Making The Difference With Diversity And Inclusion

Friday, January 24, 2014 - 16:22

The Editor interviews Martha L. Rees, Vice President & Assistant General Counsel of DuPont Legal.

Editor: Martha, please tell our readers about your practice for DuPont Legal, including your role as chief antitrust counsel and chief environmental counsel. Tell us about the beginnings of your career at DuPont.

Rees: I started at DuPont as an R&D engineer for the Industrial Chemicals Department. I moved to our manufacturing division, working on environmental compliance with our plants. I then decided to go to law school, which opened positions for me in the legal function where I have had a variety of assignments – in government affairs; as a commercial lawyer for several of our businesses; developing the legal aspects of our product stewardship program; and as a corporate and securities lawyer. About 15 years ago I moved into management. Since that time, I’ve had responsibility for a variety of practice groups, and today I have global responsibility for the environmental, commercial, corporate/securities, M&A and trademark legal practices, in addition to my role as chief antitrust counsel and chief environmental counsel.

Editor: I understand that you are part of the DuPont Legal senior leadership core team, which guides the DuPont Legal team in its Diversity & Inclusion Initiative. Please describe the work of this team.

Rees: Diversity and inclusion are a key focus not only of the DuPont Legal function, but also of the entire DuPont Company. As a global science company operating in more than 90 countries, we recognized that hiring diverse talent is essential to help us relate to our customers, to understand our markets and ultimately to achieve the company’s growth objectives.  We recognized that the business case for diversity is compelling. In new and emerging markets, and also with our existing customer base, we benefit immensely from the varied experiences and problem-solving capabilities that come with diverse perspectives. Because DuPont will need to hire thousands of employees over the next five years to meet the company’s growth goals and address employee turnover, we put a premium on diversity and inclusion to help us attract, hire and retain all of these new employees. To meet these challenges, the company developed a diversity and inclusion strategy and as part of that strategy launched the Global Diversity and Inclusion Champions Council consisting of high-potential, high-performing leaders. Each member of the Council works with their respective business, function or regional leadership to create and implement a global diversity and inclusion strategy for his or her organization.

The DuPont Legal function is a full, active participant in this corporate initiative. Our strategy is focused on three objectives: first, continuing to build a diverse talent pool; second, creating a culture of inclusion; and third, creating business opportunity.

Editor: My observation has been that the legal function has been far upfront in its leadership.

Rees: I think that’s correct. DuPont Legal has been focused on driving diversity for many years. Leadership and commitment – the “tone at the top” – comes from our general counsel, Tom Sager, a very well-known advocate of diversity in the legal profession.  The fact that the company has launched the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative has been very helpful, putting additional wind in our sails, although we have long been sailing in the right direction.

Editor: How in your view has support for diversity benefited DuPont in the legal matters that you supervise?

Rees: Diversity and inclusion bring a breadth and richness to our thinking that we would not otherwise have. I think that we create better strategies; we are more creative in solving some of the issues that our businesses face; and we get better results. There is also a benefit in that the many stakeholders in the legal matters that we deal with – judges, jurors, regulators, our internal business clients and their customers and suppliers – are also diverse and bring diverse thinking into their respective forums. If DuPont Legal can also bring a diversity of thought to the matter, we will be able to more effectively engage with those stakeholders.

Editor: The DuPont Legal Model has been an agent for change in corporate law. How has it allowed the company to attract the brightest, most talented minorities and women?

Rees: While there has been much focus on our primary law firms and our primary service providers who are key to the DuPont Legal Model, the fact that one of the main tenets of our legal model has been advancing the careers of minorities and women has also enabled us to hire very talented minorities and women to meet our internal needs. I think of diversity and inclusion as part of our brand, allowing us to attract top talented minorities and women into our function.

Editor: Are there any further benefits that accrue as a result of this adoption of this policy?

Rees: Yes. In addition to those I mentioned, such as helping to make better decisions, engage with stakeholders and attract talent, a focus on diversity and inclusion can make DuPont Legal a better place to work. A culture of inclusion can unleash an environment where everyone feels respected and appreciated; where we can all contribute to our full potential; and where the sharing of new and different perspectives drives innovation and creativity.

DuPont continues to be recognized through a long list of awards as a company that is an excellent place to work. I believe our renewed focus on diversity and inclusion will only enhance that recognition as we foster a culture of inclusion in addition to our longstanding focus on diversity.

