Wendy Shiba is a corporate attorney who served in C-level executive positions for three NYSE-listed companies. Wendy serves as Vice Chair to the Section's Rights of Women Committee.
Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?
I currently live in Altadena, California, in the greater Los Angeles area, but I am a native of Cleveland, Ohio. It’s an important distinction because my parents, originally from California, relocated to Cleveland after being incarcerated during World War II solely because they were Japanese Americans. We lived in a suburb of Cleveland where we were the only family of color in the entire community. This experience, coupled with transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood during the turbulent 1960’s and early 1970’s gave me a passion for civil rights and social justice, and a foundational sense of right vs. wrong and why the rule of law is crucial for preservation of our democracy.
What drives you?
I have always needed to believe that I’m doing things that matter and that contribute to good outcomes for people and issues I care about. Early in my career, I felt occasional pangs of guilt that I had chosen a career path as a corporate lawyer rather than in the public or nonprofit sectors like so many lawyers I deeply admired. Over time I realized that it’s important to have a seat at the table in mainstream organizations to have a shot at defining their culture and values, and to have influence in directing attention and resources to external organizations and causes. I have always devoted a portion of my time to professional and nonprofit organizations, which has made me a better lawyer, not to mention a better person and citizen. I’m grateful to Chair Beth Whittenbury for her outreach and helping me understand that, despite identifying as a corporate lawyer, I could comfortably find a home within CRSJ to pursue my true passions.
What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?
People who know that I spent my career as a corporate attorney in Big Law and as general counsel of a Fortune 500 company are surprised to learn that in between the law firm and corporate life, I was a fulltime law professor. I had lacked the resources to study abroad as an undergrad but was fortunate to teach for a semester in Rome, Italy, where my students were American J.D. students, plus members of the Italian bar and judiciary who were auditing my class.
On the lighter side, I must not present as particularly athletic because people are surprised that I have been an avid golfer (sidelined in recent years due to some orthopedic challenges). Golf helped me break barriers professionally, when I was often the only woman and person of color playing in business outings and charity tournaments. I once shot a hole-in-one in a corporate tournament where I was the sole woman in the field, helping secure the win for my team.
When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?
In 2019, I was honored to receive the Warren Christopher Values Award from my former law firm, O’Melveny & Myers. The award recognizes people who best exemplify the firm’s values of “uncompromising excellence, distinctive leadership, and superior citizenship.” Although I left the firm while still a young lawyer, I realize that these values imprinted early and I have strived to maintain them throughout my career. I can think of some milestone achievements on particularly challenging legal matters, but they pale in comparison to what has mattered the most – having a positive impact on people and organizations, breaking professional barriers to help open doors for diverse attorneys, and the collective accomplishments of the many people I have mentored over the years.
What is one issue which you care about or work most on and why?
It’s a rather large basket, but DEI and pursuit of the ABA’s Goal III (eliminating bias and enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession and justice system) have been unifying themes for much of my bar association and nonprofit work. In the ABA, I served on President Paulette Brown’s Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission and on the Commission on Women in the Profession, where I chaired the Women of Color Research Initiative. Currently, I am a Vice Chair of CRSJ’s Rights of Women Committee and CRSJ’s liaison to the Commission on Women. I am a past President of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and am NAPABA’s delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, and I’ve served as a board member and volunteer for several nonprofits dedicated to services for the disability community. Through these and other positions, I have particularly focused on intersectionality issues affecting women of color and other marginalized groups.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing this world today?
Had you told me four decades ago that we would still be talking about the same issues affecting the groups embraced by Goal III – women and people who are diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, physical, mental, and sensory abilities, and sexual orientation and gender identity – I would have pushed back in the firm belief that we could overcome these challenges during the span of my career. But despite some noteworthy progress, much work remains before we achieve full participation by diverse members of our profession. Challenges include inertia in some segments of the profession; implicit or unconscious bias among even well-intentioned people; and lack of awareness and implementation of specific tools and action items designed to move the needle.
In what corners do you find the greatest support in propelling these issues you work on? In other words, who are your most frequent allies?
Allyship and collaboration are key concepts in DEI initiatives, both of which help us advance the conversation outside the echo chamber. Examples include CBAC (Coalition of Bar Associations of Color), which is a vehicle for the national bar associations of color to share information and best practices, and to adopt joint policy statements and advocate on issues of mutual concern; and CBLA (Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy), which is a collaboration among the ABA and several of its affiliated bar associations, with the goal of building the pipeline of diverse bar leaders. Another striking example is “Men in the Mix: How to Engage Men on Issues Related to Gender in the Legal Profession,” a groundbreaking study and publication of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.
What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found the most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about?
CRSJ’s Rights of Women Committee has collaborated with the Commission on Women in the Profession and the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to produce a series of webinars. We kicked off on June 8th with “Reproductive Health and Assisted Reproductive Technology,” with special emphasis on access issues for members of the disability and LBGTQ+ communities. On July 8th, we will present “Transgender Athletes in Competitive Sports,” followed by the Annual Meeting Showcase programs, “Is it the End of Roe and the Rule of Law?” (August 5th) and “Title IX’s 50th Anniversary: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, and Where We Need to Be” (August 6th).
Other memorable CRSJ projects were serving as a panelist for CRSJ’s AAPI Heritage Month webinar on The Model Minority Myth, and co-moderating with incoming President-Elect Mary Smith a special Veteran’s Day program jointly sponsored by CRSJ and NAPABA. Mary and I had the pleasure of interviewing Lou Moore, a 99-year-old Chinese American WWII veteran who had written “Eternal Love – Tales of Love & War Through the Eyes of a Soldier,” a book about his 74-year marriage to his Japanese American wife. In a truly memorable moment, we ended the program with Mr. Moore receiving the Congressional Gold Medal for Chinese American WWII veterans.