good idea of its culture.
Gina Miller: You have to be agile. People always say, “Change is good!” right up until you ask them to change. Also, know your craft. But the most important thing—at least for me—is you need to have very good interpersonal skills. Know your audience. You might have to adjust your style sometimes. Take chances, ask for what you want and look at your job as an opportunity to be productive and make positive changes.
Liz Carter: When I started at JAMS, a neutral gave me some advice: “Don’t bring food to work. Don’t bake cookies and bring them to the office. Everyone will think you are the office mom, and that’s not your role.” I won’t turn down a homemade cookie, but for whatever reason, that advice stuck with me, and I haven’t brought homemade baked goods to work. Beyond that, you have to do what’s right for you. My children were very young when I started at JAMS. If you decide you want to build a career, you have to be willing to go for it and accept all the conflicting emotions that go along with pursuing that goal.
Sheri Eisner: I stayed at that large law firm for so long because I had a tremendous sense of obligation to the women coming up after me. Once I made partner, I felt like if I walked away, it would confirm every bad stereotype I’d been fighting. At the time, the advice I gave to younger associates was “Stick with it” and “Prove your value.” Now I would say, “Recognize your innate value and find a place that recognizes it too.”
Of course, this is just a sampling of the talented women who are members of the JAMS team. In every region, and in every role—from associates to neutrals—JAMS is proud to employ a strong group of women. For more information about JAMS’ commitment to diversity, please visit https://www.jamsadr.com/diversity.
 Swaminathan, A. “S&P 500 companies with more gender diversity on boards see 15% higher ROE: BofA. Yahoo! Finance. Retrieved from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/sp-500-companies-with-more-gender-diversity-see-15-higher-roe-bof-a-194303756.html
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