MCCA Board member and corporate counsel for Pepsico Inc.
It has been many years since “diversity” first entered the corporate lexicon, yet companies across the nation, and indeed the world, continue to struggle with the challenge to help minorities and women feel truly integrated within their ranks. Industry giants like Pepsico, which was named one of Fortune magazine’s 50 Best Companies for Asians, Blacks and Hispanics in 1999,” concedes that despite such kudos, there is still much progress to be made.
According to Rob Sharpe, Pepsico corporate counsel and a member of MCCA’s board of directors, there are specific skills that lawyers need to succeed in corporate America. To address that need, Pepsico has contributed $25,000 to create a professional development track, which will debut at MCCA’s annual conference this fall. Sharpe is working with MCCA executive director Lloyd Johnson to develop the curriculum. “It will focus on learning diplomacy and becoming a more effective counselor within the corporate culture,” Johnson states. “And understanding how things get done.”
“In a corporate setting, diplomacy and the ability to get people to listen to you is critical to your success, Sharpe says. Simply being right is often not enough if no one goes along with you. It’s not cut and dry like in a law firm where you need the law or the facts on your side and everything is more or less black or white. A strong network of allies is key to corporate success.”
Elementary, you say? Not necessarily. As most African American attorneys in corporate counsel positions can tell you, it’s much more difficult to accomplish these goals than it sounds. “I think it is often harder for minorities to do, principally because of sheer numbers,” laments Sharpe. “They are in the minority and find it harder to make friends because of internal politics or different job levels.”
Program details are still being worked out, but he envisions a series of workshops and panel discussions led by African Americans who can share the wisdom of their personal experience. “It is better to listen to people who have done it,” Sharpe explains, although he would also like to include white CEOs and corporate counsels from a variety of companies.
Sharpe, who has long had an interest in diversity issues, was inspired by a similar program created by the Executive Leadership Program, an association of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies. Maurice Cox, vice president for corporate development and diversity at Pepsi-Cola, has been actively involved in the organization. He believes MCCA can mimic the success of the ELC program. “Lawyers are business people just like us, but in a different function,” Cox says. “They have the same needs from a career growth and development standpoint.” One of the biggest values, he believes, is the opportunity for members to meet people who share some of the same concerns and interests and use what they learn to augment their own experiences.
Sharpe hopes that MCCA members will continue the relationships they develop at the conference this year long after the event has ended. He is exploring the idea of creating an Internet newsgroup where members can go to talk to each other as well as to get independent opinions and advice from corporate counsel at other corporations.
From the September 2000 issue of Diversity & The Bar®