A Closer Look: The Call to Action (www.clocalltoaction.com)
DENNIS BRODERICK, Senior Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel, Macy’s, Inc.
STEPHEN PICKETT, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Southern California Edison
By Dr. Arin N. Reeves and Stephen Pickett
In 2005, a new Call to Action on diversity in the legal profession was constructed to move corporate law departments and law firms beyond words of commitment to committed action with measurable results. The Call to Action now has more than 90 general counsel who are enthusiastic signatories. The text reads as follows:
As Chief Legal Officers, we hereby reaffirm our commitment to diversity in the legal profession. Our action is based on the need to enhance opportunity in the legal profession and our recognition that the legal and business interests of our clients require legal representation that reflects the diversity of our employees, customers and the communities where we do business. In furtherance of this renewed commitment, this is intended to be a Call to Action for the profession generally, in particular for our law departments, and for the law firms with which our companies do business.
In an effort to realize a truly diverse profession and to promote diversity in law firms, we commit to taking action consistent with the referenced Call to Action. To that end, we pledge that we will make decisions regarding which law firms represent our companies based in significant part on the diversity performance of the firms. We intend to look for opportunities for firms we regularly use which positively distinguish themselves in this area. We further intend to end or limit our relationships with firms whose performance consistently evidences a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse.
In April 2008, the Call to Action Summit brought together a cross-section of general counsel and the managing partners of the nation’s largest law firms to take the commitment to diversity in the legal profession to the next level. Many of these general counsel are white men. This installment of White Men and Diversity—A Closer Look brings you the perspectives of two of the leadership voices behind the Call to Action Summit: Dennis Broderick, senior vice president, secretary, and general counsel of Macy’s, Inc.; and Stephen Pickett, senior vice president and general counsel of Southern California Edison.
What is the mission of the Call to Action, and how was the Call to Action Summit connected to achieving that mission?
SP: General counsel across the country are facing many of the same challenges regarding diversity internally, within their own legal departments, as well as with their outside counsel. The Call to Action is a great tool to bring all of us together so that we can achieve greater progress toward diversity collectively. Signing the Call to Action is an important step because it lays out the commitment, and is a personal pledge by the chief legal officer to take concrete action in furtherance of that commitment. The summit was the next step of taking the leadership to the action level. The summit was also a way to have the conversation directly and honestly with leadership from law firms so that we can let them know that we are serious, and that we will take action based on diversity.
DB: The Call to Action represents a personalized commitment to diversity by general counsel and, in calling on general counsel to make decisions about the continued use of law firms based on the firms’ progress on diversity, appeals to the financial self-interest of law firms. The statement itself is a very strong statement of commitment, and it is a promise of the action that we are going to take. The summit was a challenge to all of us to put the punch behind the words, to keep the momentum going so that the leaders will keep at it. There is a sense among general counsel and managing partners that the boldness of the statement has not been matched by the execution of our actions, and we wanted to get all the relevant parties together to talk about how we can match up the statement with the actions.
What, if any, is the role that white male general counsel can specifically play in providing leadership on diversity issues in the legal profession?
DB: There is some tension for some white men when it comes to diversity. There are white men who feel that the playing field has become uneven; that if all things are equal, a minority or female candidate is preferred. True or not, in corporate law departments and in management-owned law firms, those white male general counsel and white male managing partners who lead those departments and firms must have the loudest voices on diversity, as their voices are the ones most clearly listened to in their organizations. In law firms, I suspect that there are some people who balance the tension of satisfying clients’ demands for diversity with resentment at being presumed to do something without an obvious benefit to them. It is important for general counsel to continue to push the carrot-and-stick approach—firms that do well with diversity will get more business, and those that don’t do well with diversity will not get as much business. So, those of us in leadership positions need to continue to lead on diversity; eventually, if general counsel and managing partners provide that leadership, we will no longer need to talk about this—the need to focus on diversity or the resentment it sometimes creates.
SP: Most white men are open and accepting of the conversation on diversity. They are cognizant of the need for diversity and they want to talk about it. There is definitely a minority perspective that focuses on the “what does this mean for me” perspective, and they think they are being shut out of opportunities or feeling an implied threat to their own careers. I think that white men need to step up as leaders on diversity issues across the profession. We need to step up as leaders in our workplaces and other organizations. We also need to be open to having different strategies for different situations. The Call to Action is one strategy. The summit is a good strategy too. We also need to be able to have private conversations with people and let them know how their remarks or perspectives are being perceived. Some white men respond to big events. Others respond to private conversations. We should be able to provide individualized solutions to these different situations.
What is a challenge that law firms consistently tell you that they face in meeting your expectations? What advice do you give them in confronting that challenge?
SP: The principal pushback I get from law firms is that the pipeline of talent is insufficient to meet client demands. I think that the law firms magnify that problem out of defensiveness. I believe that the pipeline is a problem, but it should not be used as an excuse. The pipeline into law firms is being affected by the overall business model of law firms, which is no longer working in today’s world. Law firms need to question a lot of things about how they are dealing with talent, and diversity is one of those things. So, I think we should all be focused on the pipeline, but I don’t think it is the primary challenge to diversity that law firms make it out to be. When the general counsel and other leaders in the legal community come together and commit to action, we need to attend to the pipeline as a key issue, but we need to do it from a leadership perspective, not as an accepted excuse for why change is not occurring.
DB: I hear that a lot of the diversity challenges in law firms relate to the pipeline issue. There is a perception right now in law firms that what they are being asked to do is difficult because there are not enough minorities in the pipeline. There may be some truth in that, but we all have to look widely across the profession for minority talent, in places that we may not have looked at in the past. We have to try harder, and we have to stay focused on this issue. The need for diversity may be more obvious in corporations than in law firms, as the business case for diversity may be more clear with corporations than with law firms given the diversity of the customer base that corporations are constantly seeking to reach. But as to the pipeline, it is certainly true that the more welcoming the legal profession is to diversity, the more minorities will enter the profession.
What are the next steps that came out of the Call to Action Summit?
DB: General counsel have the burden to keep the momentum going in the right direction all the time. This is a difficult thing to do sometimes. I have not myself always acted with the same boldness with which I’ve spoken on this issue. I recognize that, and it’s a personal call to action for me. I think the dialogue at the summit energized a lot of people. We have formed specific committees to move from talk to action. I think the committees will help keep the focus on diversity for general counsel and managing partners.
SP: There needed to be a sense of community in which we take action to stand behind our words. I feel that the summit did that. We formed committees, and many leaders in corporations and law firms signed up to serve on the committees. I also feel that the general counsel needed to step up and hold each other accountable. We started that process in the summit, and I do believe that will continue. The most important part of this is to keep moving forward and keep trying. We are going to do that, and the summit was a key step forward. I’m looking forward to the work that the committees will do to create the next step of action items for which we will all provide leadership. DB
Diversity & the Bar wishes to thank Dr. Arin N. Reeves, president of the Athens Group, for interviewing Mr. Broderick and Mr. Pickett and preparing this column.
From the September/October 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®