Counsel at Merck, Microsoft and Boeing Approach Diversity with Similar Passion
Merck's Patent Department seated (L to R): Sylvia A. Ayler and Valerie J. Camara. Standing (L to R): J. Eric Thies, Catherine D. Fitch, Joseph F. DiPrima, and J. Antonio Garcia-Rivas.
At first glance, these three companies seem to have little in common. Merck & Co., Inc. is a global research-driven pharmaceutical products and services company. Microsoft Corporation is the worldwide leader in software, services and Internet technologies for personal and business computing. The Boeing Company is the largest aerospace company in the world and the United States' leading exporter.
But, they all are companies with a heavy emphasis on research and development and its attendant reliance on intellectual property law. These three companies have impressive in-house legal departments that have made diversity a key focus of their operations. At Merck, that focus begins with its corporate mission statement. At Microsoft, it is an avowed reflection of its global customer base. At Boeing, it's the drive to become known as the "employer of choice."
Within all three companies, the focus continues to sharpen because they agree that diversity is simply "good business."
"In recruiting, our philosophy is to make sure we're casting the widest possible net to bring in diverse talent."
– Valerie J. Camara
Merck & Co., Inc.
To appreciate Merck & Co., Inc.'s commitment to diversity, look no further than its corporate mission statement, which includes this sentence: "We recognize that the ability to excel – to most competitively meet society's and customers' needs – depends on the integrity, knowledge, imagination, skill, diversity and teamwork of our employees, and we value these qualities most highly."
But a mission statement is just the beginning. Fostering a corporate culture where diversity thrives – whether in a corporation as a whole or in its corporate legal department – is a day-to-day activity, and it's one in which Merck Patent Counsel Valerie J. Camara is deeply immersed.
At the request of Merck Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kenneth C. Frazier, Ms. Camara is one of two attorneys who represents the Office of General Counsel (OGC) on the pharmaceutical company's Diversity Worldwide Business Strategy Team. She developed what she says has become her "passion" for diversity issues while serving on a similar committee within the legal department in the mid-1990s.
According to Ms. Camara, "Mary M. McDonald, the general counsel at the time, thought it would be beneficial to form a committee in the legal department that would make recommendations to Merck's OGC management on how to address some of the issues that became apparent from a survey of the department. She developed the diversity committee – a grassroots committee that would have its finger on the pulse of the legal department, from the administrative associate level to the attorney level."
"One item from the survey that we were able to develop recommendations for was to improve on the overall communication within the department, both from the bottom up, as well as from the top down."
Ms. Camara was a chemist in the Merck Research Laboratories before she became a lawyer. She was part of a patent department program that was aimed at developing scientists into patent attorneys. "I hadn't thought about a career move to patent law, but it was an opportunity that presented itself at a time in my career when I was at a crossroads for my personal development," she says. She was part of a group of six scientists who were accepted into the program, where they worked in the patent department during the day, learning patent law, and attended law school at night.
Now head of a team within the patent department that handles the patent procurement activities for the cardiovascular, anti-infective, and ophthalmic therapeutic areas of the company, she points out that it is particularly difficult to find patent attorneys who also are members of minority groups.
"In terms of hiring patent lawyers who are also diversity candidates, you run into a double barrier – you're not only looking for a lawyer with a strong scientific background, but who also is a minority," she says. To overcome those barriers, Merck has a wide range of outreach recruiting initiatives – ranging from a summer intern program, to reaching out to bar associations, to advertising in minority journals and publications.
"In recruiting, our philosophy is to make sure we're casting the widest possible net to bring in diverse talent," Ms. Camara adds. That wide net is also cast in terms of Merck's work with its outside law firms, she says, since, "We're asking them to allow us an opportunity to work with their minority partners or associates" as well as reaching out to minority-owned firms.
As a member of the corporate diversity worldwide business strategy team, she is keenly aware of the impact of diversity on Merck's bottom line. "In the type of business we're in, innovation is key, and having a diverse talent pool can give us a competitive edge."
Ms. Camara is also extremely aware that diversity must be a continuing focus of the company and the legal department. "I think there's always going to be room for improvement," she says. "It's a moving target – we're always going to have to make sure we're inclusive and training our staff to be aware of, and sensitive to, the issues. You hope that in the end, diversity is a key leadership principle underlying how we conduct all of our business processes."
"If people feel comfortable speaking from a diverse point of view, they have a great opportunity to learn from each other."
– Bradford L. Smith
"Software is as global a product as you will find today," says Bradford L. Smith, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Microsoft Corporation, based in Redmond, Washington. Accordingly, Microsoft is one of the most global companies headquartered in the U.S. The company operates in 90 countries. It's one of the largest users of H1-B visas in the United States. It has more than 5,000 employees in the Pacific Northwest who were born outside the United States. Additionally, its 30,000 employees in the U.S. come from more than 50 countries.
So, not surprisingly, diversity is a key ingredient of the Microsoft corporate mix. "If your customers are global," Mr. Smith says, "you can't understand them unless you are as diverse as they are. Our business imperative is to have diversity inside the company that is comparable to U.S. diversity."
To help address those issues within the 700-employee (over 200 of whom are attorneys) Law and Corporate Affairs (LCA) department he heads, Mr. Smith has created a task force on diversity headed by Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Mary E. Snapp, who manages a group of about 70 lawyers and paralegals who provide broad-based legal support for the design, development, and marketing for Windows™, server applications, tools, mobility products, and the OEM sales channel of the software giant.
