On this week’s episode of Lawline’s Lawyers Who Lead podcast, Sigalle Barness chats with Jisha Dymond, the Global Lead for Risk Management and Regulatory Compliance at Twitter. Listen to the full interview or read the highlights of Jisha’s interview below! Transcribed answers were edited for readability.
On Becoming a Lawyer:
Being a Family Advocate First
I am a child of immigrants and my parents came to the states from India in the seventies looking for a better life. I’m their oldest child, so that guinea pig who went through all the stuff. I was the first to go to college in my family and I think I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was a kid, pretty much. The doctor route wasn’t ever an interest, even though to Indian parents, it’s always the first choice.
Part of it, I think, was people putting it into my head where I just talked a lot and fought a lot for people or for myself. My parents, aunts, and uncles were like, oh yeah, she’s going to be a lawyer and I think it probably led me to that a little bit.
But there was something about the justice system and coming from a community of color where people didn’t understand the system. As the oldest child of an immigrant family, a lot of times you’re the translator, you’re the advocate. You have to figure out all the stuff so that your parents can do it. Them just not understanding sort of even the culture but also dealing with institutions, etcetera.
I think at an early age, that became sort of my role. I don’t think that’s all that uncommon for a lot of kids in that situation, but it just became sort of like there’s all these people who do not understand the system. And it’s really about having someone to guide you through there and I think that really kind of led to law school.
On the Shift from BigLaw to a Smaller Law Firm Practice:
Hands-On Work, A Developing Practice Area, and Direct Involvement in Advocacy
I came to New York for law school and started off at a larger firm. I summered there and got an offer. You know, run of the mill corporate securities, litigation, a lot of hours, etcetera. Slept under my desk one time and I thought, hmm, this doesn’t seem like how it should be.
I think just writing a lot of the memos wasn’t really doing it for me. I knew that being in the courtroom or whenever I had to file things, even though we had people to do that, I enjoyed doing that. I kind of wanted that hands-on sort of work.
After a year, one of my professors from law school said, hey there’s this firm that’s starting a corporate political activity group, it’s a small firm, but we’ve always enjoyed talking about politics. It might be something interesting. I didn’t even know at that time that political law was a thing and it was mostly done out of firms in Washington D.C., firms that were focused on, you know, lobbying, etcetera. In New York, New Jersey, it just wasn’t all that common. I really didn’t know it existed.
It was an area where it wasn’t as developed. It was before Citizens United. There was existing case law, certainly, but it was definitely a hot topic and I think that was a big part of it too. You know, shifting over to yet another larger firm wouldn’t have done anything for me. I went to a 30 person law firm. It was a huge shift and as a result of that, I got to be the one to go to court. I got to be the one that, you know, argued the appeals before the appellate division or went to the New Jersey appellate division and argued in court.
I love that part of lawyering. Of just advocating and being in front of the judge, having the hot bench. Being prepared. And I got to do that. That was an area of law that I would be shifting over to as well as it’s a smaller firm. I’m going to be able to do all the hands-on stuff that I really wanna do.
So I joined this firm doing corporate political work, which is basically representing companies on their political works. So lobbying, campaign, finance election work, nonprofit work, and also representing political campaigns, which was super exciting. Being in this sort of environment of campaigns, which are fast and young and vibrant. And you have to think on your feet and you’re dealing with larger than life figures because, you know, elected officials tend to think of themselves very highly.
On Moving from Law Firm Practice to In-House Practice:
The Experience and Skill Sets That Broadened Her Portfolio
One of my clients, JP Morgan, needed somebody for secondment. I joined them and I thought, this is great. I love in-house work. I love working with a team, like a set team. I can work with all the different people in this company. I was going to be in house and started in a legal role, moved to compliance and then an opportunity came up to go to a multi-strategy asset manager. And it was really about rebuilding the compliance program there.
This was a huge shift for me. I had been historically a lawyer’s lawyer, advising clients and giving legal advice. But shifting over to compliance definitely required a new skill set focusing on operational practicality. How to actually implement the advice and build technology that could facilitate writing policies that made sense and were digestible, etcetera. It also required me to learn a new area of law, the Advisors Act, which is not something that I was all that familiar with but I’ve always been an intellectually curious person. If I see this thing, I want to read about it. So I hit the books and did the thing that I needed to do to figure it out.
