The Association of Corporate Counsel’s Houston chapter and The Texas Lawbook recently named Hewlett Packard Enterprise as a finalist in the 2023 Houston Corporate Counsel Awards for their Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion.
In this Q&A, HPE general counsel Rishi Varma discusses with pro bono, public service & diversity writer Natalie Posgate the role diversity plays when hiring outside counsel, recent diversity and inclusion successes and tips for creating a more diverse pool of candidates when hiring.
Texas Lawbook: What role does diversity play in your decision for hiring outside counsel?
Rishi Varma: We have a scorecard that measures how diverse each firm is in terms of their representation on our matters. We regularly review this scorecard and it is one component of our decision-making on future issues/opportunities.
Lawbook: What do you see as the biggest challenges for in-house counsel and GCs of Texas companies regarding diversity within corporate legal departments and their role in pushing their outside law firms in being more diverse?
Varma: Moving the needle is hard. It’s really hard to make progress and so you have to proactively look at where you are from a diversity perspective and what you would like to do to make improvements in your overall composition. Looking at where you hire, how you hire and ensuring you are structurally set up to look at a broad diversity of candidates is imperative.
It’s also hard to push outside counsel if you do not have initiatives designed to make improvements in your own diversity. But it does help to establish a scorecard of a number of items across all of the outside counsel you use and let them know where they stand against your entire portfolio of outside counsel but also let them know if you see downward or negative trends in their representation of your matters.
Lawbook: Year after year, The Lawbook publishes reports on law firm diversity. Truthfully, the numbers are depressing. Law firm leaders almost always blame the pipeline for not having enough diverse attorneys. Two questions: A) Are they right to blame the pipeline, and B) are there answers to fixing the pipeline that you have seen?
For Natalie Posgate’s full length profile of the HPE team behind their achievements Click Here.
Varma: If you’re not happy with the pipeline, start thinking about why. For us, we broadened our scope of law schools in our pipeline to ensure we had a broader scope of diverse candidates from which to choose. We are also on select campuses earlier than On-Campus Interviewing so that we can differentiate ourselves from other opportunities. Why join us? Let us show you. Let us do so not just when everyone else is on campus but earlier and more often. Again, this is hard. So change your habits to see different outcomes.
Lawbook: Could you identify a diversity and inclusion success that HPE had in 2022?
Varma: We regularly survey our team members to make sure we are seeing how they view our DEI initiatives and overall equity and inclusion in our team. My most aspirational goal each year is to be the most inclusive legal department in the world. I measure that based on key results around survey result increases year over year. I know we’ll never declare victory here because it’s a fluid process but I always want to be measured against this aspiration. Recently, saw a six-point increase in “my direct leader leads inclusion activities” (88 percent positive) and a nine-point increase in “HPE creates an environment where people of diverse backgrounds can succeed” (100 percent positive).
Lawbook: Are there specific diversity initiatives that you believe more law firms should develop or employ?
Varma: I don’t think there is a one-size fits all but each firm ought to employ some way to measure their own equity and inclusion annually and take actions to improve lower scoring areas.
Lawbook: What advice do you give law firm managing partners about improving diversity and inclusion?
Varma: (i) re-think your pipeline; (ii) measure your performance regularly and take action where needed.