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Gender Diversity: The New Business Imperative for Success

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Gender Diversity: The New Business Imperative for Success

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By: Aarti Maharaj

It’s hard for today’s business person to imagine the days when the boss would actually whistle to the secretary, saying, “Hey sweetheart, bring me a cup of coffee.” But there was also a day when sexism in the office was the standard, rather than what would now seem like a boorish remnant of our less progressive past. Times have changed, and we are ALL better for it.

The data is in—not only has gender diversity emerged as a business imperative but increasingly major industry players are seeing the economic value of retaining and investing in diverse candidates. According to a recent panel of prominent general counsels from top global Fortune 100 companies, the metrics are showing that for companies wanting to do business 10,15 or 20 years from now, a focus should be placed on measuring the impact and success of their diversity initiatives. And the metrics should guide your actions.

“One can have as many programs relating to diversity as they wish but if there isn’t a focus on metrics and actual success then it’s just another block,” said Michelle Ifill, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Verizon Corporate Services, during her panel at the third annual Baker Botts and Chambers Diversity Summit in New York. “At Verizon, we’ve always had a very strong foundation around diversity and inclusion because if you look at our customer base, it’s extremely diverse and if we aren’t responsive to what our customer base is looking for then we would be left behind. To that end, we focus on metrics—as the age-old adage goes—what gets measured, gets done.”

Sponsored by international law firm Baker Botts, the Summit was held at the Yale Club of New York and the lead panel, “Innovative Ways General Counsel Drive Law Firm Diversity” was moderated by Terence Rozier-Byrd, Partner, Baker Botts. The panel also included Michelle Ifill, Ellen Farell, Assistant General Counsel at Toyota; and Matt Lepore, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at BASF –all of who  are committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

“At BASF, diversity + inclusion is one of the essential components that drive business success, and we understand that investing in diversity is the right thing to do.” said Lepore. “Metrics are very important and we are looking at the data to help guide our decisions.”

The panelists focused their expertise around the hot-button issue of diversity in the legal profession. They found that one way to address this concern is through working with partners and outside law firms with strong representation from women and minorities. Within the last year, some companies have managed to champion this effort, including Microsoft, which revamped its Law Firm Diversity Program to increase diversity among its partners and leadership ranks of the law firms within its provider network. They also incentivize diversity by providing financial incentives to those firms who show improvement in these areas.

David Howard, Microsoft.

“To address the lack of diversity at the firm leadership level, we realized that we needed to work together with our law firms,” said Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel David Howard in a post.

Howard also noted a significant improvement in the diverse representation in management committees, increasing from 31.2 percent to 34.4 percent. He also noted a one percent improvement in partner composition from 33.2 percent to 34.5 percent diverse.

“It was clear to us that diversity initiatives have a higher chance of succeeding if they are visibly supported by lawyers at the highest levels of the firm,” he added.

The panel of executives agreed that diversity initiatives are successful inside the organization and in partner law firms when the General Counsel and other senior legal professionals empower and encourage the future generations of diverse lawyers to take on meaningful projects to shape their careers.

“Companies must ensure that they are creating the right opportunities for candidates so they have opportunities today and in the future as well,” said Farell “As an industry, we’ve been talking about diversity for so long. It’s now 2017 and there’s no excuse for where the legal profession is today,” said Farell.

What Gets Measured; Gets Done

New data from Ethisphere’s 2017 Diversity Survey, which surveyed the General Counsel, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officers and other practitioners at Ethisphere’s inaugural Gender Diversity Forum, suggests that more than half of the respondents believe that gender diversity is considered when selecting independent directors but it’s still not as important as background and experience. The same notion applies to critical senior leadership roles where 53 percent of the survey participants reveal that education and experience are the deciding factors.

Hosted at the NASDAQ Market Site in New York City earlier this year, the inaugural diversity forum aligned members of Ethisphere’s Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA) to connect and present interactive discussions on the benefits of and best practices in gender diversity, which Ethisphere’s Erica Salmon Byrne, EVP, Executive Director, Business Ethics Leadership Alliance, noted is not something that can be discussed in a vacuum.

Erica Salmon Byrne, Ethisphere.

“The research is showing us that boards and management teams that are diverse – racial diversity, ethnic diversity, gender diversity – can outperform their peers,” said Byrne. “The more included people feel, the more they feel a sense of belonging, the more committed they are to the business the better the business does and the less likely they are to break the rules.”

The report highlights that companies may not be ready to keep up with the growing demands of gender parity. About 65 percent of those surveyed said that there’s no formal policy in place that sets out the importance of gender diversity when identifying potential candidates for senior leadership roles.

And make no mistake, the rules have changed over the years and they will continue to change. Glass ceilings have been shattered at the highest levels of business, though there is still a long way to go. That said, at least most executives today don’t mind getting their own coffee.

By | 2017-07-05T23:29:23+00:00 June 21st, 2017|Corporate Culture, Ethics & Compliance Programs|

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Aarti Maharaj
Aarti Maharaj is Executive Editor and Director of Communications at Ethisphere. Maharaj covers ethics, compliance, risk, and corporate governance. She can be reached at aarti.maharaj@ethisphere.com