That was sort of an area that broadened my portfolio. It was just general compliance. Did that for many years, shifted over to a Head of Enterprise Risk, where it became really important for companies to start managing risk. When you’re coming from the financial sector, it’s sort of part and parcel. You’re mandated to do it from a regulatory perspective in some ways, but it was an interesting area. It was another sort of shift because it’s a different skillset. I think you’re managing up a little bit more trying to find data as opposed to dealing with people in policies.
On Working at Twitter:
“The Mission Was Beginning to Matter”
I got a call from a recruiter at Twitter and it was pretty awesome. It was perfect timing. I think I had begun to sort of say to myself is making rich people richer, really making it? Are you really happy doing that? The mission was beginning to matter, you know, I had three children at that point and I was like, what am I doing here? Am I making a difference? And Twitter was another shift where now we’re going to go into the area of technology and social media. Completely different from the Advisers Act and understand what it means to deal with content regulation. When a government says, hey, you got to take down those tweets. You know, it’s a whole different ball game.
And I think the company was also about shifting mindset in terms of culture, right? Asset management versus a tech social company. It’s about as opposite as it gets. At Twitter, I started off as Head of U.S. Regional Compliance, sort of general compliance. Did that for about a year and a half, and then was asked to shift to another risk role and regulatory compliance to deal with our regulatory mandates and here I am, 20 years later after graduating law school and loving it.
On Shifting Professionally From One Area to Another:
Acknowledging Being New and Putting Aside Fear
I think it’s acknowledging that I don’t know anything right? Acknowledging that I’m going into this new area. It’s super exciting. I’m the new kid on the block and I’m going to act like it. I’m not going to pretend that I know things that I don’t know anything about, I think that’s really important.
I think genuine curiosity and desire for knowledge. I think that’s always been something sort of consistent with me, fascinating to, you know, understand these different areas, but just having an openness to a new area. Putting aside a little bit of fear. There’s no question on those first days in each of the jobs, I was like, oh my God, what am I going to do? What am I doing? I don’t know but I think if you come at it very authentically and say, look, I don’t know, but I’m willing to do the work. I’m willing to sit down and read and listen to the people who know, but at the same time, say I may have something to add. I think that’s really what it’s about.
On the Importance of Mentorship and Sponsorship:
It’s About Putting It Out There and Having Something to Lose
At each of the sort of shifts, I had great people around me that knew a lot and from whom I wanted to learn. One of my bosses was a former partner at Morgan Lewis, he had been a partner for 30 years in this area. He was a mathematician. I was like, holy crap, you just know so much. He was also one of the first people who I thought really showed me that being a good manager to your people is about being empathetic.
It’s really about understanding your people. It’s not about just saying: Did you do your work? How far are we along on this? Have you made progress? It was really about understanding your whole situation. He was definitely someone who showed me that you can be incredibly effective by being empathetic and kind, and sort of understanding people’s situations. And let’s be real, he was an older white man. Like not necessarily the person who needed to understand this brown girl’s perspective, but I think he did a great job about that.
Another boss I had when I was at the law firm, he was totally my sponsor. He was out there fighting and saying, no, no, no, you gotta push past your, at the time we weren’t using these words, you have to push back past your implicit bias. You have to push past your traditional vision of what you see as a lawyer. You have to push back the people you’re friendly with. Just because she doesn’t play golf doesn’t mean she’s not a great lawyer.
At the time, we weren’t articulating it that way. But now that I look back, I’m like, wow he really was beyond his own time and sitting there advocating. But I feel like those bosses that really put something out there and have something to lose, that’s rare. It doesn’t happen all the time for sure. Plenty of people who didn’t care. But I’m so eternally grateful for that kind of stuff.
On Her Approach to Leadership:
Give Credit, Take the Blame, and Share the Vision
Yeah. I mean, I think that when I think about leadership or leading a team, the notion of giving the credit and taking the blame is a big one for me, where it really reflects integrity. It reflects your understanding of your role. What is it that you did or didn’t do that caused that issue or that problem? Were you not clear enough? Were you not communicating? I think that’s an important thing where I take that very seriously. If we screw up on something, then I’m going to be the one I’m totally the one who’s taking responsibility.
