Diversity from the Corporate Perspective

Susan Perng Pan And Naresh Kilaru

©2013. Published in Landslide, Vol. 5, No. 4, March/April 2013, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

The corporate sector has been at the forefront of developing diversity and inclusion strategies and assessing the implications of a rapidly changing workforce for quite some time. Given demographic trends, this is not likely to change. Indeed, the 2012 presidential election brought into sharp relief the impact of demographic shifts across the country. The influx of diverse talent into all professional sectors, including the legal profession, has been a part of this shift. How well corporations, law firms, and other organizations will be able to attract, develop, and retain diverse legal talent in the future will depend on a range of variables. These variables start with admissions into law schools, a process that will undoubtedly be impacted by the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated examination of affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas.

In Fisher, 57 of America’s largest companies filed an amicus brief supporting the university’s position, including General Electric, Microsoft, DuPont, and Johnson & Johnson.1 To be competitive in the global marketplace, these corporations argued they “must be able to hire highly trained employees of all races, religions, cultures and economic backgrounds.”2 They also argued it was “critical” for all of their university-trained employees to have the opportunity “to share ideas, experiences, viewpoints and approaches with a broadly diverse student body.” This is the essential rationale that has promoted corporate diversity efforts for decades.

Whatever the outcome of the Fisher case, corporations will likely demonstrate a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion for the foreseeable future. As seen in the interviews that follow, corporations are seeking to address this commitment through a comprehensive, forward-thinking approach that examines retention policies and practices, culture, accountability standards, law firm selection, and more.

The following individuals have participated in this interview: Philip S. Johnson, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, Johnson & Johnson; Chen Wang, Deputy Chief IP Counsel, Angela Grayson, Senior Counsel, IP Litigation, and Daniel Turner, DuPont Public Affairs, DuPont; Danielle Johnston Holmes, Assistant General Counsel, Intellectual Property Group, Microsoft Corporation; and Michael Gnibus, Director, GE Global Patent Operation, and Catherine Toppin, Senior Patent Counsel and Manager, GE Global Patent Operation, General Electric.

Interview with Philip S. Johnson, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, Johnson & Johnson

Have long-standing diversity initiatives within organizations changed over time? If so, in what ways?

Johnson & Johnson has long been interested in developing and supporting diversity in all aspects of our organization. Johnson & Johnson became the founding corporation of the American Intellectual Property Law Education Foundation (AIPLEF) back in the early 2000s. What was going on at the time was unfortunately what had been going on for a while within the IP profession. There was insufficient diversity within our profession, and we wanted to do something about it. When I say “we,” it wasn’t just me or Johnson & Johnson that wanted to do something about it. The major bar associations and many people in corporate and private practice wanted to see if we could find a way to change the profession and make it more diverse. We identified the possibility of giving need-based scholarships to deserving students as a way to encourage them to go to law school to become IP attorneys. And so we set about founding the AIPLEF with the goal of doing that.

To get the program going, Johnson & Johnson donated $100,000, and many others also joined in. We began awarding $15,000 scholarships. While there’s no guarantee, people who receive a scholarship for their first year of study frequently reapply, and are often funded for the second and third years as well. So the scholarship often becomes about $45,000 per scholar.

The reason this amount was selected is because we determined that other funding was usually available through loans or other sources to cover much of what law school would cost. However, there was a gap, and that gap frequently made the difference between someone being able to attend law school and someone not being able to do so. The idea was that we could fill that gap for all of the extra costs when loans are not enough. From talking to the scholars, we do believe that these scholarships have been a significant help.

Over the years, we have refined the process for selecting our scholars. We have long relied upon the Thurgood Marshall Foundation to help us publicize the existence of these scholarships, collect applications, and vet them for our review. These applications are then reviewed by our scholarship committee, which makes its final recommendations to the Board. I think they do a wonderful job, as the quality of our scholars demonstrates.

Fortunately, we also have been able to increase the number of scholarships we award each year. We have accomplished this by collaborating with MCCA, ABA-IPL, and especially the AIPLA, to improve our internal efficiencies. We’ve also been able to raise more money as we’ve become more established. I believe this year we’re giving 15 scholarships. This compares to just a few when we were starting out.

Unfortunately, we’re still not able to give as many scholarships as there are deserving recipients. This is one of the reasons that I continue to encourage others to become sponsors of the AIPLEF.

