Congratulations, Kellie, you are the first woman prosecutor in your rural area, Lafayette County, Missouri. What did it mean to you this significant achievement?
Kellie Wingate Campbell
Attorney, Lafayette County Prosecutor
President of MOVA (#Missouri Victim Assistance Network)
Thank you. It is exciting to be a small part of history in this way and yet when you think about it, it’s really quite strange that we are still experiencing so many ‘firsts’ for women lawyers 143 years after the first woman was allowed to practice law in the U.S. I wonder what ‘firsts’ will remain to be realized at the 200-year mark! These milestones are significant and each one represents progress in addressing historic injustices.
As important as this accomplishment is to me, though, it is even more important that I perform my duties to the very best of my ability, something I aspire to do every day.
How could other women benefit from your “breaking the ice” as first lady prosecutor? Are you planning to mentor women candidates to the same or similar roles?
I think that the next woman prosecutor in this position is likely to be accepted more readily by certain segments of the population than I was. I hope our office is proving that it is experience and integrity rather than gender that determines success in prosecuting criminal cases. I have encouraged and mentored other women prosecutors, law school students, and even secondary school students at various times during my career. Mentoring brings a real sense of fulfillment.
What was the reaction of your male colleagues to your promotion as prosecutor?
How many prosecutors does Lafayette County have?
I try to perform as though gender does not affect my professional interactions and the majority of the time this works well. However, this is an unrealistic approach in many circumstances. A periodic crude, sexist remark provides obvious proof of the issue, but subtle forms of sexism are the most frustrating because they are more difficult to pin down. When you encounter an invisible barrier in a particular relationship or setting, you will repeatedly bang your head against it until you finally acknowledge it. Once you name it, you stop wasting your time looking for the ‘problem’ and you contain the sexism to the best possible extent. If you can’t identify the source of conflict or tension as personality, performance, politics or something else, gender bias may very well be at play.
There are no easy solutions for eradicating gender bias. My choice is to be true to myself while continually learning how to lead better and to earn the respect of those around me. On a humorous note, the day I blew up and dropped a few choice words, the guys were all impressed with this less-than-civil behavior and my clout reportedly increased a notch or two. Apparently, I was viewed as too composed and my mini-explosion was an expression of the ‘fire’ they needed to see. Go figure.
Based on your observation, is there a difference between women and men in “feeling” and approaching justice? Or are other factors making the difference? Which ones?
For example, I have always believed that women have more compassion than men, but I have never been able to collect enough evidence of it …
Studies regarding gender consistently show that there are differences between men and women whether it be in leadership style, communication or problem-solving.
Rather than ignore this evidence, we can use these differences to benefit our various justice systems. The same studies suggest that this balanced approach produces better outcomes. An article from the Harvard Business Review (1) earlier this year citing studies on these differences provides insight into perception versus reality regarding gender differences and leadership.
Gender is not the only characteristic each one of us brings to the table, of course. We each have unique biases, experiences, strengths and weaknesses that come to bear on our approach to things. Increased insight into all of these areas can help improve our leadership skills and overall performance in the workplace. Gender is one facet of a larger picture when it comes to improving our judicial systems.
Kellie, which are the main gender differences/qualities/attitudes you have encountered in administrating justice?
How could the various justice systems benefit from using the differences between men and women in approaching justice?
Shortly after I was appointed to this position, I spoke to a business club. Someone in the audience asked me whether I would be as ‘tough’ as the man before me. The fact that the question was even asked could be seen as a form of gender bias: would they have asked the same question of me if I were a man? I responded by saying, “Ideally, a prosecutor would be both tough and fair, but let me ask this – if you had to choose between them, would you choose ‘tough’ or would you choose ‘fair’?” The room was silent as this concept took hold. Of course, people want to be treated with fairness first and foremost, especially when it is their own family member or friend who has gotten into trouble or been arrested for driving drunk.
