January 24, 2020

More on “The (Very) Pregnant Securities Lawyer”

Some of you might know that we’re soon moving to “zone defense” in my house – my husband & I are expecting our third child any day now. We also took on parenthood later in life, and we love a challenge, so they’re all under age 5.

At about this point with our second, I went way out of my comfort zone and blogged about some of the issues I was facing. I loved that many of you responded with your own anecdotes, words of encouragement and advice. Even more gratifying was that a few people confided that they were facing similar issues and felt less alone after reading that post. I’ll say that most of the things in that list still apply the third time around, but I have a few more to add:

1. Living the Cliche: The biggest difference this time around is my “time flies” mindset. With our oldest starting kindergarten next year and our “baby” (soon-to-be middle child) well into the toddler phase, I’m really starting to grasp how quickly this all goes. I’ve barely accepted the fact that I’m pregnant and it’s already over!

2. ESG Is Everywhere: People are mad at Fisher Price/Mattel and the Consumer Product Safety Commission for failing to share stats about infant deaths caused by the Rock ‘n Play, a super popular product that we used for both of our kids. The info came to light, and the product was recalled, only because the CPSC accidentally shared product-specific info with Consumer Reports. So that’s not too reassuring. Only read the report if you can stomach the tragic human element of the story. This truly is a “buyer beware” world – which is scary when you’re desperate, sleep-deprived, faced with loads of conflicting info and in charge of keeping a defenseless human alive.

Will there be long-term legal or reputational fallout for the company or the agency? At least one well-known “baby sleep” author (yes, that’s a thing – she also runs a 45,000-member Facebook group) has renounced her trust of any products and is rewriting her book. I’m left wondering what kind of info the company’s board was getting and whether there’s an advisory board that will get more attention in future disclosures, since there don’t appear to be any pediatricians or child safety experts on the board itself. This WaPo article about “voluntary safety standards” set by companies is also…interesting. I guess that’s good for shareholders, at least in the short-term?

3. My Kids Make Me Better: I suspect that many in our community – myself included – can identify with this HBR article about overworking. Sometimes I try to do some “light work” around the family on nights & weekends. But lately, my 2-year-old walks up, shuts my laptop and carries it away – then he grabs my phone too, saying, “No more, mommy!!” Unfortunately, that’s the kind of “tough love” that I need right now to be able to live in the moment. Among other things, our kids are also constantly teaching me patience, new perspectives, organization, appreciation for beauty in small things and a nuanced understanding of bathroom humor. After seeing the two of them interact over the last couple years, I’m even more excited to see how the new baby’s personality will fit into the mix.

4. Transitions Aren’t Easy: I blogged last time about “transition mechanics,” which are very important. This is more about the “transition mindset.” I’m lucky in being afforded an opportunity to take leave – not everyone has that. However, I feel I’m not “optimizing” that benefit because – rather than gradually ramping down – I tend to work excessively until the moment it’s physically impossible. I know from personal experience that this makes the birth and recovery much more difficult and I’ll spend a few weeks or months afterwards regaining the ability to function and beating myself up for not taking better care of myself and the baby during pregnancy. I also have to set really firm boundaries for myself during leave, because I know I’ll struggle with not feeling “productive” (despite producing a brand new person and having the primary responsibility to feed and keep that new, helpless person alive).

I recall that returning from leave can be pretty rough too, though I’m not in that moment yet. Whether you’re “leaning in” or “leaning out,” it takes a while to find a rhythm – and this NYT piece points out that for many, the “push-pull” doesn’t ever fully disappear. I try to remind myself that – while parenting continues forever – leave itself is such a short time period in the big picture and it’s best to stay healthy and present. Parenthood is also just one example of a big transition – everyone has “life” stuff going on throughout their career, and we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we glorify robotic compartmentalization.

5. Cultural Shift: Last time around, I blogged that professional networking while pregnant is particularly awkward. I do enjoy bonding over the shared parenting journey, but I know there are other things that we can also talk about, and regularly fielding “body” comments can make even the most confident person self-conscious. I’ve experienced much less of that this time, which I love. One person was surprised when I mentioned I was expecting and said they now look at people only from the neck up – bravo!

Another positive change I’ve noticed in the last few years is that many more men are unapologetically – even proudly – taking parental leave. One fellow lawyer has been posting daily updates about the time away from his “easier” job and told me that the expectation at the firm these days is that everyone (birthing & non-birthing parents) will take their full leave – it’s frowned upon to do otherwise. Shortly after that, I received a to-the-point auto reply from another male contact – “I’m out on parental leave and will not be responding to messages” – with contact info for colleagues. Two thumbs up to that team approach.