And I think sharing credit, you know, showcasing this person on your team who did amazing work is such a key part of it and I think the side effect of that is a team that is willing to go to bat for you. They know that you have their back. That you’re gonna, you know, be willing to take the hits and so therefore they’re going to work harder. And I think that’s such a key piece of how I approach getting the team together.
And I think vision, I think people sometimes downplay this, but where are we going? I think people always want to know where we are going. What are we trying to do? What’s the big picture here? I know I do this thing where I approve this or don’t approve something everyday, but what’s the big picture? What are we doing? I think that’s such an important thing and it could be a small team in a small area, but still. I think it really matters and being able to explain that even for the people above you, I think it’s such a key part of that, that approach as well.
I think with compliance teams, sometimes it can be difficult work because they’re very internal facing, right? Your client is mostly the internal employees as opposed to the millions of our users, right. But I think for me, a lot of times, you are indirectly serving those people because what you’re trying to do is enable your client, the employees to act with integrity, responsibly innovate our products and do it in a way that adds to the public conversation in a good way without harm. Right? And I think that’s our role is to make sure that we support our people to build those amazing products and features, but do it in a way that we don’t add harm to the world. I think that’s very important. I think people, most people they’re onboard with that.
On What Responsible Innovation Means
I think that particularly in 2022, when the conversation is about, you know, the Meta universe and children and social media, I think that we’re entering an era where algorithms have the ability to do so much good, but also so much harm, right? Whether it’s policy issues, cultural issues, discrimination, etcetera, you have these technologies that have the potential to do amazing, wonderful things, but also having amazing potential to do terrible, horrible things. And so how do we thoughtfully do that?
And I think a lot of times, our teams need reminders to say, what is our value set as a company? It’s to have a purpose and to be this public conversation. And sometimes we don’t agree with everything people say, but I think most of us feel like it’s an incredibly important core part of our job that we’re not adding to the super negative parts of our society.
On the Corporate Culture of Twitter:
Commitment to Diversity, Feedback, and Introspection
I’ve been at Twitter a little over two years and I have learned more in these two years about culture than I think I have for a decade. It was such a huge, huge shift.
One of our sort of principles is to marry profit with purpose. I mean, we’re a public company. There’s obviously obligations to shareholders, etcetera. But the purpose is such a core part of the company. I think Twitter announced a couple of years ago that it wanted it to be the most diverse tech company in the world within five years, which is an incredibly ambitious goal. And a lot of very smart public companies would never say that because meeting that goal then becomes the challenge. But they’ve said it and they are doing everything that they can to do it.
And it’s not just about the numbers. It’s how do we have healthy conversations at this company? How do we have a respectful conversation where we’re talking about facts that we disagree on without getting into nonsense? There’s training for every employee on how to have healthy conversations. Providing feedback. Let’s describe the situation. Describe the behavior. Describe the impact. Don’t go into all that other stuff. Keep it to these things so that this person can grow.
Feedback as a gift is a huge line of Twitter. Feedback is a gift someone is giving to you because they care about you. They’re not hurling something at you, they’re trying to get you to grow, which is incredibly important. If employees on a Slack channel start blowing up about something our executives are really good about saying, okay hold up. Did we screw up? We need to take a look, right? There’s none of this sort of forging ahead because we’ve made this decision. There’s a lot of introspection and I really appreciate that. I would say most of the places that I’ve been at prior to here, it wasn’t like that. So yeah, for me, it’s been huge to shift to a culture of empathy and collaboration and we’re in this fight together and we know what the ultimate goal is and let’s get there.
On the Things to Improve About the Legal industry
You know, it’s an, it’s an interesting one. I feel like in-house is a little bit different than private practice. Right? I think private practice, the law firms, they still have a lot of work to do in terms of diversity efforts. I’m able to see what it takes to move needles and it’s Herculean, it’s a lot of work. You have to start from that pipeline. And so I think the industry is still looking at it from the top. Do we have enough partners that are of color, female, etcetera. But you really had to start way earlier than that. We really have to take a broader look at the industry. I think that’s an incredibly important one, because like I said, there are a lot of people like me who come from communities where they don’t have advocates. And so we need people that are advocates that are coming from those communities and going back to their communities. And so I think the industry could do probably a lot more to facilitate that and do better on that.
