BHP asked its senior in-house counsel Ashley Hill to help lead the global energy and minerals giant’s efforts to diversify its ranks in two historically male-dominated industries: mining and oil and gas. The evidence five years later shows they could not have made a better selection. As BHP’s top employment lawyer in the Americas, Hill was part of a thorough review of the company’s recruiting, hiring, compensation and retention practices. She was instrumental in implementing a gender pay gap review that resulted in an increase in female salaries of more than $4 million dollars.
Citing these significant successes, the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Houston Chapter and The Texas Lawbook have named Hill as one of the two finalists for the 2022 Houston Corporate Counsel Award for Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion.
For Mark Curriden’s full profile of Ashley Hill Click Here.
Texas Lawbook: What are the biggest misunderstandings regarding diversity and inclusion in the corporate legal profession?
Ashley Hill: I believe there are two big corporate missteps or misunderstandings regarding diversity and inclusion, and one is not putting enough emphasis on the inclusion portion. Inclusion ensures everyone feels respected and valued. In implementing your diversity and inclusion program, you do not want people who have worked for the company for 30-plus years to suddenly feel cast aside and marginalized. But you also want them to understand that when an employee with very different personal characteristics – perhaps with a different background, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity – voices an opinion or provides input in a meeting, that contribution should weighted just as equally and be just as valued as theirs.
Companies and law firms tend to think that diversity and inclusion programs are simply “the right thing to do” and good for public relations. They are – but they are also very important for financial reasons and the bottom line. A McKinsey survey of Fortune 500 companies found that those with gender diversity in senior leadership and with at least three women on the boards show stronger than average financial results than those with less gender diversity. And this survey only looked at gender – can you imagine the greater financial gains when you include other areas of diversity?
Lawbook: What are the biggest challenges for corporate law firms in addressing diversity, and how can law firms best address those challenges and achieve diversity?
Hill: I wish there was an easy answer here, and I know that law firms have been looking at these challenges for years. To me, representation matters. I wanted to go to a law firm where I saw senior associates and partners with whom I identified and specifically, women I wanted to emulate. A law firm with highly successful minority, LGTBQ or women partners will attract more diverse associates and create a better environment where those associates will want to stay and thrive.
Lawbook: Every year for 25 years, I have looked at the diversity numbers regarding law firm partners and race/ethnicity, and every year I am depressed that the numbers never seem to get better. What hope do you have that it will improve?
Hill: I do have hope that it will improve. The focus on diversity and inclusion is growing exponentially, and as long as clients continue to put pressure on the law firms to staff cases with diverse attorneys, I hope to see progress.
Lawbook: What do you look for in hiring outside counsel?
Hill: I really appreciate outside counsel who understands that sometimes we have to balance the business objectives with legal risk. In other words, the legal risk assessment is not looked at in a vacuum, and an absolute “no, you cannot do that” is not always helpful. We sometimes need options on how to proceed, each with varying levels of legal risk.
Lawbook: Do you have pet peeves regarding outside counsel?
Hill: It’s problematic when outside counsel emails me about a case with a question or a draft pleading to review and gives little to no background context. When I was an associate at a law firm, I knew all the details of my eight to 10 cases, but as in-house counsel, I currently touch or manage 52 shale-related cases, eight environmental lawsuits, four to five employment disputes and any breach of contract cases that may be active at the time. It’s impossible to keep track of every development in 6-plus cases, and a short email without further context makes it more difficult. I really appreciate when outside counsel can provide a quick summary of the status of the case at the beginning of the email to set the tone of why the decision or pleading is needed.
Lawbook: What does outside counsel need to know about you?
Hill: Even though I am managing several cases at once, I still relish crafting the strategy in a litigation. I enjoy being a part of brainstorming sessions with outside counsel, where we ask, “What if we did the following … ?” The “chess game” of litigation and conceptualizing strategy is one of my favorite parts of the job.
Lawbook: How important is it that corporate clients hold their firms to specific diversity standards and fire them if they do not meet those standards?
Hill: Companies now know that their profits increase when there is diversity at the highest levels of the company, and this financial incentive needs to be extended to law firms as well. Firms focus more on diversity and inclusion when they realize it is good for the bottom line.
Lawbook: What am I not asking that I should be asking?
Hill: Of all my accomplishments, I am most proud of creating and growing my own family – having my wonderful husband Steve as a partner and raising my two children, daughter Harper (6) and my son Hudson (4). Had it not been for BHP’s focus on gender diversity and, as a result, emphasis on flexible work, I would not have been able to balance my personal life and my rewarding work life in the way that I want.