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Doing it differently

GC explores what corporate counsel can do to further diversity – in their in-house legal department, the wider organisation, or throughout the business world. We pick the brains of general counsel across the globe about programmes they’ve pioneered or adopted to create a diverse workplace. In the first in a series of case studies, this issue we look at gender diversity.


GENDER DIVERSITY INITIATIVES

Abogadas for change

Something is brewing in Latin America. Up and down the continent, networks of female attorneys are springing up and thriving.

Among the first was ‘Jurídico de Saias’ (or ‘Lawyers in Skirts’). Created by former GE Brazil general counsel Josie Jardim, now associate GC at Amazon, the group is a network and discussion forum where close to 1,000 female in-house counsel meet and swap stories and advice.

Over in Mexico, Honeywell GC for Latin America Valeria Chapa watched with interest, and she and a group of Mexican female attorneys began to meet periodically. ‘We started to brainstorm,’ says Valeria. ‘We formed a cross-organisational working group.’ And they came up with an idea.

Abogadas MX was born – a network (and NGO) to promote strategies for the professional and leadership development of female attorneys in Mexico. ‘We felt that the NGO status gave us more formality as a group,’ explains Valeria. It is open to both in-house and private practice lawyers, and has ambitious plans for a full roster of events, training, mentoring and more.

A key initial plan is the organisation’s pilot mentoring programme, where 20 law firm partners and in-house counsel are mentoring 20 promising female lawyers. ‘You have a general counsel being the mentor of a mid-level law firm attorney, and a law firm partner being the mentor of a mid-level in-house attorney,’ explains Valeria. The pilot is administered formally, with an application process and selection committee of three GCs and three law firm lawyers. ‘We paired people based on their compatibilities.’ The programme itself varies according to the needs of the mentees, who might be set tasks such as reading an article or critical analysis. Developing mentoring best practice is the aim: ‘We are trying to get from the mentors all of their suggestions or strategies with their mentees, and prepare a menu. The idea is to draw from the lessons learned and then do a much more structured programme.’

Word has spread and already a similar mentoring scheme is being established in Chile, creating another opportunity for knowledge sharing. ‘Our friends in Chile are going to set discussion topics of the month,’ says Valeria. ‘We’re in conversation with them so that they can share those topics with us and we will send them out to our mentors.’ The two groups may also co-host an event eventually. ‘It’s amazing that these initiatives are trickling down elsewhere,’ she enthuses. ‘And that’s part of the idea.’

Valeria’s mind is overflowing with possibilities for Abogadas MX. She wants to see it spread to other Mexican cities, to universities. But right now the organisation has a list of about 190 women lawyers in its extended network, and the immediate aim is to launch a website, the option to subscribe to a blog, and set up a Twitter account, a LinkedIn account and a Facebook page. ‘We’re at the tip of the iceberg,’ says Valeria. ‘We have to start from the creation of awareness, and get advocates and allies. You can’t have diversity and inclusion without a strategy. It won’t just happen naturally,’ she insists. ‘Abogadas MX looks to propose these initiatives. Our first initiative is a mentoring programme. But I tell you, there will be more.’

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