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INTERVIEW: TONY WEST
GENERAL COUNSEL, PEPSICO

Associate attorney general turned general counsel Tony West has an extended history with diversity – leading the constitutional review of the Defense of Marriage Act and helping shape the Obama administration’s approach to gay marriage. He shares the benefit of his experience and how he’s using it to improve diversity and inclusion within PepsiCo and the wider profession.

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Diversity is very much at the core of what PepsiCo believes is needed to build a great organization, not just in legal, but through the whole company. Diversity of thought and experience gives us valuable insights, fuels our product innovation and helps us to attract the best talent. It is also part of our values. We need to foster an environment of respect and dignity, and we have to be a place where people can not only come to work and have a rewarding professional life, but where they will see their own personal stories and values reflected in the workplace in which they find themselves. Our statement of values contains two guiding principles that reflect this commitment: ‘Win with diversity and inclusion’ and ‘Respect others and succeed together’. Diversity and inclusion is no longer a soft want but a hard business need if we are willing to be a competitive, leading company in the 21st century. We have to reflect the values of our consumers, customers, and employees.

A reason why this is at the core of the legal department is because when you think about the law and what it represents, it is the organizing principle of civilized society, and as such, should reflect all parts of that society. At its most aspirational, the law represents justice, it represents inclusion, and it represents equality. As messengers and practitioners of the law, so must we. So when we think about our legal department, those ideas must be put into practice but we also must have a team that reflects that.

If you look at who we are hiring, it does stay true to that. I have made a series of hires and promotions in the two years since I have been here: I’ve hired or promoted 15 people, nine of whom were women and six were women of color. In fact, today, two-thirds of our attorneys in the US are women. My predecessor was an African-American male and so was his predecessor. So there is a definite commitment in the c-suite. Historically, PepsiCo has really been at the front line of diversity and inclusion. In the 1940s, PepsiCo was the first major company to hire an African American sales force in the US which, at the time, especially for areas in the South, was quite progressive. In the 1950s we were the first major company to have a female on its board, and we made history again in 1962, when we appointed the first African American vice president of any major American corporation.

Feeding the Pipeline

Of course, this historical commitment to diversity can only continue if the pipeline of talent is there. This is a challenge, not only for us but throughout the legal profession and more so now – the legal profession is less diverse than when I graduated 25 years ago. When we think about the pipeline into the profession, there is no question that we are dealing with very narrow roads to entry. This puts a premium on companies like us to bolster talent even before law school graduation. This year, we instituted a summer fellowship program. It is named in honor of my predecessor, Larry Thompson, who has been a steadfast champion of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and a mentor to diverse attorneys. The program is designed to identify talented diverse law students and show them what an in-house corporate law career would look like.

Outside Counsel Survey Tools

At PepsiCo, we have prioritized our outside counsel diversity initiative because we must do more to ensure that our outside vendors, including outside counsel, reflect our values and reflect our consumers.

  • Last fall, we surveyed our outside counsel about their diversity efforts and numbers.

  • We created a diversity index score that numerically measured diversity – according to ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and gender – of the firms’ US-based attorneys and also specifically of the attorneys assigned to PepsiCo matters.

    • Extra weight was given for diversity of attorneys on PepsiCo matters.

    • Because women of color are particularly underrepresented in the legal profession, extra weight was also given for women of color.

    • While diversity among junior ranks has improved, diversity at the partnership level continues to lag. Accordingly, extra weight was given for the number of diverse partners.

    • Finally, extra weight was given to firms with diverse relationship partners because we know that promotion within law firms is tied to client relationships.
  • This year, we are joining other major legal departments across the nation by using the Model Diversity Survey developed by the American Bar Association, which will be distributed at the end of the calendar year.

    • The uniformity of the Model Survey will allow law firms and clients to better analyze and benchmark diversity of legal service providers.

We partnered with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) 1L Scholars program to recruit applicants and give our fellows an opportunity to network with other diverse law students. LCLD’s member organizations include corporate legal departments and law firms committed to hiring promising diverse students. We selected four fellows out of nearly 200 applications, and a team of our in-house attorneys reviewed each application.

When I was working in Big Law, I always had diverse groups, because one thing we know for sure is that diverse teams make better decisions. Not only diversity of background, but of thought, geography, experience and so forth.

Moving the needle

Last year, we rolled out a robust survey that we sent to our outside legal counsel to get a sense of their commitment to diversity and inclusion. The firms told us information such as diversity profile of their US-based attorneys, the diversity of their partnership broken down by equity and non-equity partners; who the PEP relationship partner was; who was assigned to PepsiCo partners; and so forth. The survey also included several narrative questions to probe the substance of the firm’s diversity recruitment and retention initiatives. Last December, we recognized the top ten firms for their diversity efforts, and have given those firms additional opportunities to expand their relationships with us. Additionally, firms that are interested in pitching for new matters are asked to complete the diversity survey.

Lindsay Richardson – Summer Fellow at PepsiCo

My summer experience was fantastic – not only was the team really welcoming, they really made sure I was developing some key skills. I spent the first half of my summer at PepsiCo and the second half at a law firm. I think that was a great way to do it. I was really able to consider what the client thinks about during my law firm experience, and I think being able to bring that to the table increased my value to the firm.

I think a full understanding of the importance and centrality of diversity and engagement is essential. In-house counsel are definitely getting it – they understand that we are in a war for talent and this is not a special initiative. Clients can be really helpful in assisting law firms with moving the needle and precipitating change.

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