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Columbia Law Alum And Legal Recruiter Cynthia Dow On How Lawyers Can Be Chosen For The C-Suite

According to Dow, the best organizations go well beyond ensuring they recruit and promote diverse talent.


Above The Law | April 13, 2018


The Above The Law article, “Columbia Law Alum And Legal Recruiter Cynthia Dow On How Lawyers Can Be Chosen For The C-Suite," interviewed Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Cynthia Dow about ways organizations can foster diverse talent, recent RRA research and tips for minorities in the legal profession. The article is excerpted below.

Yesterday, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) launched its new Inclusive Leader Program in partnership with Microsoft Corp. to address the growing need for diverse and inclusive leaders to disrupt homogeneity in legal leadership.

As highlighted in MCCA’s announcement:

The program is comprised of the Inclusion Index, developed with Russell Reynolds Associates, which will assess the diversity of leadership and opportunities for inclusion at law firms and in corporate legal departments across the country, and an Inclusive Leadership Summit to provide opportunities for leaders to share best practices and challenges in developing an inclusive workplace.

This week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Cynthia Dow, a former Biglaw attorney, general counsel (GC), and current leader of the Legal Officers Practice at Russell Reynolds Associates. I found her insight, as someone who has once practiced law and whose current mission it is to diversify the higher ranks of our profession, to be both tactical and practical. I believe you will find her words of wisdom quite illuminating as well.

Without further ado, here is a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation:

Renwei Chung (RC): Can you share with us a little bit about your career path from Columbia Law to your current role at Russell Reynolds Associates?

Cynthia Dow (CD): After law school, I followed a fairly traditional Biglaw career path, clerking for a federal district judge before joining Baker Botts as a litigation and then labor & employment associate in the Dallas office. I next joined a venture-backed technology company as their first GC during the telecom boom & bust in the late 90s before joining Cadbury Schweppes as an AGC for about six years.

I made the switch to leadership consulting and executive coaching and joined RRA about nine years ago. Since joining the firm, I have focused on GC and CCO searches as well as leadership & succession, diversity & inclusion, and board advisory work.

RC: From your experience in human capital consulting and recruiting, what are the best organizations doing to foster diverse talent?

CD: The best organizations go well beyond ensuring they recruit and promote diverse talent. They create truly robust career paths for high potential talent, moving individuals every few years into stretch assignments and providing high-quality developmental feedback. They ensure rising talent has sponsorship from senior people with influence who will help to identify opportunities, foster relationships and encourage the individual to extend themselves.

Last but certainly not least, they create a respectful and inclusive work environment where individuals can thrive and bring their full potential to bear.

RC: Can you share with us some of the interesting or surprising facts from the recently published research by your firm?

CD: In 2017, 13% of the F500 GC roles turned over, and 37% of the new appointees were female (an uptick again from 2016 which was already a record year for females appointed to F500 GC roles).

So far in 2018, there have been 13 new appointments, 5 of which have been female. These include the likes of Jennifer Zachary at Merck and Karen Patton Seymour at Goldman Sachs to F100 GC positions, with both moving directly from roles at law firms. When we zoom in on 2017 F500 moves, we see that 52% were promoted internally. This has increased since 2016 as organizations increasingly look to promote homegrown talent into the top role.

When going to an external candidate, the new hire typically had in-house experience, many with GC experience elsewhere.

Overall, 74% of external candidates and 80% of external female appointments came from another corporation. In the three years between 2015 and 2017, we saw a decline in hiring talent from law firms directly into the GC role, with just 18% of all hires from law firms, and just 6% of the women appointed as GCs.

However, in 2018 to date, there have been three female new hires from law firms, including at Merck and Goldman Sachs as mentioned as well as Rashida La Lande to GC at Kraft Heinz, although it is too early to confirm the trend away from law firms is reversing.

To read the full article, click here.

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Columbia Law Alum And Legal Recruiter Cynthia Dow On How Lawyers Can Be Chosen For The C-Suite