Diversity - Corporations DuPont's Commitment To Diversity: Practicing What They Preach

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Ramona Romero, DuPont's Legal Department.

Editor: Ms. Romero, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Romero: I did my undergraduate work at Columbia and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School. I have been practicing law for about sixteen years. During the first part of my career I was in Washington, DC and engaged in white collar criminal defense work. I went on to handle antitrust and major commercial litigation work.

Editor: How did you come to DuPont?

Romero: While in private practice, I was involved in some antitrust defense work on behalf of DuPont. In the course of that work, I attended one of the first DuPont Minority Counsel Conferences and met Tom Sager, DuPont's Assistant General Counsel. We hit it off, and as it happened shortly thereafter a job became available at DuPont. Tom asked the company's recruiting people to contact me to see if I knew anyone interested in the position. It was at my level of experience and involved complex litigation similar to what I had been doing. I expressed interest in the job and started the interview process. At the same time, I had just become serious with a man who lived in Philadelphia. When we became engaged, I decided that the move here was the thing to do.

Editor: Was there a culture or particular attribute that attracted you tothe company?

Romero: The fact that I met Tom Sager in the context of a conference focussed on minority lawyers conveyed a very strong impression of DuPont's commitment to the value of diversity. That certainly attracted me to the company.

Editor: Please tell us about your responsibilities at present.

Romero: I joined DuPont in late 1998, and I was brought in specifically to do complex litigation. Since then, I have continued to have a complex commercial litigation docket and, in addition, I manage a significant antitrust practice, both on the plaintiff and on the defense side. Over the years I have also led different special initiatives for the company. When I first arrived I was asked to serve as chairperson of the minority job fair program. Currently I am the chairperson of the DuPont Minority Counsel Network, which is intended to connect minority lawyers at DuPont's primary law firms as well as in-house minority lawyers at DuPont. A key part of the network's actitivity is a conference, and over the past few years I have been involved in planning several such conferences. In addition, the network searches for opportunities to bring lawyers of color - those who work for DuPont as in-house counsel and those who are outside the company - together through mentoring opportunities and a newsletter. Another component to my diversity responsibilities is the supplier diversity program of DuPont's legal department, which I manage. This is directed exclusively at minority- and women-owned law firms, and it is not part of the group of approximately 42 primary law firms around the country which handle most of the company's outside legal work. Every lawyer who works in the DuPont legal department has the right, and is strongly encouraged, to send cases to a minority- or woman-owned law firm.

Editor: As you know, one of our publication's most important features is diversity, and in the past both Stacey Mobley, DuPont's General Counsel, and Tom Sager have appeared on the cover of our diversity section. DuPont has an enviable reputation for its inclusiveness. This did not just happen. Can you tell us something about the evolution of diversity at the company?

Romero: Of course, I can only speak of my experience, and I am relatively new to DuPont. It seems to me, however, that the focus on diversity is something that cuts across the entire enterprise and is an expression of a deeply held core value. Diversity in the workforce is valued because people are valued. In addition, diversity - including people of diverse backgrounds and experiences in the workforce - is a business imperative if the company is going to carry on its activities in, and relate to, an increasingly complex and diverse world. DuPont recognizes that diversity is one of the keys to succeeding in the global economy.

Editor: This very special culture is a reflection of leadership at the top?

Romero: Absolutely. For me, one of the most impressive aspects of DuPont lies in how much emphasis is placed on inclusiveness. As you know Stacey Mobley, our General Counsel, is African-American. Tom Sager, who is not a person of color, was committed to advancing the diversity agenda issue long before I met him. They are hardly alone. The entire leadership team is very focused on diversity and on ensuring that we have a work environment that is both inclusive and reflective of how we do business.

Editor: Today everyone says that they support diversity and encourage a culture of inclusiveness. DuPont, however, implements real programs that support these values. Can you tell us about some of them?

