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#CovHasPride Spotlight Series: Erika Skougard

June 11, 2020

Erika SkougardErika Skougard counsels employers on a wide range of employee benefits, compensation, and employment issues. Ms. Skougard’s professional background includes significant business management experience, which shapes her pragmatic approach to helping clients solve problems and achieve objectives.

Ms. Skougard has an active pro bono practice, focused on helping not-for-profit organizations with benefits and employment issues. She also advises on matters involving LGBT+ rights and gender equality.

How will you celebrate LGBT+ Pride Month this year?

This is a somber year. Like the rest of the country, my family has been preoccupied with the ongoing mass protests, including in our neighborhood in Washington, DC. Although the civil rights struggles for Black and LGBT+ people are not always comparable, I do think that our community has had to learn what I’m sure the Black community has always known: Just because an institution is powerful or a cultural belief is entrenched does not mean that it is correct. And when something is wrong, it won’t get better unless it’s challenged. Pride Month marks the anniversary of Stonewall, when a handful of marginalized LGBT+ individuals resisted acts of police violence. My family has legal protections today in large part because of those individuals and the many who followed – and because allies stood by us and spoke up for us. So, like some others in the LGBT+ community, my family is observing Pride this year by trying to learn how to be better allies to our Black neighbors, colleagues and friends, inside and outside the LGBT+ community. We’re reading How to be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi as a family and donating the money we would have spent on travel and Pride festivities to organizations like the Trans Justice Funding Project.

As a lawyer who is a woman and a member of the LGBT+ community, how would you describe the industry’s progress re: intersectionality?

The legal profession has made real strides toward recognizing the need for greater diversity, and it’s encouraging to see firms consciously focus on recruiting a diverse slate of new attorneys every year. Retaining and promoting a diverse team of is a different challenge that will require firms to move beyond simple categories and metrics and build an institutional understanding of concepts like intersectionality and implicit bias. I think the profession is still in the beginning stages of this process. It will take strong leadership and a lot of individual goodwill to build new social and professional norms that encourage genuinely listening to different perspectives – and graciously acknowledging when we need to do better.

Those of us who identify with a group that’s underrepresented have a special challenge because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of ourselves as the “teachers” in this process. But we have as much to learn as anyone else. I can’t assume, for example, that women of color or someone whose gender identity doesn’t reflect my own will share my views or experiences – or that they should share my priorities.

What advice would you offer to junior associates seeking workplaces that promote authenticity/where they can be their authentic selves?

The best advice I can offer junior associates is to get involved in your firm community early in your career: Connect with affinity groups, sign on to pro bono matters, volunteer for charitable campaigns, and attend events that focus on issues that matter to you. Ideally, your billable work will be rewarding in its own ways, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of the connections and experiences that keep you feeling inspired and grounded.

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