In addition to money, we also realize that students entering IP can benefit from mentoring, both during law school and thereafter. While we have long focused on one-to-one mentoring of our scholars, we are now beginning to consider more formal mentoring/education programs. At Johnson & Johnson, we have just completed our second Annual Law Students Day for students in the New Brunswick, New Jersey, area and for all AIPLEF scholars who could attend. The students come to our corporate headquarters conference center, and we have a day-long program intended to teach law students about what life in corporate practice is like and how in-house practice is different than practicing in a law firm. We discuss why they may want to keep in-house practice as an option to consider as they go forward.

This event was very successful. AIPLEF’s president, David Highet, joined us, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s general counsel, Mike Ullmann; deputy general counsel and head of litigation, Joe Braunreuther; and our chief diversity officer, Anthony Carter, who served as our keynote speaker. We also had breakout sessions where we divided the students into 50 small groups, each of which met with one of our lawyers for one hour of open-ended mentoring.

Like many corporations, we do not hire law students straight out of law school. That’s one of the things that actually spawned the Annual Law Students Day. We’re very concerned that young people coming out of law school today see their prospects to be daunting, and we want to be as helpful as we can given the fact that we are not set up so we can hire people who don’t have a certain degree of experience in private practice. What we think we can do is serve as objective sounding boards for law students, giving them objective advice while trying to help them through the benefit of our experience and with the benefit of our networks. In this economy, it’s very helpful to help people get in touch with others with whom they’re well matched. Until you sit down and talk to the students and start doing the mentoring process, you don’t remember how little law students know about the working world—the professional world. It’s very rewarding for the mentor. Hopefully, the mentee feels the same way.

Can you please describe the demographics of the IP department at your company?

We have an IP group that consists of about 110 patent and trademark attorneys located worldwide. The majority of our group is located in the United States, but we also have a significant presence outside of the U.S. In terms of our ethnic diversity and how it compares to the profession, the best figures that I have seen for comparison are the ones that are in the AIPLA economic survey. Based on the most recent AIPLA survey, our department has roughly twice the percentages of minorities as those reported for the IP profession as a whole.

How have diversity factors come into play in IP in particular, such as effectiveness in cultivating invention and design disclosures from business and R&D units, and from across different corporate units worldwide?

Diversity is important to everything we do. In some areas of IP law, such as trademark law—where you’re dealing with trademarks that are in a foreign language with obviously its own cultural connotations—it would be impossible to operate in the area if you didn’t have diversity in your organization that includes people who have a cultural understanding of the meanings and connotations of the marks that you’re dealing with. Similarly, in the health care and consumer product space, many of our products are developed for specific patient populations, consumers, or to meet the specific needs of a local market. We have our attorneys working with inventors who are located in the U.S. and in various countries around the world, and they help blend technologies that originated in one location with knowledge originating in other local markets, to try to adapt the technology to meet local demands. The cultural and other needs of the different patient populations vary considerably, and it’s only a result of diversity coming together that you can succeed in that type of endeavor. We see diversity as being essential to solving the complex problems we confront, to providing the products wanted by diverse markets, and to developing the drugs needed by diverse patient populations.

How does diversity factor into developing your legal department, and how does this impact work with outside counsel?

Johnson & Johnson always makes inquiries of our outside counsel concerning their diversity, and has discussions with everyone who serves as outside counsel as to what they’re doing about diversity. As already mentioned, the IP profession itself is not as diverse as we would like, so we seek to hire outside counsel who share that view and are interested and involved in doing something about it. We approach diversity very early in our discussions with outside counsel.

What are the most successful tools the organization has found to attract, retain, and maintain diversity, and on the flip side, what can be done better?

We have various methods that we use to attract and retain a diverse, talented group of attorneys. Many of them are probably standard within most corporations. We work hard to ensure that the slates from which we hire include diverse candidates. We also have robust diversity and inclusion activities within the IP department, and within our law department overall.

A very effective diversity and inclusion committee helps us evaluate our progress, and to design and implement programs that deal with these subjects. Inclusion for multinational companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, is much broader than one might think, because we are working not just with the diversity that we have here in the United States, but the diversity around the world—vast cultural diversity and any kind of variation imaginable. We have more than 250 companies and we operate in more than 110 countries around the world; our attorneys have responsibilities for working in all these different areas with colleagues from around the world. We find that to be a rich and rewarding part of working at Johnson & Johnson.

There are other activities that are not labeled as “diversity and inclusion” activities, but that certainly involve diversity. Given the diversity of our law department, probably every activity that we do is that way.

