The Legal Executive Institute’s Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color is excited to introduce a blog post series about the Black GC 2025 Initiative. To kick this series off, we sat down with April Miller Boise, Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer (CLO) & Corporate Secretary at Meritor, Inc.; and Ernest Tuckett, former General Counsel for the Americas at AkzoNobel. Both are co-founders of the Black GC 2025 Initiative.
Legal Executive Institute: Can you tell us about the goals of the Black GC 2025 Initiative?
April Miller Boise: The goal of the Black GC 2025 Initiative is to increase the number of Black General Counsel or Chief Legal Officers in Fortune 1000 companies from 38 to 50 by 2020 and from 50 to 100 by 2025.
Ernest Tuckett: We plan to achieve this goal in the following ways:
- By identifying all current and former Black GCs in the Fortune 500, Fortune 1000 and large private companies;
- By outlining the ideal core criteria necessary to be a successful GC;
- By identifying “Ready Now” candidates using the core criteria and connecting Black GCs and “Ready Now” candidates to new GC opportunities and executive search firms; and
- By introducing “Ready Now” candidates and new Black GCs to each other as mentors and advisors to help with the search and interviewing process for new roles; and once a candidate accepts an offer, coaching him or her during the transition and the first year on the job.
What gap in the recruiting pipeline for GC roles is the Initiative seeking to fill?
Boise: The GC/CLO role is one of the roles in the C-suite that is more likely to be a hire that is recruited externally. We want the Black GC 2025 Initiative to be the go-to place for executive search firms and recruiters to identify “Ready Now” rising stars in the Black legal community. Also, we want this initiative to be a resource for these rising stars to expand their network, influence and visibility within the broader legal and business community.
You are putting together a curated list of “Ready Now” candidates. Can you tell us about the core criteria of the “Ready Now” candidates?
Tuckett: Through discussions with GC executive search firms and current and former Black GCs, we identified three main categories of criteria: i) strong executive presence and interpersonal skills; ii) significant legal expertise and experience; and iii) excellent judgment. We then outlined key experiences, skills and abilities within each category that are helpful, and in some cases, necessary to succeed as a GC or CLO.
Boise: To illustrate, in the category of strong executive presence and interpersonal skills, a “Ready Now” candidate must project confidence and have the gravitas and composure when interacting with the C-suite and members of the Board of Directors. In addition, a “Ready Now” candidate must demonstrate that they have experience in collaborating with senior business leaders and have the ability to effectively manage relationships at this level. In particular, having and demonstrating confidence in dealing with individuals at this level is a requirement in the eyes of executive search firms. There must be a belief by “Ready Now” candidates that they belong in the C-suite and among board members.
How will potential candidates be evaluated for selection in the “Ready Now” talent pool?
Tuckett: Potential candidates need to first review the categories of core criteria, key factors and experiences to determine if they meet most of the core criteria and each category’s key experiences. If they do indeed believe they are Ready Now, they need to look at the advisory council members of the Black GC 2025 Initiative and analyze their network to get on the radar of GCs. From there, they need to build a connection (which can be direct or indirect) with at least one advisory council member and work to gain a personal referral from a general counsel or other C-suite officer who will act as a reference, vouching for their Ready Now credentials to be part of the pool of candidates.
What is your perspective on what companies need to do differently in terms of recruiting in order to expand the slate of candidates for the GC role and those roles deemed essential for succession?
Boise: Companies really need to insist upon a diverse slate of candidates from their executive search firms; and more broadly, increase their commitment to building the talent pipeline of diverse lawyers to emerge as strategic advisors to CEOs and their C-suite peers. Better decisions, increased profits and improved performance are all correlated to increased diversity and backgrounds among teams and peers.
How could legal employers partner more effectively with attorneys of color to remove obstacles for their advancement in the legal industry.
Tuckett: To elaborate on the answer from the previous question, building the talent pipeline of attorneys of color means ensuring access to excellent work, and diversifying their exposure and experience in corporate legal practice areas through stretch assignments. Examples of these types of growth opportunities might include moving a labor and employment litigator to a commercial transactional practice area, or giving a lawyer in a niche practice area with leadership potential the responsibility for managing other lawyers and allied professionals across multiple practice areas and regions for a particular business.
Another way to develop diverse legal talent is to provide sponsorship to earn the stretch assignments and to mentor these lawyers during the role to set them up for success. For example, cultivating the relationship with the business unit leader to earn his or her trust is critical, and mentoring new individuals in these roles on how to do this is one way to set them up for success.
In addition, when a mistake is made, providing cover within reason is essential because existing biases often adversely affect the perception of that leader’s competence and can derail a high potential individual’s career.