A new diversity initiative has taken shape in the United States. Called the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative, the key goal is to see African-Americans better represented in the in-house legal profession – particularly as general counsel or chief legal officers of larger public and private companies.
As of 2017, there were 38 African American general counsel in Fortune 1000 companies, representing just under 4% of the overall number.
‘We aim to drive more diversity and inclusion in the c-suite of Fortune 1000 companies and in the legal community, initially by increasing the number of African-American GCs in the Fortune 1000 to 50 by the year 2020, and 100 by the year 2025,’ explains April Miller Boise, senior vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Meritor.
These are ambitious targets. The past seven months have been spent developing a comprehensive strategy to meet them.
The driver behind the initiative is the newly formed Advisory Council, built from current and former general counsel of some of the United States’ most recognisable companies. Boise is among them. Its specific aims are to identify all current and former African-American GCs in the Fortunate 1000 and large private companies, set forth core criteria necessary to be a successful GC, use that criteria to identify ‘ready now’ African-American GC candidates, and then connect these candidates and current African-American GCs with professionals at GC-focused executive search firms and to GC opportunities generally, as well as to each other.
While the Initiative acknowledges that there is no cookie-cutter template for a GC, the ‘core criteria’ are central to its aims, as they will largely be the measure by which the Advisory Council assesses which aspiring GCs are ‘ready now’.
Core criteria for ‘ready now’ general counsel
1. Strong executive presence and interpersonal skills
- Gravitas, composure, charisma, and a style that projects confidence
- Strong oral and written communication and presentation skills
- Strong emotional intelligence
2. Significant technical legal expertise and experience
- Demonstrated subject matter experience in core identified areas
- Solid legal training
- Strong critical thinking
- Management skills and people management acumen
- Financial acumen
- Global exposure
3. Demonstrated excellent judgement
- Ability to leverage expertise and experience
- Comfortable as a generalist
- Ability to manage change and uncertainty
- Understand the business well enough to anticipate issues
‘Our strong network of experienced African-American GCs has helped to clearly articulate core criteria for success in the role,’ says Boise. ‘This should help ready now candidates self-identify for inclusion in the pipeline but also better understand and address any real or perceived experience gaps.’
To further whittle down the list, candidates must be nominated or sponsored by either a current or former GC, a CEO, or an executive search firm. The goal is not just to provide a pipeline of diverse rookie general counsel to firms – it is to provide one that is as robust as it is vetted.
Through the Advisory Council, the Initiative looks to leverage relationships made within large companies together with partnerships developed with executive search firms to connect GC job vacancies with a roster of current general counsel and ‘ready now’ candidates. The hope is that by keeping a running count of the talented African-American lawyers who have the experience and skills to adopt the general counsel role, the council will be able to provide companies with diverse candidates whose resumes speak for themselves.
- Announcement and publicity of Initiative and core criteria
- Black GCs submit headshots and bio profiles
- Ready now candidates self-identify, discuss criteria with their network of GCs and find a sponsor to support being added to ‘ready now’ list; submit materials to portal
- Electronic book of headshots and profiles completed and available
- Advisory Council given access to bio books and resumes on a confidential basis
- Search firms advise Advisory Council of open GC searches
- Select profiles available to search firms on a confidential basis based on open searches
- Candidates update profiles and resumes as needed
It isn’t just new entrants to the in-house environment that the initiative is targeting. In the profile collection stage, the Initiative is looking to develop a full and accurate list of current African-American GCs. This serves the push for diversity in two ways. First, in using the Initiative’s network to put forward these candidates for new and different GC roles. Second, if and when these incumbent GCs move on, it will create opportunities for the ‘ready now’ candidates to replace the outgoing GCs.
To use a broad brush, the main thrust of the Initiative is the development of a comprehensive network of current and aspiring African-American GCs, and then to leverage their collective connections and wisdom to help others find opportunities within the in-house world. In building this network, the Initiative is able to deliver unique value to lawyers, executive search firms and the large corporations who will have secured a top quality employee to lead their in-house department.
For more information and for submissions to the Black GC 2025 Initiative, see: http://nbacls.com/black-gc-2025-initiative/