With a keen focus on retaining our diverse talent in the law department, some of our lawyers have participated in many of our company’s leadership development programs. Crossing the Finish Line is one such program, focused on multicultural men and women. It is a one-week career acceleration program designed for director-level leaders across the enterprise. The program brings high performers together through a competitive selection process where they engage in a series of activities designed to help them define their work experiences, structure creative yet legitimate career paths, and leverage their interactions with senior leaders. As a result, the retention rates for participants in the program are extraordinary.

What can be done better? We need to do more to increase diversity in the IP profession. I recognize that this goal may be harder to achieve in some businesses than in others because of geographic location and technical subject matter. Johnson & Johnson, as mentioned, is primarily involved in the health care and consumer products fields. Our needs in the patent area are primarily for patent attorneys with mechanical engineering, biology, or chemistry backgrounds. We’re all at the mercy of the pool of available applicants. Some of my counterparts at other companies who, for example, have a software or electrical engineering-based business in the Rocky Mountain area, may have a harder time building diversity into their in-house departments than it is for us here in New Jersey or California, or some of the other places where we have major facilities. Fortunately, I don’t sense resistance to diversity in the profession, but do recognize that the nature of the issue varies based upon differing circumstances.

We also can do better by learning from each other. We benchmark with other organizations as part of our effort to get new ideas. For example, we recently had Walmart’s diversity group come in and visit with us and exchange ideas and best practices about diversity. We do this with other companies as well. It’s always good to learn.

Has the opening of the global marketplace significantly impacted diversity initiatives? If so, in what ways?

We meet once a year as a law department in a central location. This year, we have something on the order of 35 different countries represented within the attendees at the law department meeting. I can’t think of a situation that goes on within our law department where diversity doesn’t bring an extra dimension in terms of thought and problem-solving to the table. It’s impossible for me to conceive of a situation where the diversity we have isn’t an asset.

For example, we’re involved in patent cases in China and Germany regarding products invented in Ohio. Our IP colleagues in China, Ohio, Belgium, and New Jersey are working with outside counsel in China and Germany to achieve the results our clients expect. I can’t imagine how we could function successfully in such endeavors without appreciating and embracing multicultural diversity and having a global mindset.

Interview with Chen Wang, Deputy Chief IP Counsel; Angela Grayson, Senior Counsel, IP Litigation; and Daniel Turner, DuPont Public Affairs, DuPont

For organizations with long-standing diversity initiatives, such as DuPont, have those initiatives changed over time? If so, in what ways?

Chen: By way of background, I have been with DuPont for 15 years and when I joined, I was told that I was part of a minority hire. There was actually a pretty focused effort by the law department, in particular the IP department, to hire more minorities at that time. And there were quite a number of us whom I consider as my classmates who joined the DuPont company over a two- to three-year period as part of the minority hire. We were all very well qualified and pretty well respected already within our fields. There were very few lateral hires at that time. A lot of growth came from within—scientists who became lawyers as part of the IP department; in contrast, we were lateral. We all had at least three to four years of experience, and we are all minority. So it was very exciting at that time when I joined DuPont to not only be folks of minority persuasion, but also younger, because that was a pretty old department that I joined as well. So I was a little apprehensive about the generational gap. I think there was absolutely a conscious effort by DuPont to diversify the legal department and in particular the IP department not only by ethnicity, but also age and perspective. We all came from different parts of the country. We had different cultural backgrounds.

Angela: I actually have a different story. I wasn’t part of a large or even a small kind of minority hire. I ended up joining the company from another Fortune 500® company, with the specific intention of replacing someone who had plans to retire. I agree with Chen; I found myself as a relatively young attorney at DuPont with the same concerns with respect to the generational gap. Much to my delight, I have been able to move around the company as an IP attorney providing support for various organizations from central research and development to various strategic business units. Presently, I am a litigator in the intellectual property litigation group. Based on all of these roles, I have come to believe what was told to me upon my arrival to the company. Mike Walker, our vice president and chief IP officer said to me, that “in intellectual property, you’ll find a great career here because IP is so important to the core operations of our company.”

How have diversity factors come into play in IP in particular, such as effectiveness in cultivating invention and design disclosures from business and R&D units? From across different corporate units worldwide?

