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 Integrity and Diversity Bootcamp addressed these questions during two powerful sessions. First during a fireside chat with Airbnb’s former GC and Chief Ethics Officer, Rob Chesnut, and then during Turning Intentions to Action: The Role of the GC in Driving Change with Ironclad GC Chris Young, Turo Chief Legal Officer Michelle Fang and Perkins Coie Partner Dominique Shelton Leipzig.
Lessons on Creating a Culture of Corporate Integrity
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.
Chesnut 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.
Chesnut, 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.
- CEO: If the CEO acts with integrity, then it will flow throughout the organization. The other 5 C’s won’t matter if you don’t have leadership demonstrating the values and intentional integrity.
- Code of Ethics: It needs to be authentic and include input from a diverse group of stakeholders. Additionally, the Code should adopt the unique language of the company. For example, Airbnb’s vision is “Foster belonging around the world” and its mission is to “help create a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live in a place, instead of just traveling to it.” The resulting integrity program’s brand tagline is “Integrity belongs here.”
- Communicate the Code: Once you draft and finalize the Code, promote it company-wide.
- Clear reporting system: Identity ways people can report and talk about problems.
- Consequences: When the code is violated, you have to be able to follow up with clear and appropriate consequences regardless how important or powerful the person is.
- Constant Communication: Keep the communication drumbeat going so that it becomes part of the cultural fabric of your organization.
Ethics Advisors Program
At Airbnb, Chesnut 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, Chesnut created videos on his iPhone to tout the program. The videos went viral and employees started volunteering to appear in the videos. Additionally, “IntegritYetis” — 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.
Turning Good Intentions Into Action: The Role of the GC in Driving Change
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 (CSR) and diversity and inclusion (D&I).
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 CSR and pro bono programs from “nice to have” to “I can’t imagine a world without them?”
CSR Programs at a Glance
- Volunteer programs like Legal Services for Prisoners with Children provide a way for employees to unite and give time to a local community organization.
- Employee giving programs provide financial support for a cause. Companies can make a sizable corporate donation to organizations they align with or match employee donations to 501(c)3 nonprofits of their choice.
- Providing PTO for volunteering is one way for smaller companies who can’t write big checks to help their employees feel supported. For example, Turo gives their employees 16 hours annually to volunteer for causes they care about, including activism.
- Partnering with outside counsel on their existing pro bono programs like WetheAction.org can engage your legal team in advocating for the disenfranchised. For example, Young shared how he started GoFundMe.org with the help of outside counsel, structuring tax-deductible donations via the GoFundMe platform.
Through CSR programs, philanthropy and volunteer efforts, companies can impact the greater community.
- Forge a stronger bond between employees and corporations
- Boost morale and help employees and employers feel more connected with the world around them
- Contribute to change within the community
Diversity & Inclusion for In-House Strategies & Programs
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.
- Law in Tech Diversity Collaborative develops the pipeline of future lawyers by giving underrepresented 1L students the opportunity to intern at tech companies and firms.
- Ironclad’s Contract Analyst Program employs diverse law students from USF and Golden Gate University, giving them experience with commercial contracts as well as mentorship opportunities.
- AdvanceLaw, a collective of 250 general counsel that shares performance data to identify and retain star lawyers, offers a diversity mentorship program to build relationships between rising diverse law firm associates and chief legal officers and other senior in-house counsel.
- Pay It Forward was started by Bombas CMO Kate Huyett to encourage senior leaders to open their calendars to black professionals to discuss career options.
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.
- Diverse organizations experience higher financial returns
- Higher morale and lower employee churn
Rising to Issues of Great Moment
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 like this helps boost employee morale.
- Call to Action Letter to Outside Counsel on D&I Practices
- Supporting BLM Seattle
- Supporting CA Anti-Chokehold 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.
- Lawyers are uniquely positioned to protect the rights of the disenfranchised
- Higher employee morale with a people-driven, community-rights based effort
Key Resources For Answering the Call to Action
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 send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll follow up with you to share or have us spotlight in an upcoming issue of our newsletter Legal Matters.
More about Ironclad
Ironclad is the leading digital contracting platform for legal teams. By streamlining contract workflows, from creation and approvals to compliance and insights, Ironclad frees legal to be the strategic advisors they’re meant to be. Ironclad is used by modern General Counsels and their teams at companies like Dropbox, AppDynamics and Fitbit to unlock the power of their contracts data. Ironclad was named one of the 20 Rising Stars as part of the Forbes 2019 Cloud 100 list, the definitive list of the top 100 private cloud companies in the world. The company is backed by investors like Accel, Sequoia, Y Combinator and Emergence Capital. To learn more, visit our homepage.
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