Diversity - Corporate Counsel Corporate Counsel Focus On Diversity Best Practices

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00

Anthony K. Greene, CRM, CIC, Director, Jamison Insurance Group and Director Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA),talks withCarol A. Casazza Herman, Assistant General Counsel, Pfizer Inc., andSteven E. Zipperstein, General Counsel of Verizon Wireless. Their discussion was recorded in January, 2005 by Alderson Reporting and was part of the Discussion of Best Practices hosted by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and sponsored by Arnold & Porter and American Airlines in recognition of the recipients of MCCA's 2004 Northeast Region Employer of Choice Award. Visit www.mcca.com for information about how to access the full program. To learn more about Alderson Reporting, visit www.aldersonreporting.com.

Greene: How are your organizations moving towards a more diverse workforce?

Zipperstein : Talking about diversity means nothing unless people are held personally and financially accountable for achieving that goal. Let me give you a very, very real world example of what I mean.

Verizon Wireless beat its competition hands down with an extraordinary year through the first three quarters of 2004. (I can't talk about the fourth quarter because our results aren't published yet). With outstanding financial results, you would think we would all get the maximum possible bonus. But, while our Board of Directors recognizes our achievements in the marketplace, they say, "What about diversity? The legal department got an award from the MCCA, but you can do better. Because you can do better, guess what? Your bonuses aren't going to be as high as you thought they were."

Now, there's nothing like a little jab like that to impress upon the top management and every single employee, that when we say "diversity" we mean it.

If the legal profession polices itself and says, "We're going to put our money where our mouth is," I think that we will immediately see much more progress than the good progress we've already seen. The legal profession has done pretty well, but it can do a lot better.

Herman: A large and multi-national company like Pfizer needs to focus on three things - globalizing diversity, actualizing diversity and broadening the concept of diversity. What does that mean?

For our legal division of approximately 1,200 colleagues, including over 400 lawyers, located all over the world, globalizing diversity means that we shouldn't have the diversity conversation just within the U.S. We need to talk about what diversity means in different cultures because our global legal division must be able to communicate without barriers and operate in a seamless fashion.

Actualizing diversity picks up on Steve's earlier comment. People need to be held accountable for their actions. For example, when procedures require hiring managers to focus on diversity by using recruiters and websites that attract diverse candidates, each and every hiring manager has to be held accountable for following those procedures.

By broadening the concept of diversity, we mean focusing on attributes that aren't necessarily at the forefront - not only color, gender, religion and handicap, but also diversity of thought. As a large organization, we want to nurture a culture that allows a free exchange of ideas and responsible risk-taking. We are asking ourselves, "Do we have a culture that is attracting people who think creatively and can take our company to the next level?"

Greene: Please give an example of your companies' best practices that have enhanced diversity.

Herman: Diversity is a business imperative in the pharmaceutical industry where, as a science-based industry, we are competing for an increasingly diverse group of highly qualified candidates. If we don't have an environment where they can flourish, we're not going to be able to compete in the recruiting pool.

One of our best practices is our Legal Division Diversity Steering Committee. We knew diversity needed senior management leadership - and we were fortunate to have that in our General Counsel, Jeff Kindler - but we also knew that it had to have a grass roots flavor to it. To form our Diversity Steering Committee, we invited anyone who wanted to participate. That was pretty bold because we didn't know how many folks we would get.

About 45 people stepped forward with diverse backgrounds in all of the traditional ways. They're also diverse in terms of their role in the legal division and seniority. They reflect our geographic diversity - with some colleagues participating from our Japan office, our European offices and many offices around the U.S. We organized the Steering Committee into five teams that track the five areas in which we wanted to work: recruiting and hiring, development, retention, communications and supplier diversity.

Our structure creates an atmosphere where anyone can step forward who's willing to work and their work is channeled in very specific ways. It has been very successful for us in actualizing our diversity initiatives.

Our Steering Committee's goals and objectives are made a part of its many members' job responsibilities. That's been very helpful - some participants' job performance is tied to the success of our diversity initiative.

Zipperstein: One platitude is, "You should give work to minority-owned law firms." That's fine, but a lot of minority lawyers are struggling to establish themselves within non-minority owned law firms. I like to find those people, give them work and help promote their careers within the law firms. Neither Munger, Tolles and Olson nor Kirkland and Ellis is ever going to become minority-owned, but a lot of good minority lawyers are in those firms. I'd like to give them work so that they can go into the senior partner's office and say, "Hey, I just got a call from the general counsel at Verizon Wireless. How do I open a file?" That gives them a chance to move up the ranks to become a partner as opposed to just being a statistic that the firm can check off on its diversity sheet and then being moved out after three or four years, quietly, when nobody's watching. I want all attorneys to have an equal chance to succeed.

Greene: What is the individual minority attorney's role?

Herman: You have to be committed to managing your own career, especially in a large organization where it's easy to get lost. When the organization talks about opportunities for development, you have to say to yourself, "I want to make sure that I take advantage of those opportunities. Where mentors are available, I need to make sure that I find and work with them."

You have to have a sense of ownership of your career. That's the case for everyone, whether you're part of the majority or a minority. However, if you are in the minority, and you don't actively manage your career, you may be less likely to be swept along with someone else's success and left behind.

Zipperstein: You have asked the most important question to be asked on this topic. Look, I think that people like us can open doors, but it's really about taking responsibility. You have to work really hard, do a really good job and fight for yourself.

When people start to see that you're working hard and doing a good job, it's not going to be about the color of your skin or your creed. It's going to be about your having a job that somebody else wants to take from you, because that's the way things are in the real world.

As long as you do great work, your integrity is beyond reproach and people respect you, no one's going to take away from you what you were able to achieve for yourself.

Greene: How do we make sure that a diverse group of lawyers get the quality experiences that allow them to move on?

Herman: The organization needs to hold managers accountable and evaluate managers on their ability to work with diverse colleagues in the organization. If that's not part of that manager's performance evaluation, then there's a piece of the puzzle that's missing.

Zipperstein: It is very easy for me as the general counsel to grill my direct reports about who got what work and why this person got all the "sexy" cases and somebody else didn't. They know that their compensation depends on it.

If a law firm wants to do work for Verizon Wireless, you have to show me that you're putting your money where your mouth is. I want to know that you are fairly doling out work, equitably and non-discriminatorily. I think that that's one way that I can help, and that Pfizer can help, to enforce diversity among the law firms.

The other thing that I think is very important is that even the loudest barking dog of a case can provide the opportunity for someone to become a star. Even the most boring, worst, terrible case that happens to come through the pipeline and land on your desk can be an opportunity for stardom if you work hard and do an excellent job.

Greene: What's next in diversity initiatives?

Herman: First, I'm really excited about thinking about what diversity means to a global company like Pfizer. How do you tie the cultural fluency that we need as a multi-national company to some of the diversity work that we're doing? I have no pre-conceived notion as to how that's going to work out for us and what it's going to look like in terms of programs, but that's something that's pretty intriguing.

The second thing is the concept of metrics. How do we measure our success? What does success look like in terms of both qualitative and quantitative metrics? We don't have the answers yet, but it's certainly going to be something that we will work on this year.

Zipperstein: For me it's a matter of nurturing the talent we have on staff so that when we have openings higher up I can promote from within, as opposed to going outside. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to have success in enriching my staff's careers, making them good contributors to the company, and being able to promote from within.

I also need to be very attuned to the initiatives of my client, the business, and make sure that, just as the business's diversity initiatives are intended to make sure that the composition of the business reflects the diversity of our forty million plus customers, the legal department reflects the diversity of the business itself.