Chen: DuPont is a global company with research and development operations all over the world. I think our technology team is obviously going to be diverse as well, and having a diverse legal team, vis-à-vis a diverse research and development team, adds value. Being able to relate with our colleagues is critical in terms of building relationships to acquire, maintain, and enforce our intellectual property. It is paramount. However, I really have not felt much by way of my diversity having been front and center with respect to me doing IP work for the company. Because of our core values, respect for people, and commitment to highest ethical behavior, diversity separately is really not something that’s front and center. Diversity is something that’s quite ingrained in our culture to respect people. So I think that in terms of doing my job, it’s fairly seamless. In a lot of ways, being diverse also helps build those strong relationships.

My assignments in DuPont Legal included being part of the mergers and acquisitions group. DuPont, being a global company, engages in mergers and acquisitions worldwide. My cultural diversity enables me to develop a cultural sensitivity as I work with various groups around the world, and I really understand that my perspective may not be the other person’s perspective, be it how things are approached or how statements may be received. A lot of times it causes me to ask questions rather than make statements because you have to be open to various people’s perspectives. That’s why it’s so important for our organization as a support or a service organization to be diverse—so that we can be ingrained with the sensitivity aspect and be open to receiving different perspectives.

How does diversity factor into developing the legal departments within your company, and how does this impact their work with outside counsel?

Daniel: As Chen mentions, respect for people has been a core value for DuPont for the 200 years the company has been around. But from the legal department and as a function, one of the things that can be said is that there’s been a very strong push for diversity over the past several decades, in particular with and under the leadership of Tom Sager, our senior vice president and general counsel. What he’s been able to do, not only in promoting diversity in-house but also within the legal network of Primary Law Firms within the DuPont network, has made Tom an industry leader in this area.

Chen: The Primary Law Firm (PLF) Network is a list of preferred law firms mainly for litigation that DuPont has throughout the United States. DuPont has a long-term relationship with these law firms. There is a mutual commitment in working in a collaborative setting and we expect a certain commitment on diversity as part of that relationship. Tom Sager exhibits leadership on the diversity issue. Both Angela and I have been members of the DuPont Minority Counsel Network (MCN) and the DuPont Women’s Legal Network. The commitment is from the top. These are not symbolic networks, but rather true working groups. Angela is the current chair of the MCN and I was past chair. There are at least two or three other minority attorneys from the IP field that have been in leadership positions. What I see, as a past leader, is understanding that this initiative comes from the top, that Tom pays attention. The level of detail and questions that he asked to ensure that we’re promulgating the program is not at a visionary level but at an idea-generation level. He actually allocates substantial time in providing direction and support on an annual basis. There is a level of appreciation that I had after being part of the MCN leadership that I did not have before, because I didn’t have that level of this visibility in terms of how committed Tom is to the program.

Angela: I would have to echo that. Our general counsel takes diversity very seriously, not just in terms of the DuPont PLF Network generally, but even to making sure diverse attorneys are being staffed on our litigation matters. The approach to diversity is from the top down as well as from the bottom up. For any firms that are in our PLF Network, we know there is a commitment to diversity. We know that the talent in the firms will be among the top minds in the United States as well as all over the world, since we have international firms in our PLF Network as well. With respect to sourcing a matter, we will either contact the firm, or they will contact us with an interest in working on the case. We have every ability to say who we like as staff on those matters. Typically speaking, we will have a senior partner who’s working on the matter and perhaps a junior associate, either of which may be diverse, working on the matter as well. As Chen mentioned, the PLF Network is primarily designed for litigation, and as a litigator I have the ability to designate who I’d like to work on my cases. However, by and large when the firms come and pitch to us with an expression that they would like to work on a matter, they’ve already identified one or more diverse candidates ready to work on the matter, because they know that our general counsel takes diversity and inclusion very seriously.

As you know in the IP field, not only is there specialization within either litigation or transactions, there’s also technical background that comes into play. So we do augment our PLF Network with primary diverse firms. These are firms that are minority or women-owned firms, such as part of NAMWOLF.

Chen: That’s our way of saying if we can’t find diversity within our PLF Network on the IP front, we’re going to go and look for diverse suppliers somewhere else. I can’t speak for the entire organization case by case, but the general guidance we have provided our organiza tion is that if you can’t find diversity within the PLF Network, look for a NAMWOLF-type of firm and, lastly, go somewhere else. There is an order of preference to try and meet our needs, and that’s the general guidance we were provided over the years.

Angela: As a follow-up on a prior point, it is interesting that perhaps there is a very small percentage of African Americans out in the firms engaged in IP work, but I’ll tell you that in our IP litigation group at DuPont, 75 percent of the group are African American attorneys.