Romero: DuPont has a variety of programs that are related to diversity. One, a corporate-wide initiative in which lawyers from the legal department can participate in diversity training. In addition, for eleven years our minority job fairs have permitted the company's primary law firms to identify, interview and extend job offers to minority law students. There are four of these job fairs held at different cities on an annual basis, and they have been very successful. During my years at DuPont I have met many lawyers at our primary firms who have been hired though this undertaking. I mentioned the DuPont Minority Counsel Network, which is meant to provide a linkage among minority lawyers at the various primary law firms and with their counterparts in the DuPont legal department. We have a similar network for women lawyers. DuPont was the creator, with ACCA, of what is called the Pipeline Program. This involves training corporate legal departments to mentor minority students, starting at the elementary school level, for the purpose of generating an interest in careers in law. In fact, we have brought children from the local schools to our offices here in an attempt to introduce them to the legal profession. In addition, the Martin Luther King Celebration and Educational Convocation is an annual DuPont program that takes place on the Sunday and Monday in connection with the national holiday and features prominent speakers.

Editor: You also mentioned the DuPont legal department's supplier diversity program, in which you have a special interest. How does DuPont go about ensuring that minority suppliers are able to compete on a level playing field?

Romero: I started managing this program within a year or two of joining DuPont and worked on a continuing basis with my colleagues Janet Bivins and Hinton Lucas to revamp it. We have recently undertaken an effort to address the situation - plight, really - of the minority-owned law firms as apart of the program. We commissioned a study to explore how well minority-owned law firms were faring across the country, and the study confirmed our suspicion that things were not going very well. One of the most common situations is for a successful minority-owned firm to attain a certain reputation for expertise and quality work and, at that point, become a merger or takeover target. The minority-owned firm simply disappears into the ranks of a much larger majority firm. Some firms are simply crushed by the economic pressure caused by the absence of a significant and continuing stream of paid work. The demise of minority-owned and women-owned firms is an issue of concern for various reasons. First they provide an alternative source of legal services for corporations and individuals, contributing to the economic diversity of our profession. Second, these firms provide an avenue for entrepreneurship for minority and women lawyers. Finally, and very importantly, they provide another career option for lawyers of color and women. Returning to the study, as a result of its findings DuPont organized a program in Washington, DC and convinced five major corporations to co-sponsor it: General Motors, Shell Oil, Sara Lee, Wal-Mart and Ikon. The purpose of the program was to bring together members of all segments of the profession to come up with a plan to bring about consistent corporate support for minority-owned firms. That action plan is now under review by the sponsoring legal departments.

Editor: In addition to being the right thing to do, why does this make good business sense?

Romero: It is absolutely imperative for DuPont to have diverse legal teams from both minority-owned and majority-owned law firms handling its matters today. The demographics of this country are changing very rapidly, and there is a need to have legal representation - and to be seen to have representation - that reflects the composition of the population at large. There are sections of the country today where it would not be helpful, quite frankly, to send a legal team that lacked a minority presence.

Editor: You have also indicated your particular concern to see that majority-owned law firms retained by DuPont continue to promote persons of color and to support them in their careers. How do you go about monitoring progress here?

Romero: From the outset we make it clear that the values associated with diversity and inclusion are extremely important to us. In order to do business with us, the law firms must have a diverse workforce. They also understand that diversity must be reflected in the staffing of the projects which they are handling for us. Having made this point at the beginning of the relationship, we go on to monitor it closely with an annual benchmark survey which addresses diversity and other issues. A firm that is shown to fall short of the values to which we ascribe will not remain on the DuPont list for very long.

Editor: DuPont is obviously leading the way in encouraging law firms to support their minority young people. Are other major corporations engaged in similar exercises?

Romero: I can only speak for DuPont, of course. We encourage other corporations to follow our lead, however, and make ourselves available to discuss diversity programs whenever we are asked. I understand that others are committed to diversity: Sara Lee, for example is playing a leading role with Rick Palmore's "Call to Action." Shell Oil, GM and Ikon have also been at the forefront of the diversity fight. Another company that comes to mind because it is making very serious efforts to transform its commitment to diversity to the implementation phase is Wal-Mart, which has become a very strong supporter of the Minority Bar Association and other diversity programs.

Editor: The diversity agenda has been something that has defined DuPont for a very long time. What are the things that you hope to address over, say, the next five years?

Romero: The promotion of minority-owned law firms is a very important issue at present. In addition, we need to focus on the progress of minorities and women in majority-owned firms. There has been progress, but it has been slow and retention continues to be poor. The majority firms must accelerate their progress in identifying and hiring lawyers of color and women and, once they are through the door, in mentoring and promoting them to positions of authority and in doing what is necessary to retain them. In all of these efforts, DuPont will be present to lend a hand.