I think from a substantive perspective, every once in a while, I still think we can do a little work to get lawyers to advise in a very practical, actionable way. I still have outside counsel every once in a while where I get these memos and I’m like, okay, thank you for the recitation of the law. What am I going to do with this? I can’t hand this to somebody here. But that’s small compared to the diversity efforts.
On the Work She Does with Behind the Book
Behind the Book is this awesome organization based out of New York City, it was founded by a woman named Jo Umans about 30 years ago. What we do is go into underserved schools in New York city, primarily in the Bronx and Manhattan and build literacy programs in New York City schools.
So we go into the school, work with the teachers. We have program managers in the organization that go in there and help the teachers. They teach, they provide books, they bring the author into the schools so that the kids can see that this is what an author is. They do a lot of exercises. You know, lessons from the books and we try to focus on authors of color and plots that are around communities, color, etcetera so that the kids that are reading those can see their lives reflected. So it’s incredibly intentional. And every time I go to one of the classrooms and observe one of our program managers I’m just blown away by it.
During the pandemic, I think we all realized that some school districts, like my kids, passed out an iPad or a Chromebook to every kid. Whereas in these schools that Behind the Book serves, you had a family of five on one phone without wifi. How much did those children lose in this pandemic? I don’t think we have come close to quantifying that, but the organization did huge efforts to get Chromebooks, which, by the way, there was a huge shortage of Chromebooks because every school district was trying to get their hands on getting Chromebooks to kids, figuring out how to do these virtual classes, getting backgrounds on their computers for kids, because they didn’t want to show the apartment that they were living in.
You know things some of us don’t even have to think about. So yeah, I’m totally passionate about it. Love it. I think it’s, it’s extraordinary and it’s local, right. NYC for me is at this point home.
On the Most Influential Book She’s Read
Atticus Finch is a huge character obviously for me, it was very influential in fact, I named one of my kids Atticus. So that book is definitely a big one. I also think What is the What, which is the story of a group of boys called the lost boys from Sudan, where they’re making this journey trying to get out. I read it and I was like, holy smokes. There’s a whole world that I don’t even know about so that was a big one for me.
On Leadership in the Law
Authenticity, Setting a Vision, and Being Truthful
You know, I don’t even know if leadership is different than in any other field. I think leadership is about being authentic. It is about setting that vision. It is about being a motivator. It is about having your team’s back.
I think it’s about telling the truth. As lawyers, we’re there to give counsel. I take the word counselor very seriously. To give advice and counsel. I think being truthful is incredibly important to build your credibility and to be that person that they can rely on. If you’re going to just paint rosy pictures and lead your client down this road that isn’t so rosy in reality, I don’t know. I think it’s just being truthful, which includes being authentic, being who you are. Sometimes people may not be ready for who you are, but that’s a different story, but I just think being truthful in a respectful and authentic way is incredibly important.
On Self Care
Honestly, it’s the biggest challenge for me. A mother of three, full-time working. It’s a big challenge. My company has days of rest once a month, there’s this day where everybody at the entire company kind of shuts down and it’s awesome.
But people would be engaged in self care and I’m getting stressed out thinking about self care, because I don’t know what to do. So it took a little time, but yoga is a big piece for me. I started practicing about a decade ago and it’s huge for me having that sort of physical and mental break.
And reading a good book. I feel like 2022 has really been about sort of retraining my brain to not desire so much distraction. I mean like most of us, right? We’re hooked on distraction, sitting and staring at a space is really hard for a lot of us now. So trying to get back to just reading books on paper, not on a screen, like actually using paper that to me, I love it. I just finished reading this book, Crying in H Mart and holy smokes. It’s about this Korean American woman whose mother died and it’s about culture, food, so many things. It was just so powerful. About the immigrant experience, about how food plays such a huge part. But yeah, I think yoga and reading are big for me.
Lawyers Who Lead is a weekly podcast that celebrates lawyers who are making powerful changes through extraordinary leadership. Each week, Lawline’s Chief Storyteller, Sigalle Barness, interviews a lawyer who is driving meaningful change in the legal industry. Guests represent a diverse and exciting range of experiences but with one common thread, the pursuit of bettering the legal profession.
Each episode explores the guest’s journey to leadership, the underlying principles that helped them make an impact, and devises ways listeners can apply these concepts in their own lives.
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