Chen: I know that the PLF Network account manager, currently Evelyn Brantley, asked of the chairs of the MCN for information about diversity commitment with respect to the firms that are part of the PLF Network. She does have conversations, one on one, with each of the firms that includes that topic of diversity. But usually she does not come back to us with exactly why a particular firm was taken out of the PLF Network, because that is highly confidential. We know that we provide a lot of data to her on diversity. Certainly, if the year-to-year comparisons of Firm X had 20 minority attorneys five years ago and now they have only 10, it’s a problem. Certainly, that type of conversation will happen.

How has the opening of the global marketplace significantly impacted diversity initiatives?

Chen: We have a lot of opportunities and challenges in China. My diversity and cultural background certainly helps with the strategic conversation we have with China and we have IP issues there. We also have a lot of business opportunities where we’re engaging with Chinese companies and it’s very important for us to be able to understand the Chinese perspective. We recently acquired Danisco, which is a company of two cultures, one based in Palo Alto and one based in Copenhagen. Our inherent cultural sensitivity enables us to recognize the difference even within one company of an acquired entity so that we can ensure that we customize our integration process being sensitive to the diversity and culture within the target. This is a day-to-day type of thing.

What are the most successful tools that DuPont has found to attract, retain, and maintain diversity, especially in the legal area? And on the flip side, what can be done better?

Angela: I am out in the legal community in my role as chair of the Minority Counsel Network. Perfect strangers approach me all the time, telling me how much they admire the company that I work for and its commitment to diversity. The word gets out—our commitment to diverse attorneys, our core values, our general counsel, and other leadership have been at this for decades. I think our reputation precedes us. And it’s not just IP professionals, though that’s clearly the topic of our conversation, but it’s people in the general legal profession.

Chen: I’ll give an example about attracting talent. I have been involved in interviewing and staffing the IP department and I’m currently part of the strategic staffing team for the IP department. When I see a really good candidate who’s excited about DuPont, I give them the reason why I’m here. It’s the diversity in terms of range of very challenging business, it’s the respect for people, it’s the highest ethical standard, and what I say about the highest ethical standard is that every night I go to sleep knowing that my moral compass is completely intact. That’s more important to me than any money that is thrown my way because that’s the type of person I am. I think in the end you get a profile of the type of person that wants to join DuPont because this is an emotional attachment and not just a job.

I think there’s always more that can be done and we are working in those areas. DuPont is a science company, but there are other companies out there also trying to attract and retain a pool of candidates. It is very competitive, so we want to have people that, again, believe and strongly hold our core values that look to protect and defend our intellectual property. What you see out there right now is that there are a number of companies looking to attract top talent, so we work as best as we can and want to improve in order to be attractive to those candidates.

Daniel: We’re committed to installing projects like the DuPont Legal Street Law Diversity Pipeline Project. That project is designed to send lawyers, paralegals, and legal administrative professionals from DuPont into the community classroom to teach minority students basic legal subjects and encourage them to enter into the legal profession.

Chen: The Minority Counsel Network and the Women’s Legal Network are actually designed for the in-house attorney as well as our Primary Law Firm attorneys. It’s an internal and an external collaboration.3 My personal experience is that these networks enable us to dig deeper because they’re working networks. One focuses on race diversity and the other one is gender diversity. Each of those networks actually have working committees on an ongoing basis to focus on various topics to promote diversity in different ways, such as mentoring and retention. These networks build on top of each other year after year. The year that I chaired the MCN, we dug deeper into not just the numbers, but the “whys” within the firms and within DuPont on diversity. This is an exercise in conversation and introspection and the outcome is follow-through action, be it at the leadership level with the firms or within DuPont so we can further promote the diversity program. As Angela said, there is always an opportunity to improve and it’s through these networks that we look to implement some of those improvements. We also continue benchmarking to ensure that we are improving ourselves, and not just within ourselves but also looking to best practices externally.

Angela: I’ll add that these networks collaborate with each other as well. So you’ve got the DuPont PLF Network, which clearly encompasses all of the attorneys that we utilize and partner with in our PLF Network, and then of course you have the DuPont Minority Counsel Network as well as our DuPont Women’s Legal Network. One important thing to note is that these networks don’t operate in isolation; they operate in collaboration with each other.

Daniel: There certainly is benchmarking that goes on within peer-set companies, whether based on size or business area: agriculture and nutrition; industrial biosciences; and advanced materials.