I (still) know I’m not alone on this journey of balancing pregnancy, parenthood & lawyering. I’d welcome more emails with any experiences & “lessons learned” that you want to share – just don’t be surprised if you get an auto reply! I’m extremely grateful to John, Lynn, Dave, Alan, Mike, Mark and the folks in our HQ for being so on top of their game and willing to handle some “extras” these next few months.

California’s “Board Gender Diversity” Law: FAQs

It’s official – California-headquartered companies are now required to have at least one female director. This WSJ article says that 244 California-based companies have added a woman to their board since the law went into effect, and 41 companies added two. For companies with five or more directors, the law requires having 2-3 female directors by the end of next year. This Wilson Sonsini memo provides some up-to-date info on how reporting and enforcement will work in the days ahead. Here’s an excerpt:

Are there any reporting obligations for companies under SB 826? Yes and no. Because the California secretary of state has not yet adopted implementing regulations under SB 826, there is currently no official regulatory mechanism for reporting that would result in a fine (see list in next section). However, the secretary of state has modified the current annual Corporate Disclosure Statement for publicly traded companies to include questions regarding the number of female directors currently serving on a company’s board (see question 5 in the statement).

Based on our conversations with an individual handling SB 826 matters at the secretary of state’s office, during calendar 2019 and as of the date of this Alert, responding to those questions on the Corporate Disclosure Statement is the only current way a company can inform the secretary of state’s office regarding compliance with SB 826. We do not expect the secretary of state’s office to review a company’s annual report on Form 10-K, proxy statement, website, or any other documentation to determine whether a company had a female director serving during a portion of calendar 2019.

The memo goes on to say that it’d be unlikely at this point for a company to be fined for being out of compliance based on 2019 board composition. However, there’s a “public shaming” factor that could motivate companies to comply:

If there are currently no official reporting obligations, why should my company report on the Corporate Disclosure Statement? SB 826 requires the California secretary of state to publish on its website a report documenting the number of companies whose principal executive offices are located in California and who have at least one female director. An initial report was published in July 2019, and with no official reporting mechanism there were a number of anomalies reported.

No later than March 1, 2020, and then on an annual basis, the secretary of state must publish a more detailed report on its website regarding the number of:

• companies subject to SB 826 that were in compliance with the law during at least one point during the preceding calendar year;
• publicly held corporations that moved their U.S. headquarters to California from another state or out of California into another state during the preceding calendar year; and
• publicly held corporations that were subject to SB 826 during the preceding year, but are no longer publicly traded.

Based on our conversations with an individual handling SB 826 matters at the California secretary of state’s office, the March 2020 report is currently being prepared based on responses received during 2019 from the Corporate Disclosure Statement. If companies want to be named on the secretary of state’s annual report as being compliant because a female director has served on their board for at least a portion of the calendar year, they will need to inform the secretary of state’s office through the Corporate Disclosure Statement.

California isn’t the only state to be taking a closer look at board diversity – New York is the latest jurisdiction to adopt a law on the topic. Starting in June of this year, companies will be required to report the number of directors on their boards and how many of those people are women. See this Ogletree Deakins memo for more info…

Auditor Independence: Proposed Rule Changes are Good News for Dealmakers

Here’s something John recently blogged on (and also see this four-part piece in Francine McKenna’s newsletter about the SEC’s auditor independence proposal): This recent blog from Weil’s Howard Dicker & Lyuba Goltser reviews the potential benefits to PE funds, IPOs & participants in M&A transactions associated with proposed changes to the SEC’s auditor independence rules. This excerpt discusses how the rule changes would address inadvertent independence violations that can arise in M&A transactions when the buyer’s auditor has also performed impermissible non-audit services for the target:

The SEC proposes a transition framework to address these types of inadvertent independence violations. An accounting firm’s independence will not be impaired because an audit client engages in a merger or acquisition that gives rise to a relationship or service that is inconsistent with the independence rules, provided that the accounting firm:

– is in compliance with applicable independence standards from inception of the relationship or service;

– corrects the independence violations arising from the merger or acquisition as promptly as possible (and in no event later than six months post-closing); and

– has in place a quality control system to monitor the audit client’s M&A activity and to allow for prompt identification of potential independence violations before closing.

The blog also points out that for PE funds, rule changes would codify Staff practice concerning independence issues that arise when sister companies with a common PE fund owner have engaged an audit firm to provide non-audit services that could impair the independence of the audit firm with respect to another sibling company. The rule changes would also shorten the look-back period for auditor independence from three years to one year, which would provide increased flexibility for IPO companies to address potential disqualifying relationships with their audit firms.

Liz Dunshee