"The diversity team is made up of a diverse group from across each of the Law and Corporate Affairs subgroups – ethnic, gender, job title, and level," says Ms. Snapp. "We draw people from all different job disciplines. We were meeting every two weeks or so to develop plans for next year, and then three-to-five years out. We're now building on the plan, so we're meeting less frequently, since we have programmatic steps in place."
In the Microsoft legal department, diversity is a key factor both in recruitment and retention. In terms of recruiting, says Mr. Smith, "We keep learning all the time how to do better – such as reaching out to professional organizations that represent diverse backgrounds and tapping into communities of people so we can try to learn who might have the expertise. It also involves ensuring that major law firms we work with are staffing assignments with a diverse group of people – and sometimes they end up working at our company. Over time, it becomes a positive feedback loop – once you attract people of color and so forth, those people tend to be a resource for recruiting others. The goal is to start and build momentum."
Recruiting also is a focus of the diversity team headed by Ms. Snapp. "One of the things we thought was critical was to have human resources partners to help our initiative – a senior recruiter for LCA is part of the committee, and provides support to it." But, she adds, "Recruiting is just the beginning – retention and career development is essential."
On the retention side, Mr. Smith said, "We have concrete goals and programs to support and mentor people once they're here. It's not enough to attract diverse people. We want to create an environment where people are comfortable expressing a diverse point of view in the workplace. If people feel comfortable speaking from a diverse point of view, they have a great opportunity to learn from each other."
The global nature of Microsoft's business means the company has been diverse since its inception, adds Ms. Snapp. "People come from all over the world to work here. It's not unusual to walk down a hallway, or be in a room, and hear two or three languages spoken."
The Microsoft diversity initiative also spreads to the outside firms with which it works. "We think about the firms we hire on three different fronts," says Ms. Snapp. "We try to identify women and minority law firms with which we can do business, and that has been moderately successful. We also work with minority partners in otherwise majority- partner law firms. The third area is working with our existing firms, sharing information with them, and increasing their efforts."
But, says Mr. Smith, more needs to be done. "I always feel we're only scratching the surface. We need to recruit more people of color, as well as continue to mentor the very talented group of people we have here. We have to create an environment where there's no ceiling. The notion is to create an environment that taps into diversity. Everybody has the opportunity to learn from each other, and make each other better in the process."
"You want attorneys to feel, 'I can thrive here.'"
– Douglas G. Bain
The Boeing Company
Why focus on diversity? Douglas G. Bain, the senior vice president and general counsel of The Boeing Co., answers that question simply: "I want to be the employer of choice."
When he became general counsel of the aeronautics company in 1999 after 17 years with the company, he says, it "became evident that there is only so much good talent out there. So, you have to focus on diversity – will people want to come to work for your organization? And I didn't want to lose that talent." Business concerns also played a key role. Boeing long had sold products outside the U.S. (for example, 70 percent of commercial airplanes made here now are destined outside the country), but, he says, "Simply selling [other countries] a high-priced item is no longer satisfactory."
It's not just that diversity is good for the bottom line, either. "I don't use that phrase," says Mr. Bain, "because I think you can get overly generalized. But there are two specific reasons – there are a lot of good people out there, and I want to be the employer of choice, and, because of the nature of our business and how we deal in the world, we want to able to marshal all the assets we need to make this a successful business."
Mr. Bain, who is based at Boeing's headquarters in Chicago, supervises all 130 of Boeing's in-house attorneys and is committed to having a diverse legal department. "Whenever we deal with a legal recruiter, we emphasize we want to see diverse candidates," he said. "We ask people who are already here who they know. We belong to organizations such as MCCA. We want people to get the sense that Boeing is a good place to go to work." His department's Law Council, made up of senior lawyers, meets once a month and diversity is always on the agenda.
"You want attorneys to feel, 'I can thrive here,'" he says. To institutionalize that approach further, he has formed a volunteer, department-wide Diversity Council. The lawyers and staff members who make up that council are a diverse group who "attack the whole issue of making Boeing a good place to work." And, he adds, it's not just talk.
"We've upped the ante on accountability – we have a saying here, that what gets measured, gets done. I made my law council members accountable for the efforts they're making at diversity." The council is divided into five sub-teams focused on strategy and metrics, recruitment and hiring, workplace and retention, diversity education and training, and outside law firms.
"The only way to make progress is to establish firm goals for minorities and women, and measure it by attorney and staff," he adds. "I've asked the group to come up with achievable goals. And, once we meet those goals, we will increase the goals."
He also wants to get tough on the outside firms used by Boeing. "Many companies ask outside law firms about diversity, but we're going to ask them for data. We'll ask them to back it up, and move our work if they don't comply. And, do we just count our use of minorities in big firms, or should we use minority firms?"
"My bottom line," Mr. Bain adds, "is that it's nice to say you want to practice diversity because it's the right thing to do, but I want to be the employer of choice. Plus, the law department has to help the company achieve long-term business goals and the company has to reflect a multicultural world, or it just won't win."
The work and progress underway at these three in-house legal departments demonstrates that they continue to make diversity a key focus of their operations.
T. Sumner Robinson is the former Editor-in-Chief of the National Law Journal and the Los Angeles Daily Journal, as well as a former legal editor, reporter and columnist for The Washington Post. He currently is Editorial Director for Search and Navigation at America Online, based in Dulles, Va.
From the May/June 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®