Chen: With respect to benchmarking, in the past we have invited companies that also are focused on diversity to attend our MCN conference so that they can see what DuPont is doing and take with them anything that they may find useful within their own programs. There’s a real commitment in collaboration when it comes to the focus on diversity. I believe Tom Sager and a number of the leaders at the operating level see each of themselves as a chief diversity officer. There is no such title here because we each take ownership in that.

Interview with Danielle Johnston Holmes, Assistant General Counsel, Intellectual Property Group, Microsoft Corporation

Have long-standing diversity initiatives within organizations changed over time? If so, in what ways?

Microsoft’s commitment to diversity has stayed consistent over the years. Our diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy to create an environment that helps Microsoft capitalize on the diversity of its people, inclusion of ideas, and solutions to meet the needs of its increasingly global and diverse customer base has evolved along with the company’s business strategy. The three core elements of our global diversity and inclusion strategy are focused on representation, inclusion, and market innovation.

This focus has become more global in scope and is tied to driving business impact. In recent years, the company has also placed additional emphasis on driving common leadership accountabilities for integrating D&I into talent and business goals.

Going forward, Microsoft seeks to drive greater insights into new markets through its numerous employee resource groups and employee networks. For example, the Africans at Microsoft Employee Network recently held the second African Business Forum, bringing together business leaders, product partners, and Microsoft employees to discuss opportunities in the African marketplace. Additionally, the company’s Cross-Disability Employee Resource Group cosponsored the company’s second annual Ability Day, focused on raising engineer skills around accessibility in our products and leveraging the insights of Microsoft’s community of employees with disabilities.

Can you please describe the demographics of the IP department at your company?

We cannot provide specific demographic information on the IP department. However, we can share some higher level demographics. As of October 2012, women and minorities comprised 57.5 percent of the attorneys in Microsoft’s U.S. Legal and Corporate Affairs workforce. Women and minorities currently make up 50 percent of the general counsel’s direct reports.

How have diversity factors come into play in IP in particular, such as effectiveness in cultivating invention and design disclosures from business and R&D units, and from across different corporate units worldwide?

Microsoft believes that building the best software means incorporating the talents of our varied workforce into our products, and recognizing the needs and priorities of our diverse customer, supplier, and partner base. Microsoft has various ways that it reflects D&I principles into product development. Several examples include:

  • Microsoft Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) serve as internal resources to ensure that diverse perspectives are included in business decisions, marketing, and product development activities. For example, the Cross-Disability ERG—formed from constituents of employees with conditions such as deafness, blindness, visual impairments, attention deficit disorder, mobility disabilities, and dyslexia—collaborates with Microsoft product teams to advise on the design and development of accessible Microsoft products and drive accessibility improvements to the work environment. The Women ERG partners with Microsoft to provide input to Microsoft product development teams on new products that will appeal to both women and families.
  • Microsoft has invested in advancing Hispanics through technology investments, including the launch of MSN Mobile Latino (http://latino.mobile.msn.com/), a digital service that provides Hispanics with one-stop access to Spanish-language content via mobile devices, the introduction of a new family of Zune devices to U.S. Hispanic audiences, and a Hispanic theme pack for Windows® 7 operating system to enable Latinos/Hispanics to personalize their experience through audio and artwork.
  • When designing Kinect for Xbox, Microsoft did early testing of the product with moms, families, and youth—including an inner city girls’ basketball team—to see how they could build a unifying gaming experience that would enable people to creatively express themselves, connect with others, and continue to build strong family bonds. Shannon Loftis, studio head of Microsoft’s Good Science Studio that developed Kinect, has a strong goal of developing a diverse team that will ensure Microsoft is building superior technology as well as meeting the needs of a diverse customer base.
  • Microsoft takes a strategic approach to accessibility as a key business practice by focusing on integrating accessibility into product planning, research and development, product development, and testing. Microsoft builds accessibility options into products that enable everyone to personalize their PCs to make them more comfortable and easier to see, hear, and use. Many Microsoft products feature accessibility and personalization options.

What are the top driving factors for the organization’s diversity initiatives?

From Steve Ballmer on down, the message is that diversity and inclusion are integral to Microsoft’s vision, strategy, and business success. We recognize that leadership in today’s global marketplace requires that we create a corporate culture and an inclusive business environment where the best and brightest diverse minds—employees with varied perspectives, skills, and experiences—work together to meet global consumer demands. The collaboration of cultures, ideas, and different perspectives is an organizational asset and brings forth greater creativity and innovation.

