Wanji Walcott, GC, Paypal

A pioneering GC with a passion for diversity, Wanji Walcott shares practical advice for fostering diversity and inclusion in the law, and discusses some of the initiatives currently underway in the business community.

This interview was undertaken as part of GC magazine’s research into diversity and inclusion, in association with Paul Hastings, by Catherine McGregor.

GC: To what extent has diversity been part of your thinking since taking over the GC role at PayPal?

Wanji Walcott (WW): The nice thing about being here at PayPal is the commitment to achieving a real diverse and inclusive workplace; this flows through everything we do and stand for as a company. PayPal is committed to providing an environment where employees are valued for who they are, and a place where they can express themselves and achieve their highest potential. Also, providing an environment that fosters innovation allows us to better understand our diverse customer segment.

Throughout my career, I’ve been an advocate for diversity and want to ultimately make a difference in the world. The mission-driven purpose at PayPal allows me to be a strong advocate for these values which are dear to me. Being in the GC role at PayPal, I feel fully supported to advance that mission, and empowered to create opportunities to unite and create change.

GC: Can you elaborate on how the company’s mission to innovate intersects with its commitment to diversity?

WW: Following our separation from eBay in 2015 and becoming a new, independent public company, we had a unique opportunity to define who we are and what we do by way of our values and our mission to democratise financial services. We came up with some values-based behaviours, which include innovation, inclusion, collaboration and wellness as the four core elements. These behaviours are all tied in together and can’t exist exclusively of one another; we take all four very seriously and they underpin everything we do.

GC: Diversity and inclusion is still making slower inroads than many would hope in the legal profession. As both a client and an advocate for diversity, what are the key strategies that you think general counsel like yourself should be focusing on?

WW: There is still a tremendous amount to do. It’s a focus for the legal department at PayPal in regards to how we work with law firms. While firms have made some progress in terms of how they recruit and retain women partners, representation of racial diversity in law firms is nowhere near where it needs to be.

As I consider it, all in-house counsel are in a unique position to be a catalyst for change, and have the power to demand and influence in such a way that law firms see the business reason for change. Even prior to becoming a GC I had the power as an in-house counsel to help make that change, and I want to empower all of my lawyers to be a catalyst for this type of change.

It’s more than just demanding statistical information: it’s on a tactical level asking law firms to bring truly diverse teams to support matters. Studies show that, on a project level, diverse teams perform better. As you work more and more with law firms and they see what you stand for as a department, they will do what is needed to meet your expectations. We are seeing that and it is great.

The challenge we currently have as a profession is that diverse candidates are not breaking through into firm management. A really important factor is that we are ensuring supervising and managing partners get feedback on the diverse participants of external teams who are performing well. I personally have seen the difference that positive feedback can have on someone’s career.

All of the lawyers in my team at PayPal now feel that’s something we do: being proactive about diversity, getting everyone to know our expectations and making sure people are not shy about asking.

GC: You’re one of the few female African American GCs in a tech company, but tech companies have had bad press regarding some of their cultural norms. What is being done to change some of this perception?

WW: It’s almost like a vicious cycle. We all agree, and studies have shown, that diversity means you get the best results, but a lot of this has to do with focus – making sure you have diverse input and making sure that input matters.

It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy when everyone is the same, and thinks the same way and you don’t have that diversity of viewpoints and experience.

Once you get the diverse perspective, you can use that to create a culture where people feel empowered to speak up and speak out. One thing I’m proud of since I have been GC is that I brought ‘CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion’ to the attention of my CEO, Dan Schulman. It’s essentially an initiative to rally the business community to value diversity and inclusion, and it comes with a pledge. The pledge has three aspects:

  1. We will continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion.
  2. We will implement and expand unconscious bias education.
  3. We will share best – and unsuccessful – practices.

I was very proud when Dan signed on for this initiative. He has long been an advocate and key driver for diversity and inclusion at PayPal and within the greater industry. For PayPal, these public stances have been important for our employee base and for fuelling our progress on this front.

In addition, from the perspective of the legal department, I have joined ‘The GC Thought Leaders Experiment’ run by AdvanceLaw, which aims to foster better working practices between law departments and law firms via analysis of data.

Law firms are not hugely innovative, and the hypothesis is that by analysing the metrics of how we work together, we can bring more innovation to the way people think about engaging and utilising the law firm support model.

As a group, we are committed to gathering data and insights to understand what innovation looks like, whether it is innovation in how we handle work, pricing, matter management – and diversity is a part of it.

There are 180 GCs who are sharing their data via monthly surveys to understand law department and law firm best practices, and how legal departments and law firms can advance.

One of the key things we are looking at in terms of best practices is what firms are doing – or could be doing – to enhance diversity.

GC: Culture often implies a shared homogenous set of values, but diversity values difference. From experience, what are your thoughts on how best to encourage a shared sense of valuing difference and to undercut the bias we may have in defaulting to values and opinions that mirror our own?

WW: As we strive to build an inclusive work environment that reflects the world in which we live, our mission at PayPal demands that we consider solutions internally from this perspective. Our focus on celebrating the variety of thought, background, experience, gender, race and capabilities that our employees bring to work opens up important conversations and has spurred innovation across the business. Ultimately, this has empowered our employees and will continue to help us better serve our customers globally.

GC: Research shows that unless non-diverse groups get behind diversity, progress will be slower. How much have you managed to make diversity something that non-diverse employees can ‘own’ too and what would be your top tips to others in achieving this?

WW: I believe the key is to be thoughtful in how we apply initiatives and programmes to drive inclusion. It is, of course, counter-productive to exclude parties from participating in this movement. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us, as a community, to ensure all feel represented, heard and engaged in the dialogue.

At the heart of the movement is a fundamental understanding that diversity yields stronger results and drives innovation, both of which are necessary to building successful businesses. We’ve found that this understanding, coupled with an unwavering commitment to our shared mission, unites PayPal’s employees and informs behaviours.