Kimberley Harris, Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation and General Counsel, NBCUniversal

Harris considers the importance of combining both metrics and mindfulness in the advancement of diverse lawyers.

At NBCUniversal, like many institutions, we recognize that diversity is a business imperative. As our viewers and customers become more diverse, we need to make sure that we are reflecting diversity both in front of and behind the camera, as well as throughout the organization.

At NBCUniversal we have an annual talent review process, where every senior executive reports to the CEO about their teams. One goal of the review process is succession planning, and our CEO has mandated that the talent review include a specific discussion about diverse talent. This has encouraged all senior executives to think about their teams with diversity top of mind, and ensures we’re considering the broadest possible pool of up-and-coming leaders for the company.

I have a similar discussion with all of my senior leaders in order to prepare me to talk to the CEO, and it has a cascading effect. Our legal function is incredibly diverse, both along gender and ethnicity lines, and we aim to lead by example. The conversations that I have with my team are about not only identifying diverse talent, but planning the concrete steps that we are going to take to develop them into future leaders. We are focused on being mindful about the development of our diverse talent and making sure they are getting the right skill development and the right opportunities to make them successful candidates for future leadership roles. With the help of our fantastic HR team, we make sure we’re following up on these goals. While aggregate workforce statistics are important to monitor, I think it’s even more important to focus on the individual development of diverse talent. It takes more energy, but it’s something we have to be committed to if we want to see more diverse lawyers at senior levels.

Turning to recruitment efforts, we have spent time considering the best ways to engage future NBCUniversal lawyers. We have a diversity committee for the legal function, led by one of my senior leaders and comprised of lawyers and professional staff from across our business units and locations at a range of seniority levels. Among the activities our diversity committee focuses on are pipeline initiatives. We speak to high school and law school students to talk to them about a career in entertainment and media law. We hope these efforts will encourage diverse students to choose our field for a career so that our applicant pool becomes even more diverse over time.

We also hold receptions in New York and Los Angeles for diverse lawyers in the industry and those interested in transitioning to media and entertainment law. Our goal for these receptions is to introduce the company and hopefully spark an interest in a career at NBCUniversal, in part by showcasing the wide range of legal careers available at NBCUniversal but also by emphasizing our commitment to diversity. These receptions also help us identify talented lawyers that we may want to recruit for open roles.

Additionally, NBCUniversal sponsors a multitude of diverse bar associations. We send representatives from our team to the annual conferences and use these events as professional development opportunities for up-and-coming diverse talent. The NBCU lawyers chosen as representatives of the company get the opportunity to network with other lawyers in the industry or in the particular affinity group, and often participate on panels. Through these networking opportunities, we also hope to find other lawyers we may want to bring into the company, or outside counsel we may want to hire. We also work with diverse bar associations to post our open job opportunities.

Another priority is ensuring the diversity of our external counsel. For a number of years, we focused our outside counsel diversity efforts on hiring minority- and women-owned firms. We made great progress in that area, but we realized that the majority of our external spend was going to majority-owned firms. As a result, more recently, we have focused on making progress on diversity with the majority-owned firms that we hire. Our outside counsel guidelines express our strong commitment to diversity and our expectation that our matters will be staffed with diverse attorneys. But we now go beyond that statement of our commitment by using metrics to regularly monitor the diversity of the teams and the partners that are working on our cases. We are trying to focus on the accountability that metrics provide, so we use them to prompt dialogue with the firms – praising those that are doing well and developing proactive plans with those that need to increase the diversity of the lawyers who are working on NBCUniversal matters.

We track the diversity of the outside counsel who are working on our matters every six months, not only in terms of hours but also in terms of spend. We want to make sure that firms are not only staffing our matters with diverse junior lawyers, but also providing meaningful opportunities on our matters for more senior diverse lawyers, in an effort to better position them for partnership. Tracking in this way helps to encourage not only the firms themselves, but also our senior in-house lawyers – we need to understand how we are doing in order to take responsibility for the diversity of our outside counsel. It’s a double layer of accountability. Monitoring through metrics also helps avoid any troubling trends and ensures that our diversity commitments have an impact, both internally and externally. It’s very easy to express a commitment but, without careful observation, commitments run the risk of not resulting in meaningful change.

We also encourage diverse outside counsel to provide CLEs for our team, as a way for them to meet the senior lawyers on the NBCUniversal legal team who are making hiring decisions. It’s often difficult for diverse lawyers at firms to get that foot in the door, so this is just one step to encourage additional exposure.

I think most law firms have the best intentions when it comes to diversity and they generally do a good job attracting diverse classes of summer associates and new lawyers. That is not translating to more diversity at senior ranks and in partnerships, however. I think the problem is a lack of mindfulness and realizing that extra effort and attention is needed to make sure that diverse talent is getting the opportunities that will lead to promotion. Law firms need to identify their talented mid-tier diverse associates and put thoughtful effort behind their development. It’s not enough simply to bring them into the building – you have to focus on making sure that they continue to develop and advance.

As a woman of color myself, I think it is also important to recognize that women of color face unique challenges in the workplace and need particular focus. If you think about women of color as simply ‘people of color’ or ‘women’, you miss some of the unique challenges that they face.

One of our broader corporate initiatives at Comcast is to make sure we are particularly conscious of candidates from the military community. Veterans, for example, often have non-traditional experience that can be very valuable in a corporate setting. We need to think about relevant experience in a much broader way – identifying skills that we need that might be expressed in a less familiar way. Ultimately, this kind of broader thinking will benefit lots of candidates that may have non-traditional backgrounds. We also plan to enhance our outreach and support of lawyers from the LGTBQ community and lawyers with disabilities. We have excellent LGTBQ representation in the legal function at NBCU and continue to evaluate ways to increase our diversity across the board.

I had the benefit of that broader, more flexible thinking – I had no experience in the entertainment industry when I was hired as general counsel of NBCUniversal, but the CEO took a risk on hiring somebody with a different background. That broader thinking gave me an opportunity I wouldn’t otherwise have had, and, in turn, I added a different perspective to the executive ranks at NBCUniversal.