Today we have the pleasure of (virtually) meeting and learning from Alisia Grenville: Lawyer, compliance officer, board member, fashion designer, and author. Originally from Montreal, now living in Switzerland, this woman is ah-mah-zing:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
I help companies build high performing teams by making them examine and reconsider their corporate cultures and determine that they can shift the way they do business by getting people to shift their behavior. After years of building compliance programs for many companies in several different industries, I knew something was missing in the compliance program and what makes it “effective” or an “activist” program. There has been too much of a focus on framework and metrics like prevention, detection and monitoring. Anytime one spoke about ethics and behavior, it sounded soft and unmeasurable. Now I have gracefully combined compliance and ethics by focusing on transforming corporate cultures. When I focus on behavior, I get to speak about compliance and ethics from a humanistic perspective.
2. Why did you go to law school?
Law school was an after-thought. I never wanted nor thought about becoming a lawyer. However, when I graduated and started working, without a title in the corporate arena, I soon recognized that I would not be able to get the commercial experience, opportunities nor salary I was looking for. I quickly saw all my friends with law degrees and those who were in law school had big jobs at big firms and it seemed as though their lives had purpose because they were never available to meet and were working downtown in big buildings on the 36th floor of some tower. I was looking for purpose and I thought becoming a lawyer would give me some. That said, I knew I wanted to live in Europe and so I applied to law schools outside of Canada and went to law school in England. For me law school’s purpose was to open up possibilities that I could not see looking through my narrowly framed myopic view master. I have grown since then. Wisdom takes time.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
I do not believe in chance; I believe in destiny. By following my love of languages, I was able to incorporate my legal knowledge into the world I wanted to create by having the two worlds harmonize. Doing only one, each separately, would never have been enough. By combining them and with each of these core strengths leaning on each other, I have been able to compose my own professional melodic symphony. I live in Switzerland, in the French speaking Canton of Vaud. I grew up in Montreal, Quebec and so being in a bilingual environment is both natural and essential to my very essence. I help companies design new ways of seeing operational greatness by embracing cultural, ethics and compliance through enhanced behavioral structures. I don’t talk about compliance and ethics, I have them live it.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I am proud that I stopped talking about being a part of a management team of someone else’s company to becoming the management team and CEO, not only of my life, but of my own company and brands. I started ADG Compliance and Consulting upon return from the Middle East with my family. But because I never believe in putting all my eggs in one basket, I started a fashion brand to uplift and support girls. My daughter, Maren, is the namesake for MaRen Designs. (www.marendesigns.com) My mom’s personal denial of breast cancer and her story is what gave me the courage to want to change the way girls and young adolescents see and value themselves. That also led to my children’s picture book series, Sela Blue. (www.selablue.com). I love being able to have children see the world differently: with new friends to make and new worlds to imagine!
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
Erin, I will not focus on challenges because challenges are a matter of perspective and our own mind creates what it perceives to be “challenges”. Do you know that the Simplified Chinese for challenge is composed of two characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity”?
Now don’t get me wrong, in the current corporate male dominated set-up, women globally in law seem not to be able to ascend nor rise through the ranks in the traditional law firm structure as they should (when we know that 60-65% of law school graduates are women, why do they only make up less than 10% of partnerships in firms around the world?) and, thus, feel that to be “successful”, they have to take on male dominate character traits. I say, please call “bs” and don’t follow the model. The only reason women feel confined to follow that male dominated model is because we don’t believe that success can look different, have and or can be measured by different metrics. The key challenge, therefore, is to break free from the classic definition of the success narrative and what makes a successful legal career by espousing and promoting only one model. I, personally, made opportunities for myself and did not follow any path because I did not believe that I had to. To some, did I step “dangerously”? Absolutely! But I saw each step, even though some may have gone wrong, as potential opportunities. And when you are not confined to or by a belief paradigm, then you don’t know if “you are making a mistake” or are in a “crisis” because what you are doing is natural, authentic and have no set determined outcome that you must reach to be considered “successful”. You define your success! And well, because I did not believe nor wish to be defined by those metrics, I made-up my career as I went along and followed my own path. Rightly or wrongly, it was mine. When I got to Europe, still in private practice, I was not a fit for many firms; and they did not hesitate to tell me that because they did not know what I had done (it did not make sense to them) and I looked “suspicious” to most. That said, years later, I landed my first in-house job not because of what I knew, but because of what I was willing to learn. This changed my legal trajectory because that is how I got hooked on Ethics, Culture and Compliance.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Don’t box yourself in! There are so many opportunities on the legal spectrum. Actually, my advice, if I could speak to my 28 year-old self, would be to not follow the traditional path. Of course, if partnership is your ultimate goal, then I guess so. But hopefully, in this age of transparency and knowing how customized and tailored one’s professional career can be, don’t box yourself in and don’t settle for “this is it” or “this is as good as it gets”. This degree opens so many doors and avenues on the planet when you believe there is abundance and are not afraid nor act in fear, thinking you have to take the first job that comes your way because no other job may come by you, then you are seeing your world through a narrow lens and usually are being guided by your very narrow minded thoughts. And believing what you think may be the first problem in your analysis and self-awareness.
So, engage with your degree in areas of your interest. If you love movies or entertainment, then look into how you can work on licensing of products or distribution of film or television programming. In my case, I studied languages and speak four fluently and have lived in eight different countries. I was able to leverage my law degree by applying to international companies around the world and because of my love of languages, languages skills and those who speak them, people, I did not limit my professional scope to only English-speaking countries. It all seemed to come together for me when I was being recruited for my role as Chief Compliance Officer with a major Europe company located in Geneva, STMicroelectronics. The CEO was Italian, to whom I reported, and the COO was French. The first lunch we had together during my interview I had both of them in the company’s private corporate dining room, each peppering me with questions in both Italian and French simultaneously. Law did not even matter; it was about the other skills and attributes that I could bring to the business: I was open, vulnerable and even though none of those languages are my mother tongues, I put myself out there. Now, they thought, if she can do that, what else can and will she bring to us talent wise. So, make sure you incorporate your legal knowledge into something that makes sense for you. If I had done so earlier, I would have definitely chosen to go into entertainment and / or journalism and I would have been a talk show hostess today or news anchor! Wonderful mix for legal experts. But no regrets from my side though.
Wow. What a fun path for a legal career. Thank you Alisia for taking the time out of your busy schedule to participate in this series.
I started this blog series because I was tired of hearing about women leaving law and wanted to hear about women leading in law. The "Women Leading in Law" series focuses on good news stories and highlights amazing women succeeding in the legal profession. Each post includes the profiled lawyer's answers to six questions. Prepare to be inspired!
ICYMI - previous posts profiled the following amazing lawyers: Frances Wood, Maggie Wente, Anita Szigeti, Neha Chugh, Christy Allen & Nancy Houle, Suzie Seo, Kim Gale, Alexi Wood, Melissa McBain, Erin Best, Gillian Hnatiw, Melanie Sharman Rowand, Meg Chinelo Egbunonu, Lisa Jean Helps, Nathalie Godbout Q.C., Laurie Livingstone, Renatta Austin, Janis Criger, May Cheng, Nicole Chrolavicius, Charlene Theodore, Dyanoosh Youssefi, Shannon Salter, Bindu Cudjoe, Elliot Spears, Jessica Prince, Anu K. Sandhu, Claire Hatcher, Esi Codjoe, Kate Dewhirst, Jennifer Taylor, Rebecca Durcan, Atrisha Lewis, Vandana Sood, Kathryn Manning, Kim Hawkins, Kyla Lee, and Eva Chan.
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.