Another gender issue I have encountered relates to appearance. Flowing hair, pantyhose and a polite voice have often been underestimated. ‘Tough’ is not defined by appearance in my field. Out-dated attitudes regarding appearance still pop up here and thereand these attitudes lead to real embarrassment for those who have a hard time accepting change. It is usually my choice in these situations to refuse to concede inferiority while at the same time to avoid shaming the source. I have found that it works better for me to remain professional and cordial while firmly advancing my position with intelligence and poise.
I have also had to learn over the years to project my voice and to overcome years of being soft-spoken. My husband is an actor. I have learned from him the importance and method of being heard. Many women I know would benefit from learning to use their voice more effectively.
The second part of your question is harder to answer. I go back to my belief that gender is just one of many aspects of leadership, and diversity of all kinds – personality, race, age, experience, gender, economic standing - is required for a well-balanced approached to justice.
Please tell us about your profession. Which risks do prosecutors take in their profession?
What is your attitude to risk?
In your opinion, do female prosecutors expose themselves more to professional risks than men do?
In general, my profession requires analytical thinking, public speaking, research and writing skills, common sense and various forms of risk-taking. In my current position as a public figure, I take a risk every time I open my mouth because so many people are listening and ready to criticize, but this is not what I typically think of when I think of risk.
Instead, I think of the lives I affect each day when deciding whether to file a criminal charge that will certainly affect someone’s future, for both victims and defendants. Experience and a good deal of discretion are required. My constant prayer is, “God, grant me the wisdom to know the right thing to do, and the courage to do it.” Risk-taking requires courage.
I find that most of my female colleagues readily and skillfully embrace decision-making that requires a calculated level of risk. As Soren Kierkegaard points out, risk-taking may involve some uncertainty but is absolutely essential: “To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself”. What a great reflection.
I read you are a sponsor of MOVA (Missouri Victim Assistance Network), what is it about? Its mission? What is your role in this network?
In July, I became president of MOVA, an organization devoted to ensuring that victims of crime have a voice in the criminal justice system. For many years, victims of crime had no rights and were not included in vital stages of a criminal case. Two decades ago, MOVA helped pass state laws that give rights to victims. Prior to this, victims had no right to be notified of court dates, no right to speak at sentencing, no right to an advocate or many of the other basic rights we call ‘victims’ rights’ today.
This is a volunteer position that relates directly to my mission as a prosecutor. It also gives my jurisdiction a presence at the state level and keeps me immersed in current issues and legislation pertaining to victims of crime.
I have worked with victims for the majority of the past twenty years and have seen gradual progress in the area of victims’ rights. We have come far, but there is still much work to be done. Most victims’ rights laws have no enforcement or ‘teeth’ behind them. In other words, if a prosecutor or judge does not afford the victim an opportunity for input, the victim has no immediate recourse to enforce their rights.
Funding is also lacking for victim services in many areas. Another obstacle is that the emotional, ‘touchy-feely’ side of victimology is often avoided in the courtroom. Courtrooms tend to be structured and orderly and even sterile. Victims of crime are understandably angry or emotional and this is often seen as awkward in many courtrooms. Promoting victims’ rights is not as simple as it sounds. The term ‘victimology’ is relatively new, historically speaking, and reflects an international movement formally recognized in the mid-1980s to provide victims substantial access to the criminal justice system. Victimology is the study, in part, of how victims respond to crime and their offenders and how they interact with the court system. When law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges have a better understanding of the victim experience, we see better results in investigations and sentences, and, more importantly, we see victims experiencing less victim-blaming and less re-victimization by the people assigned to protect them.
Kellie, you have started the LinkedIn group “Lady Justice: In Acclaim of Women Lawyers”, a very intriguing name … What is your aim with this virtual group?
As a new attorney over twenty years ago, I struggled to find other mothers and attorneys who had been down the same path before me.
Then I became an elected official and again found myself at a loss for mentors during some tumultuous times. In spite of the supportive male mentors I’ve had over the years, there were many moments when I wanted to talk to a woman who had already gone through the challenges I was facing.
