Once, companies were reluctant to get involved in controversial ideas or causes, preferring to focus on profit and shareholder delight. Today, however, as the world faces great upheaval, companies no longer have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines.
As trust in institutions like government erodes, people are demanding corporations step up and help solve systemic problems. How we operate and do good in the world is front and center.
Historically, lawyers have been at the forefront of creating change — in court battling on high stakes cases, in the back office researching policy for the legislature, or on the frontlines promoting not-for-profit advocacy.
How can in-house GCs lead in doing good not only at their companies but across their greater community? And how do companies balance the needs of the business with the desire of their individual employees to realize their civic responsibilities?
TechGC’s recent inaugural Ethics, Corporate Diversity and Ethics Bootcamp addressed these questions during two powerful sessions. First during a fireside chat with Airbnb’s former GC and Chief Ethics Officer, Rob Chestnut, and then during Turning Intentions to Action: The Role of the GC in Driving Change with Ironclad GC Chris Young and Turo Chief Legal Officer Michelle Fang.
Traditionally, general counsel are keepers of compliance, ensuring policies are followed to protect a company from risk. However, because of this role, employees tend to fear and even distrust their Legal and HR departments.
Chestnut suggested this stigma can be countered by Legal and a CEO leading with integrity, for example, enacting a human-centered program featuring authenticity and empathy.
Chestnut, author of Intentional Integrity, shared how Airbnb created a culture of ethics across its 2,000+ employees by employing the 6 C’s of Corporate Integrity and building an Ethics Advisors program.
At Airbnb, Chestnut created the Ethics Advisors, a program where 30 “not-too-senior-ranked” employees were selected from different locations and functional groups around the world. The Advisors were immersed in a two-day training program on the company’s values and code of ethics.
When the Ethics Advisors returned to their respective offices, the Corporate Communications team promoted the program.
To bolster trust and make the Advisors approachable, Chestnut created videos on his iPhone to tout the program. The videos went viral and employees started volunteering to appear in the videos. Additionally, “Integrity Yetis” — with the slogan “Integrity belongs here” printed on the bottom of the water bottles — were awarded to those who demonstrated acts of integrity, no matter how small.
In the first quarter of this year, the Advisors received more than 100 unique inquiries, many new to HR and Legal.
More than ever, our intentions are aligned — for us, our companies and our country. But what are we doing to align those intentions with our actions while we’re on virtual platforms and can’t come together in person?
In the session Turning Good Intentions Into Action, Young, Fang and Perkins Coie Partner Dominique Leipzig Shelton shared examples of programs supporting Corporate Social Responsibility and diversity and inclusion.
Many TechGC members come from law firms, where pro bono is built into the culture. That may not be the case, however, with in-house legal.. So, how do we get corporate social responsibility (CSR) and pro bono programs from “nice to have” to “I can’t imagine a world without them?”
Through CSR programs, philanthropy and volunteer efforts, companies can impact the greater community.
In-house counsel have the power of the purse. They can use it to ensure they and their outside counsel hire diverse lawyers (and ensure origination credit) and hire or work with minority or women-owned firms.
Diversity and inclusion encompasses a company’s mission, strategies and practices to support a diverse workplace and leverage the effects of diversity to achieve a competitive business advantage.
Lawyers are uniquely positioned to protect the rights of the disenfranchised. Educate yourself on the issues you’re supporting, then provide a culture and safe space to have open conversations where people feel comfortable authentically expressing who they are.
Recently, Turo was asked to co-sign California legislation criminalizing the use of chokeholds that result in injury or death. This bill has nothing to do with peer-to-peer car sharing, but is a bipartisan effort that the company felt was the right thing to do. Engaging in social justice issues helped boost employee morale. That said, the company is aware there may be a silent majority who do not share support for the legislation.
In times of important social movements, answering the call to action is a way for companies to support those efforts and leads to higher engagement.
Today’s in-house counsel, charged with keeping the business afloat and protecting their companies, are also agents of change. By way of education and practice, they’re in a unique position to protect the rights of the disenfranchised.
We hope you have been inspired to start or continue expanding integrity, CSR and D&I initiatives at your company. If you have a program that you would like to share, please share in the comments below.
Download: Strategies & Tactics for In-House Legal Departments to Improve Outside Counsel Diversity
Pay It Forward: Donate Your Time To Create Access For Black Individuals Who Want To Start or Grow Into the Startup or Marketing World
Want to learn more about Ironclad? Get in touch here.