Equal Opportunities For All: The Role Of General Counsel In Diversity & Inclusion

    The role of a General Counsel (GC) is often misunderstood.

    Their responsibilities are assumed to be limited to the basic legal framework, that is, helping organizations understand their legal rights and ensuring they abide by them.

    However, as we’re stepping into the new-age world of 2021, corporate operations are experiencing massive positive spins.

    According to Statista, a market and consumer database, the US is predicted to house around 27.5% Hispanics by 2060 (a jump of 9.71% from 2016), 15% African Americans (1.69% jump), and 9.1% Asians (3.43% rise).

    The same statistics suggest that corporations are opening their talent pipelines to other minorities, including 6.24% of the multi-race population (3.62% increase) and 1.38% Alaska Natives (1.13% spike).

    Today, organizations are increasingly acknowledging the importance of including employee diversity. And this is where a GC comes into play.

    The Job Description Paints A Picture

    A general counsel job description is pretty holistic in itself. Gone are the days when a company limits the expertise of a law professional to a specific realm.

    As the legal operating head of an organization, applicable to every industry, it’s their job to ensure their company is heading towards a morally responsible path.

    One way of achieving this is by including more diversity in the workspace.

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    Why Should GCs Ensure Rising Diversity And Inclusion?

    While the GC doesn’t have a direct say in everyday business functioning, their decisions impact the company’s long-term plans.

    The general sentiment states that meaningful diversity fosters innovation and productivity of the team as a whole. And this sounds justified when viewed from the legal lens too.

    Corporate Law is technical. The foundations are based on different beliefs. A diverse legal team helps crack the nut faster and better because different viewpoints help understand different narratives.

    This holds true, especially during patent suits. Different cultures, languages, and thought-processes make it tricky to pitch an idea and make it sound convincing.

    However, a diverse workforce brings in multiple viewpoints and teaching abilities, which act as the perfect situational rescues. Microsoft’s diverse team serves as a nice example to discuss.

    The diverse team achieves better response across key participants in the legal system along with recording promising product accepting rates amongst different consumer cohorts.

    Taking a step back from the law zone, the corporate puzzle fits-in perfectly when you respect diversity.

    These justifications help multinational conglomerates and C-suite players the world over realize that a GC acts as a game-changer to serve an organization’s best interests.

    How Can A GC Contribute Towards Corporate Diversity?

    A GC has the power to make the rules. A careful analysis of the company’s strength, diversity, and budgets can form an initial foundation towards the inclusion of diversity.

    For the legal department, the in-house GC can consider the option to include diversity from the outside counsel.

    This thought helps the company expand its diverse employee pool in the profession. The same can be applied to other hiring departments as well.

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    Next, investing in diversity and inclusion programs works well here. This basically means that at each stage of the corporate hierarchy, a certain portion of the budget should be allocated to:

    • Onboard the best applicants from the minority categories
    • Outsource certain projects to the minority-led firms

    Further, take a step forward: Introduce incentives.

    To understand the operations of this strategy, let’s take a look at Microsoft’s example again.

    Unfolding The Success Behind Microsoft’s Diversity And Inclusion Initiative
    In 2008, Microsoft created partnerships with the American Bar Association’s law firms to include diversity in their structure. The incentive-based program was put in play.

    Together, they launched a law firm diversity program that rolled out rewards to the participating firms based on:

    • Overall firm diversity
    • Diversity in leadership positions
    • Diversity in attorneys working on Microsoft matters

    The original idea has been extended into introducing additional financial assistance for firms that submit the most innovative diversity ideas.

    This encourages a positive learning environment in the corporate structure, which, in turn, leads to better results.

    Currently, the program has a strong influence on 575 attorneys in the Association’s legal department and more than 15,700 attorneys in the partner firms.

    The success stats are equally encouraging.

    • Diversity in overall leadership positions in partner firms has risen from 33.2% to 37.4% (2015-2020).
    • Diversity in management committees has risen from 31.2% to 41.8% (2015-2020).

    Some Other Pathways For Equal Opportunities

    Yet another way available to foster diversity in corporations is by striking partnerships with colleges and universities to onboard a diverse pool of young talent into the organization.

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    For example, the University of Washington’s Gregoire Fellows Program connects law students with local businesses and firms to help students secure:

    • Paid internships,
    • Assistance for bar exam preparation, and
    • Mentorship from the best minds in the field.

    Further, a strong research ethic helps a GC and their team build a sustainable diversity model.

    With a huge company size, it’s imperative to have half-yearly or annual evaluations to understand team culture and its influence on organizational performance.

    Mapping this research to the country’s legal system gives birth to innovations, which in turn leads to working on budget pitches that have no alternative but to be approved by the senior management.

    Closing Thoughts

    Opportunities are endless – the GC needs to take the first step.

    There are a good number of general counsel jobs accepting applications in the market. The responsibilities of the job may vary depending on the organization’s interests and vision.

    If you’re a company looking to thrive or a GC intending to bring in a real change to your firm, it’s non-negotiable for you to avoid the above-listed strategies.

    Study your company’s diversity, idea, budget, visions, and the law. Map the best interests of the organization and the community to draw strategies and strive to get them in action.

    The inclusion of diversity creates a multiplier effect.

    Creating diverse job opportunities in your firm benefits the original pool of clients as well as newer ones, which in turn aids in striking influential partnerships with similar firms and programs.

    Ultimately, the success rate of this application depends on how well does a GC understands the interplay between the practicality of law and employee morality.

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