It Takes a Village to Promote Diversity

Atiba Adams, the vice president and assistant general counsel of Pfizer Inc., oversees the company’s Lead, Engage, Advance and Develop, or LEAD, program for the Pfizer Legal Alliance, or PLA, a collaborative partnership between Pfizer and 15 law firms. The LEAD program is a diversity and inclusion initiative that provides personalized development opportunities for rising minority lawyers at PLA firms and at Pfizer. The goal of the program is to build the skills and profile of diverse associates at Pfizer Legal Alliance law firms and diversify the members of its in-house legal team. By sponsoring these high potentials, Pfizer hopes to give them the support they need to reach the next level in their careers.

Diversity Executive recently spoke with Adams. Below are excerpts from the discussion:

Why is it important for companies to identify and develop rising minority lawyers?

Nurturing and developing our top talent makes good business sense. The competition among law firms and law departments for talented lawyers means we can’t afford to focus too narrowly when identifying and developing talent in our pipeline. We believe that focusing our efforts broadly, and being very deliberate about nurturing the growth of our diverse lawyers both internally and externally, will best position Pfizer to develop extremely talented legal counsel over the long term.

How does giving minority lawyers targeted opportunities add diversity to Pfizer?

Historically, we measured participation on Pfizer matters when assessing the effectiveness of our diversity and inclusion efforts. Today, we realize that our efforts must emphasize not only participation on matters, but attorney progression and creating highly valued diverse lawyers within our ranks and client service teams. This requires that we take a closer look at the quality of work and experiences that diverse lawyers are being exposed to. We need to gain greater insight into which attorneys are actually accruing expertise that will enhance their skills and ultimately best position them to lead transactions and matters.

How does collaboration impact an organization’s diversity?

A key success factor of the Lead, Engage, Advance and Develop program is the way it naturally aligns with the existing structure and culture of the Pfizer Legal Alliance. The alliance is characterized by a strong culture of collaboration, and its structure creates a “virtual firm” where group members work together on legal work for Pfizer. Capitalizing on the collaborative environment within the group, the program is able to provide a broader range of professional opportunities and sponsorship for participants than what might be available in a more traditional one-on-one client/firm relationship. Furthermore, the program leverages the culture of teamwork and existing cross-firm relationships.

Why should other organizations consider implementing a similar program?

Other organizations could benefit from implementing initiatives like the Lead, Engage, Advance and Develop program by establishing similar partnerships in which companies work together to foster diversity. The number of career opportunities created for diverse talent increases exponentially through an established network of partner firms. The Pfizer Legal Alliance is characterized by a strong culture of collaboration and mutual respect, which provides the strong foundation necessary to identify these opportunities for high-performing diverse talent.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.