Powerful Women Let's Talk - 023: L. Song Richardson

Nov 23, 2020

L. Song Richardson

L. Song Richardson is the Dean and Chancellor's Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. When appointed Dean in 2018, she was the only woman of color to lead a top 30 law school  in the country. A leading expert on criminal law as well as implicit racial and gender bias, Richardson frequently speaks to public and private industries across the nation about the science of implicit bias.

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Produced by women about women Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world. Transforming who we are and how we live Powerful Women, Let's Talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real.

L. Song Richardson is the dean and chancellor's professor of law at the University of California Irvine School of Law when appointed Dean in 2018 she was the only woman of color to lead a top 30 law school in the country, a leading expert on criminal law as well as implicit racial and gender bias Richardson frequently speaks to and trains public and private industries across the nation about the science of implicit bias and its influence on decisions, perceptions and judgments and she loves to have fun find her on a roller coaster and zip lining. Welcome to Powerful Women, Let's Talk Dean L. Song Richardson. L. Song, good morning.

Good Morning, Thank you so much for having me.

Start with the name do I call you L do I call you Ms. Song, Richardson or do I call you late for dinner?

Always late for dinner but, please call me Song.

Yes. tell me about your name.

My name is Korean actually. My mother is Korean and her name was Song and so I was Song junior going up.

Well we speak all the way across the US of A to join our conversation. Do stop in if you are ever in Michigan in the near future. So here we go Ms. Richardson would you talk a bit about your career journey?

Sure. If I had thought about what my career would be when I was young, I never would have imagined where I ended up. So, I ended up here and then every other job that I've been lucky enough to hold by taking chances and saying yes to opportunities that were presented to me and that's what I've always done. It has worked out well. I've been very very lucky to feel like I haven't worked a day in my life.

Did you chase your career?

I didn't. I really didn't know what it was I wanted to do. I was extremely shy. I couldn't speak in public all the way up until I started law school. So, I never would have imagined, I'd be a litigator and then a Law professor and now a dean, so opportunities just open themselves up to me. I’m lucky to have incredible mentors and I took risks and said yes to try things that are challenging.

What is the work you do today?

So as Dean of a remarkable law school I think of my work as empowering people around me. The great leadership team I work with, supporting faculty scholarships, or their scholarships I should say and then supporting students and hoping to inspire them to live their dreams but, that's how I view the job being the dean in addition to that managing the budget. And fundraising and all the other things like that that deans do.

Paperwork as they say. Song, what’s your leadership style? Yes, what’s your leadership style how did it get built? Yes.

Yes, so I view myself as I mentioned as empowering the people around me, so I am not a micromanager I don't believe in hierarchy except to the extent that any decision ultimately rests with me but, I think that great ideas come from diversity and inclusion and hearing people's voices and I encourage everyone to challenge me all the time because that's how I think great decisions are made. So very strongly collaborative.

Let’s move to the topic of mentorship. Specifically, mentoring girls and young women on overcoming self-imposed limitations set by unconscious bias and take that from your resume and some of your experience.

Yes, that is such a great question. I think about the people who mentored me they never ever let me give up on myself. When I would make a mistake, when I would fall down, what they would say to me is “of course that's what should happen if you're taking risks and sufficient strategic risks you will fail at particular times in your life and you can always learn from those failures. Pick yourself up and cry with your friends if you need to do and then get out and do it again” and so that's what I say to the to the young women that I mentor or even my colleagues that I mentor to continue this journey right to find people around you even now to find people around you from whom you can seek advice, talk about your day, learn how to overcome the limitations that others might place on you and overall, I simply tell people not to let others judgment of them keep them from achieving the dreams that they have and they should certainly dream big.

How does today's woman find her own voice?

By speaking, by doing, by reading, those are the things I’m constantly doing. I'm always continuously learning from other remarkable women; women I know, women I don't know but, watch and listen to. It is practice, right? Practice finding your voice, figuring out what feels comfortable for you. Trying on different, I always think of it as you know trying on different mantles and seeing which fits and feels comfortable and then when you get comfortable push yourself to do more and it's so my voice continues to grow and to change as I learn more and experience more things and fail as I mentioned before and learn from those failures so it’s a
constant period of growth for me and I think that's what girls and women should continue to do.

What's your message when it comes to the topic of diversity and implicit bias?

Diversity is so critically important because it is the way that we become creative and innovative and find new answers to problems and so of course implicit and explicit biases continue to exist and all that we can do is to continue to fight against them but, to not let the fact that they exist make us limit what it is that we feel that we can do. I think you can see I'm an optimist.


Wonderful. I want to have some fun, not only did we start with your name Song but, goodness gracious, you were a concert pianist in your formal life performing twice with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Why didn’t I start with that? Tell me more.

So, as I mentioned my name is Korean and the reason I say that is  there is a stereotype about Korean moms and the piano. It was true for me, so I had no choice. my very strong and very strict Korean mother had two dreams for me, one: that I would become a concert pianist and she bitterly sat with me when I was growing up for 4 to 6 hours during the week on school nights and 8 to 10 on weekend, forcing me literally to practice so that I'd become a concert pianist that was dream one. And dream two was that I would attend Harvard and I did both. And if you knew my mom, you would understand that failure was not an option.

Tell me about Scratch and Crouton.

They’re my babies they’re my cats. they're scratching at my door right now trying to get in. Those are our children Scratch and Crouton.

That should mean keeping you focused. You love sushi. Tell me more.

Sushi is my favorite thing. When my husband I eat sushi, we will stay there for hours UNNI is my favorite, I highly recommend everyone to eat UNNI… sea urchin delicious.

I have to know the answers to this question: Why are you afraid of butterflies?

No one understands. I know it’s strange. I developed that later in life and think it’s because one landed on me and I got a good look and its body, but I hate to say this, it scared me and now they scare me.

But, you get that out of your system by riding a roller coaster and zip lining. Really?

Yes, exactly and the next thing would be jumping out of a plane. That is the next thing that I will do.

There she is taking risks. To the next generation Ms. Richardson, why study law for a career choice and what is your piece of advice here?

We need young leaders now and law can help us create a more fair
and more equitable society and at this point in our nation's history we need that. We need lawyers to understand how the world works and to fight to continue to live up to the values of our country so please come to law school and please consider UC Irvine law.

Do you have a recommended reading for our audience?

What I'm reading right now is Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead. I cannot put it down it is an amazing book about courage, about leadership, about resilience, I highly recommend it.

And I want to leave with, you did mention the taking of risks not only being strapped in a roller coaster but, jumping out of a plane or a studying law can you leave us with this.

One should take risks because it's exciting, it allows you to grow as a person, it creates opportunities in your life that you never would have imagined would open up for you.
So please push yourself to the limit, do more than you ever thought that you could do, and you will achieve your dreams, I cannot stress that enough please push yourself and take risks and pick yourself up from those failures that might occur.

Thank you for this conversation L. Song Richardson, dean and chancellor's professor of law at University of California Irvine School of Law and thank you for listening to Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I’m Shelly Irwin.

Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real. It is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.