5 Lessons from Successful Women General Counsel on Diversifying the C-suite

DEIDiversityLeadershipProfessional ServicesDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion AdvisoryExecutive Search
Article Icon News Article
5月 08, 2018
2 read
DEIDiversityLeadershipProfessional ServicesDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion AdvisoryExecutive Search

Thomson Reuters Westlaw

The Thomson Reuters Westlaw article, “5 lessons from successful women general counsel on diversifying the C-suite,” was co-written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultants Cynthia Dow and Jaime Massar. The piece offers advice from successful women general counsel on how to diversify the C-suite. The article is excerpted below.

Based on their conversations with female general counsel, Cynthia Dow and Jaime Massar of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates share five strategies companies can utilize to diversify C-suites. Following a record year in which 35 percent of all appointments to general counsel positions at Fortune 500 companies went to women, 2017 saw another increase, to 37 percent. It was the third straight year women made up at least 30 percent of GC appointments. 

With the increasing importance of diversity to companies, their boards and their shareholders, and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the pressure to find and promote talented women to the C-suite has never been greater. 

So named for the executive positions that usually start with the letter C, such as CEO and chief financial officer, the C-suite includes general counsel as an important player who assumes an influential role and has board visibility. Companies can find many talented candidates for these positions. 

As we have partnered with companies that place increasing emphasis on diversity at high levels, we are often asked, "How can we look to hire and promote women into the general counsel position?" 

Attraction, retention and development of top diverse performers are distinct aspects of the talent cycle. Based on our conversations with female GCs about their experiences, here are five key lessons and practices. 

1. Set the tone at the top 

Promoting diversity at the GC level starts with the CEO and the board of directors. Set the culture at the top: Commit to creating a diverse executive team, and follow through daily on the commitment to diversify. Create a platform to encourage diverse voices, and seek out skilled candidates within the organization. 

Many GCs with whom we spoke said a CEO or a GC actively and visibly drove an agenda to encourage diverse candidates to step up. Company culture flowed from there. 

2. Provide high-potential talent opportunities for movement and exposure 

Creating opportunities for lawyers to move within the company and gain exposure can also help raise female candidates' profiles. This includes moving them from corporate or specialist areas like intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, or labor and employment to business generalist roles. 

Allowing female candidates to lead a business, division or region will give them invaluable global and commercial experience on the front lines, away from the resources and oversight of corporate headquarters. As Visa's general counsel Kelly Tullier observed about her early years at PepsiCo Inc.: "My career was in constant motion. The longest I was in any role was four years."