General Counsel, Praxair Inc.
When it comes to workplace diversity, companies in old-line manufacturing and heavy industry have lagged behind their consumer-products peers. Praxair, a Danbury, Connecticutbased supplier of specialized gases for industrial use, was certainly no exceptionat least until recently. Indeed, when James Breedlove took over as Praxair's general counsel in late 2004, he recalls that the company's legal department employed just two women attorneys, and exactly one lawyer of coloran African American male.
Today, after less than a decade under Breedlove's stewardship, the mix is much improved. Nearly a quarter of Praxair's in-house legal team in the United States is now composed of minorities, and roughly 40 percent of the company's 68 lawyers worldwide are women.
"These aren't big numbers, but we're going in the right direction," says Breedlove, who also gives credit to Praxair chairman and CEO Stephen Angel for leading the charge on companywide diversity efforts. "He's set the right tone at the top," says Breedlove.
To keep the department's momentum going, Breedlove says that continuing to cast a wider recruiting net is key. Because the department likes to hire experienced lawyers, it relies on outside headhunters rather than going to law schools to find potential hires. Breedlove, though, says that those search firms have been given clear instructions about the need to expand the pool of minority and women job candidates.
Moreover, once those candidates are hired, Breedlove says he and other managers are committed to giving them the sort of experience and coaching they need to rise through the ranks. "We focus a lot on leadership development," says Breedlove. The result: More minority lawyers have moved into management positions, including Shanghai-based Stephen Riddick, who currently heads up legal operations for Praxair's Asia division and Mexican-born Guillermo Bichara, who formerly served as the company's top lawyer in both Mexico and Asia and is now associate general counsel.
At the same time, Breedlove has also been prodding the company's outside firms to put more women and minority lawyers on Praxair matters. So far his efforts to ensure that those firms comply with his wishes has been relatively informal. "I measure it with a 'visual test'I can see who's on the legal team doing the work," says Breedlove, who adds that while he has seen some progress on diversity, outside firms still have a long way to go.
Breedlove could, of course, take away matters from firms that don't do better on the diversity front. But for now he prefers the carrot approach. One example: He recently signed up a firm he hadn't used previously to handle some new environmental matters. The firm had high-caliber legal experience, Breedlove's most important criterion, but he says that the fact that the managing partner was African American also influenced his decision.
As Breedlove notes, a more diverse mix of lawyers, whether at outside firms or in-house, brings far richer experience and a broader range of perspectives on various business and legal issues. Thus, he's convinced that promoting diversity makes good business sense. "It's not just a flavor-of-the-month, trendy thing," says Breedlove. "We need to keep sending a clear message that diversity is important."
General Counsel, Xerox Corporation
Xerox general counsel Donald Liu considers himself lucky to be working for an enlightened company. Indeed, as the 51-year-old Liu points out, the Norwalk, Connecticutbased Xerox has long set a shining example on diversity initiatives, having been the first Fortune 500 company to hire an African American woman as CEO, and a clear leader in placing women and minorities throughout its management ranks.
Those efforts certainly produced noticeable results in the company's legal department. When Liu came aboard as GC in 2007, roughly 40 percent of Xerox's then-100-lawyer in-house legal team was female, and minorities made up a quarter of the staff, in addition to holding a third of the department's management spots. "I was fortunate to inherit a very diverse staff," recalls Liu.
Unfortunately, Liu found that the outside firms handling Xerox matters had not made nearly as much progress on the diversity front. So he decided he needed to help move the effort along. The first step: clearly communicating to firms, both verbally and in writing, that Xerox expected to see more diverse staffing on its matters.
Next, the legal department began keeping close tabs on the firms' progress. Liu and other managers now track hours billed by women and minority lawyers, along with the overall effort and commitment to diversity, then assign rankings and report back to firms on where they stand.