How does diversity factor into developing your legal department, and how does this impact work with outside counsel?

Legal & Corporate Affairs (LCA) is a key partner in driving the company’s business strategy. As Microsoft does business in virtually every corner of the globe, the legal, policy, and citizenship issues LCA addresses require the broadest range of perspectives and cultural insights. Additionally, with employees from over 130 countries working in our Redmond campus alone, our legal department must be diverse and have the skills to work across differences in style to provide effective counsel. Our outside firms are an extension of our legal department, so it’s natural we apply the same logic that drives our internal commitment to D&I. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith and LCA’s leadership have taken concrete steps to drive home the importance of D&I with our outside counsel through the Law Firm Diversity Program, which encourages our key firms to achieve measurable results on diversity through a combination of pay for performance incentives and mutual accountability. Since the program’s launch in 2009, we have seen an overall increase in the percentage of hours worked on our matters collectively by women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT, and disabled attorneys.

What are the most successful tools the organization has found to attract, retain, and maintain diversity, and on the flip side, what can be done better?

The work to attract, retain, and maintain diversity at Microsoft is focused on driving true business value of diversity and inclusion, which means taking the collaboration of cultures, ideas, and different perspectives and bringing forth greater creativity and innovation for our customers. We also have worked to further build inclusive environments—organizational cultures where all are truly valued and encouraged to fully contribute their talents—in order to sustain our diversity gains. We continue to make systemic changes in our policies and processes to help build diversity into our business strategy and how we conduct business globally.

While as a company we are driving a lot of pioneering initiatives to drive diversity and inclusion across our global business, we continue to evolve the way we think about this work by prioritizing key diversity and inclusion initiatives that are vital to our business success and that will help us move beyond incremental progress.

Interview with Michael Gnibus, Director GE Global Patent Operation; and Catherine Toppin, Senior Patent Counsel and Manager, GE Global Patent Operation, General Electric Corporation

Have diversity initiatives at General Electric changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

Michael: In my observation, GE is much more diverse now than it was 10 years ago, because we’ve focused on it, made it a priority, brought in the best people and many of those have been diverse. The real benefit of diversity that I’ve seen over the last five or six years is richer dialogues and different perspectives on issues. It’s part of our DNA here in the company. There’s no doubt about it, and it’s developed and reinforced day in and day out because of how we function. We’ve got a talented group of folks who have different backgrounds and so they approach problems from different angles. It could be somebody in their 20s or somebody later in their career. People just approach problem-solving differently.

Please describe the demographics of the IP department in your organization.

Michael: For our specific group, Global Patent Operation, I believe we have a larger than typical percentage of women attorneys in IP, roughly 40/60 in terms of diverse to nondiverse members. We’re part of GE Corporate and we’re acting as GE’s own in-house patent law firm. We are business partners with each of the GE businesses and support their needs from the patent prosecution perspective.

How does diversity factor into development of the legal department within GE, and how does it impact work with outside counsel?

Michael: When we have an open attorney position, we always have a diverse slate. When we work with a recruiter, it’s mandatory. They understand that that’s an expectation that we have as a company, so they always develop and present a diverse slate of candidates to whomever is hiring. On the intern side, we strive for the same, and I believe we may even do better. So we’re about 40/60 women to men on the full-time attorney side, and roughly 60/40 on the intern side. One of my goals is to try to make the pipeline start there.

Diversity is also taken into account when we select preferred providers, but typically the providers are selected and once they are selected diversity is considered. Once they are selected, we do expect that diverse attorneys will handle a portion of the work that they do for GE and then when they fill out their invoices there is an area where they can record which work diverse members of their teams have handled. That’s not the only criteria but once they’re on board, the expectation is that a percentage of the GE work will be handled by diverse members of their team.

Catherine: There is a questionnaire that goes out on a routine basis that gives us an opportunity to review the performance of preferred providers with respect to their diversity numbers and initiatives on a number of fronts.

How have diversity factors come into play in IP in particular, such as effectiveness in cultivating invention and design disclosures from business and R&D units and from across GE units worldwide?

Catherine: We are routinely in the process of working with people with different perspectives from all around the world who speak different languages and are in different time zones. We have inventors in China working with inventors in Charlottesville, and inventors in Hungary working with inventors in Wisconsin. Diverse conversations happen all the time. In some ways, we almost take it for granted because it is part of how we operate as a global business. There is a culture, a mind-set that is conditioned to be open to different viewpoints and different ways of thinking. In order to be successful in this company, you have to be open. We are a global team that operates and files patent applications all around the world. Everyone on the team needs to feel responsible and capable of negotiating and interacting with our global partners.