In a rural area, the internet is especially valuable in increasing those networking possibilities. I decided to create a network myself designed to provide encouragement and support to other women in my field. It’s just a little late-night project that allows me to share articles I find helpful, knowing that other women lawyers may find them useful, too. Women lawyers have such an interesting history of overcoming obstacles and I post articles on this as well. As I search for and read articles to post, I am humbled by the determination of so many women I discover, not just the heroes of the past, but the heroes of today who are fighting for justice all around the world.
What inspired you, Kellie, to become an attorney and a prosecutor?
Are any members of your family also involved in the legal profession?
My first degree was in Psychology. During my studies I used to work as a medical clerk in a hospital, it was a male co-worker who said to me one day, out of the blue, “You should go to law school”.
I didn’t see this in myself but he saw my interest in righting wrongs, and I valued his input. He was right. Up to this point I had only consulted with an attorney one time and it was not a pleasant experience. I didn’t particularly enjoy law school, but after I graduated in 1988 and obtained my license, I found that I truly enjoy working in this field.
Friends and family would have described me as a child as being shy and quiet, but when you find your passion, you also find your voice, and I certainly found my passion in the practice of law. People in any profession have the ability to improve the lives of those around them, but a law degree has allowed me to do this in ways not otherwise possible.
Once again, I had no mentors or family members to look to for advice specific to this experience as no one close to me was an attorney. I had to seek them out at various stages of my career.
Kellie, which are your professional dreams that have not yet come true?
And your personal ones?
I have been privileged to see many of my professional goals fulfilled which would have to include - in no particular order - speaking at an international conference in the World Forum in The Hague, helping several child molestation victims find justice, breaking into a position not previously held by a woman, and starting my own business. The conference in The Hague was the 14th International Symposium of the World Society of Victimology. I was invited to speak on victims’ rights as they relate to confidentiality, a matter of both dignity and personal safety.
Looking to the future, I want to become a better leader and I constantly work at this. A member of my LinkedIn group posted an article that recommended must-reads for today’s leaders, so at the moment, I am working my way through ‘The Lean Startup’ by author Eric Ries. Women leaders face their own set of challenges, especially in fields where ‘leadership’ is defined by male attributes. This is an ongoing challenge and I want to be on the forefront of change. I suppose this will be a lifetime goal accompanied by a lifetime of effort.
I also enjoy writing and would like to write more often. And I want to do all of this while taking cross-country and international trips with my grandchildren, who are yet unborn! Dare to dream big.
Kellie, what do you think about the work-life balance issue?
One of the struggles for many mothers who accept positions of societal authority and power is whether they are cheating their children. I want to assure those mothers that they are setting such an important example for their sons and daughters.
My oldest daughter remarked the other day that she is so proud each time she runs into someone in our community who tells her how I have helped them. Her Facebook posts about this and similar encouragement of the work I do help make up for a small portion of my guilt over missing her concert at Carnegie Hall three years ago!
Professional decisions often require unpleasant sacrifice, but as time goes on, I become more and more convinced that my children have gained much more than they have lost.
Another example: My youngest daughter asked me several years ago, “If you don’t work for Molly’s dad anymore, then who is your boss?” I responded, “Me”. The smile on her face and her response - “Cool!” - let me know that I had planted an important seed, not only that the ‘boss’ is not always male, but that a woman can direct her own future. Keep planting those seeds!
Kellie, please tell your daughters and your son that we will bring your interesting “story” to Europe – they will enjoy it - and give them a hug from me: we need “daughters and sons proud of their mother’s professional achievements”, it is very rewarding and encouraging.SOURCES (1)
Kellie Wingate Campbell was appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to serve as the Lafayette County Prosecuting Attorney in 2009. She later ran for office unopposed in the 2010 election.
Kellie Campbell received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Stephens College, a private women’s college founded in 1833, and her juris doctor degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1988. She is married with three children. is tbios
Kellie Wingate Campbell
Attorney, Lafayette County Prosecutor & President of MOVA (Missouri Victim Assistance Network)
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MOVA, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
Link to the HBR article with an opportunity to download the studies is provided here: