Jenner & Block

Keynote Luncheon at BWLA National Summit Addresses Key Diversity Issues

The impact of the Call to Action diversity initiative, how diversity can impact the bottom line, and increasing diversity in the legal profession were the topics of a lively luncheon discussion of corporate counsel at the Black Women Lawyers’ Association (BWLA) National Summit held on March 9 in Chicago.  Approximately 550 people attended the event, in which Jenner & Block was the premier sponsor.

Jenner & Block Partner Kenyanna M. Scott, Co-Chair of the Summit and BWLA Vice President, introduced the luncheon panel, which included: Alfreda Bradley-Coar, General Counsel, GE Healthcare, Diagnostic Imaging, Linda J. Dunn, Vice President, General Counsel, Harley-Davidson Financial Services, E. Christopher Johnson, Jr., Vice President and General Counsel, General Motors North America, and William A. Von Hoene, Jr., Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Exelon, Proud Parent of ComEd.  The dialogue was led by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., who is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Professor Ogletree noted that diversity is an "integral, deep-seeded, irrevocable aspect" of the practice of law.  He added that the Call to Action initiative should be an important focus of business.  Launched in 2004 by Sara Lee Corporation’s General Counsel, Roderick Palmore, the Call to Action asks corporate law departments to commit to taking action that is consistent with their diversity statement, making a commitment to diversity in their own departments, and actively looking for opportunities with law firms that promote diversity, while limiting their relationship with those that do not.

The Call to Action initiative was "a very direct signal that the legal profession was serious in this area," said Mr. Johnson.

The Call to Action has also had a measurable impact on participating companies’ practices and helped reaffirm their commitments to diversity, Mr. Von Hoene agreed.  He highlighted the diversity activities at Exelon, including how the company made diversity goals less subjective by tracking diversity-related metrics on its legal services providers.  These metrics give an objective reference point for executives concerned with the bottom line, and they also provide "recognition and a sense of importance" for diversity, said Mr. Von Hoene, who’s also a former Jenner & Block Partner.

The different viewpoints provided by a diverse workforce can positively impact the economics of a business, said Ms. Bradley-Coar.  She suggested that companies should broaden their idea of "diversity" to not only include gender and/or ethnicity, but also diversity of ideas and thoughts.  "You need the right people in the room for making important decisions; you need diversity of ideas," she noted.

Ms. Dunn said: "If you’re looking for brilliance, you’re going to have a group of diverse lawyers."

Mr. Johnson stated that "leadership has to be supportive" of the commitment to diversity for it to be successful.  He also suggested that corporations can reach out to law firms, identify leading minority and women attorneys and facilitate strong working relationships with these individuals.