What are the most successful tools that GE has found to attract, retain, and maintain diversity, especially in the legal area?

Catherine: GE has five diversity pillars that we take into account with respect to all of our diversity issues. One of the most important is retention and development of legal talent. We also measure the behavior of our partners, whether it’s outside counsel or other business partners, and we reward behavior that achieves success in areas of diversity.

The use of diverse attorneys on our matters is tracked within the system, but all the diversity pillars are critical. One thing that GE does really well is promote and develop its leadership. The company pays special attention to diverse attorneys and diverse talent, and recognizes that you have to be intentional about these issues. We know that it doesn’t happen organically. From my vantage point, there is a visible effort in investing in diverse talent, whether it be through an affinity network symposium or sponsorship of leadership training courses. These efforts are happening across the board for GE leaders, and sometimes there are efforts targeted to include diverse talent to make sure that such talent is being promoted throughout the ranks of GE.

GE is a really big company with a lot of different efforts and a lot of different initiatives. The company encourages all of its employees, the legal team included, to participate in volunteerism and outreach efforts. During my first year with GE, I volunteered at a public high school in the Washington, D.C., area and interacted with students in a science and engineering contest. There was a big presence from GE. Across the legal function, we do a lot of things jointly, although not necessarily targeted at recruitment of IP talent. I am actively involved in the African American Forum (AAF). It offers a number of community service and outreach opportunities and partners with other organizations to do various types of outreach. AAF members from across all businesses and functions throughout GE are invited to participate in that outreach. On average, once every six months I participate in something sponsored by GE that in some way relates to diversity outreach. And that is just through AAF. There are other GE affinity groups with their respective meetings and programs as well.

GE also sponsors a Leadership Diversity Conference that happens every 12–18 months. About 150 diverse people in leadership roles gather together to talk about personal and career development as part of a day-and-a-half-long conference for GE lawyers.

What can be done better to attract, retain, and maintain diversity?

Michael: Diversity is a metric that all leaders are judged on and it’s something that we’re all supposed to consider, whether it’s in our hiring or the way our teams are composed. It is a standard that we’re all expected to hit when it comes to diversity and we benchmark against ourselves.

Catherine: Anecdotally, there are probably more women in the chemical environment and biomedical science professions as a whole. But there are women and diverse people in computer science and the high-tech engineering space. The question is: Are companies looking at the usual places or are they choosing to be creative, step outside the box, and decide, “Okay, we’re going to look at nontraditional schools, and we’re not going to be stuck on whatever excuse is most convenient to explain away finding, hiring, and developing diverse talent”?

Personally, I believe it’s really hard to successfully fake caring about diversity in corporate America. Either you live it or you don’t. You can put anything up on your website and say, “We really care about diversity.” GE frankly could have taken the “easy way out” and given my role to someone who was the stereotypical version of a patent attorney—white and male—but it didn’t. My boss selected the best person for the job even though it may or may not have been the easiest and most comfortable thing to do. Based on my personal experience and observation, GE is serious about diversity and it is serious about leadership and cultivating diverse talent. I love working here.

My boss lives it every day and it definitely trickles from the top down. Brackett Denniston, our general counsel, attends the AAF annual meeting every year, as does Jeff Immelt, our CEO. They are committed to it and they spend money on it! GE sends over 1,000 employees to a remote location for a week to network, learn more about how to be a leader, and get exposure to the company’s senior management. That’s no small thing, and that is just one example, with one affinity group. That also happens in other groups throughout the company.

GE promotes the best. It sees talent, not just color. It also knows that in order to have the leaders at the top reflect the company’s diversity, something must be done to impact the pipeline along the way to make sure people are getting the right opportunities and that it’s a level playing field. There is no promoting diversity for diversity’s sake. It makes sure that there is diverse representation at almost every leadership opportunity and initiative, and it does it intentionally.


1. The American Bar Association also filed an amicus brief supporting the university.

2. Brief for Amici Curiae Fortune-100 and other Leading American Businesses in Support of Respondents at 2, Fisher v. Univ. of Texas, No. 11-345 (U.S. 2011).

3. For more information on the Street Law Project, Minority Counsel Network, and Women’s Law Network, see Diversity, DuPont, http://www.dupontlegalmodel.com/diversity/ (last visited Jan. 22, 2013).