Editor: Please tell us about the mission of the DuPont Women Lawyers Network. Has DuPont’s recognition of talented women made a difference in hiring and retention, not only in the Network but throughout DuPont and at its highest level?

Rees: The mission of the DuPont Women Lawyers Network is very business-focused, with the aim to positively impact the business of DuPont by promoting legal excellence through the success, development and advancement of women lawyers who represent DuPont. The Network includes women lawyers who are in-house as well as those who are in our primary law firms. Having the DuPont Women Lawyers Network has made a difference in hiring and retention. Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to recruit and hire several lawyers. When we post our jobs openings, I’m very pleased with the diverse slate of applicants that we see, and, in many instances, a diverse applicant has ended up being the best candidate for the job. Our newly hired women lawyers are often among the more active members of the DuPont Women Lawyers Network, including quickly assuming leadership positions in the Network.

Editor: What activities are undertaken by DuPont to keep diversity in the forefront of thinking of its in-house lawyers as well as its primary law firms and service providers?

Rees: We have long provided active support for our diversity networks comprised of lawyers from DuPont Legal and our primary law firms - the DuPont Women Lawyers Network (previously mentioned) and the DuPont Minority Counsel Network. These networks hold annual meetings and are frequently the source of innovative diversity initiatives with broad impact. We also sponsor the DuPont Legal Black Employees Network (LBEN), an internal network of lawyers, paralegals, patent agents, and administrative support that has for many years taken the lead in organizing our corporate celebration of Black History Month in addition to a host of other activities. LBEN was recently recognized by the Corporate Black Employees Network with the Margaret M. Walker award for LBEN’s leadership role inside the company as an embodiment of the true spirit of networking.

We also keep diversity in the forefront of everyone’s thinking through an ongoing focus on the data. Our mandatory annual Benchmark Survey requires that our law firms and service providers report out diversity statistics and identify work performed by women and diverse attorneys across a number of categories. We share consolidated results annually with our Network and follow up directly with individual firms tracking progress year over year.

Editor: What role does a diverse team play in providing DuPont with effective representation in the event of litigation or other key projects?

Rees: When we have a diverse team that taps all of the perspectives on the team, the effect can be to broaden and enrich our thinking and enhance our strategy, allowing for more success in many projects we undertake, including litigation. Having a diverse litigation team is important from day one as we develop the litigation strategy and the thinking that goes into it. Later, at trial, it helps to have a visibly diverse team representing the company in a courtroom that is often filled with diverse individuals, whether jurors, the judge, the court personnel and the others, all reflecting the diversity of the communities in which we operate.  We see similar benefits in having diverse teams on other projects, both in strategy development and when connecting with diverse regulators or customers or suppliers.

Editor: Are there some new initiatives undertaken by DuPont Legal in the last year or so that you would like to mention?

Rees: We’ve been doing several things as part of our Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. One that was particularly interesting was a workshop on unconscious bias, in which a team of Legal Function managers participated in a series of exercises to stimulate our recognition of how unconscious bias may affect how we approach project staffing, how we select individuals for development opportunities and how we assess individuals for bonuses, raises and promotions. It was really quite illuminating.

We have also increased our focus on our data, first, as to recruiting – ensuring that we have a diverse slate of candidates for each hire – and later making sure that we track individuals as they go through their careers year after year, determining whether we have included diverse individuals at every level and on every team.

DuPont Legal has championed diversity in the legal profession for over 20 years. Our added emphasis at this point in our journey is making sure that we are fostering a culture of inclusion. Having a diverse team, whether in-house and externally, is critically important, but we will only enjoy the benefits of having these diverse teams if we are truly inclusive of diverse perspectives as we develop and implement our strategies. 

Editor: It is a very enlightened policy on your part and on the part of DuPont to be thinking broadly in anticipating a changing landscape.

Rees: The world is changing so quickly, as are our customers’ needs, and to stay on top of those changing needs, we need a diverse workforce that brings creative problem-solving capabilities, that brings fresh perspectives, and that brings broader experiences to meet our legal and business challenges. One of the challenges for a multinational corporation is making sure that our focus on diversity and inclusion is not limited to the perspective from an American mindset. We believe that the value that accrues from a diverse team can happen across our entire global company. We need to make sure that outside of the United States we are equally focused on diversity and inclusion in a way that is meaningful and beneficial in the context of our customers and the other cultures in which we operate.

 

Please email the interviewee at martha.l.rees@dupont.com with questions about this interview.