Three very distinguished panelists closed the inaugural DLA Piper Global Women's Leadership Summit: Her Excellency Claudia Fritsche, Ambassador of the Principality of Liechtenstein to the US; Her Excellency Audrey P. Marks, Ambassador of Jamaica to the US; and Her Excellency Sheila Siwela, Ambassador of Zambia to the US. The three women discussed the issues they face and the diplomatic tools they use to break through the glass ceiling.

Her Excellency Siwela asked audience members to challenge the status quo and explained that it’s integral for all women to set their own agenda. "We have to come up with our own script," she said. "We need to be seen and heard."

Focusing on what women lawyers specifically need to do to achieve their objects more diplomatically, the panelists offered the following tips:

  • Her Excellency Marks noted that there are many similarities between the diplomatic and corporate worlds – but in particular, general counsel need to be much more focused on how business is being conducted around the world.
  • Echoing earlier panelists' thoughts, Marks continued that she no longer thinks that general counsels can wait for the vital information to get to them – they have to be in the room from the very beginning.
  • General counsels need to make themselves available to help change the direction of their companies.
  • Be yourself – you don’t need to be overly aggressive to meet your objectives. 

A spirited question arose from the audience regarding the panelists’ views on what is perceived as two types of women: 1) Women who like to have other women in the room and 2) Women who like to be the only woman in the room. Her Excellency Siwela believes this to be true, but notes that in her opinion, this so-called “Queen Bee” syndrome needs to be eliminated. She explained that women should bring other women up, not strike them down, and that it’s a woman’s absolute duty to be a mentor to another woman.

Finally, the panel touched on the need to increase the number of women in negotiating treaties and negotiating peace. One panelist mentioned that of 300 special envoys that were sent to crisis areas to mediate in the last year, only about 10-12 were women. 

The underlying message of this panel, which carried throughout others during the day was simple, yet seemingly complex: "Empower women."


Attendees received steadfast advice on how women general counsel can best advance their careers and help others do the same along the way from panelists Catherine Nathan, partner at Spencer Stuart; Kelly McNamara Corley, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Discover Financial Services; Lee Hanson, Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles; and Stasia Kelly, partner at DLA Piper.

A theme expressed throughout the session was "timing is everything." It was noted to attendees that sometimes when you reach your work pinnacle, it’s hard to leave your success in one area behind and pursue a new opportunity.

When considering a career move, panelists offered their thoughts on characteristics that companies are searching for in a new general counsel:

  • Wonderful judgment
  • Very smart
  • Technically smart
  • Good personality
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Decisiveness
  • Consensus building

While these can be considered basic skills, a lot of CEOs want these qualities all in one person. Some CEOs will also reinforce that they don’t want just a “lawyer’s lawyer,” but rather a business person. How does our next general counsel help my business? How do they help solve my problems?

McNamara Corley from Discover noted that it’s a competitive arena today – especially if one doesn’t have industry experience. She explained that it’s not a question of ability, rather companies can find general counsel to hire who are already have applicable industry experience.  For deputy general counsels, the panelists’ advice was that you can become a general counsel by gaining experience in one area – particularly litigation – but the recommendation was to get a little bit more breadth of experience.

It’s also about relationships, a theme panelists have echoed throughout today’s Summit. If a mentor speaks highly of you – that always helps. Panelists also encouraged the audience to think about mentors at their peer level because some of the best advice they’ve received came from their peers. Mentors should be broadened beyond our bosses, senior level managers, etc.

Finally, the panel encouraged attendees to always take a call or meeting with an executive recruiter so you get – and stay – on a company's radar. Then, once you have had that meeting or call, walk a fine line with your follow-up. Make sure the company stays aware of you – without being too obnoxious. Let the company know if you’ve had a promotion, job change, etc. so they can stay current on you. Because, as we all know, timing is everything.


In the fourth Summit panel, Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life, discussed women in power – then and now – particularly Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Egypt. She took Cleopatra on as a subject after acclaimed works on luminaries Ben Franklin and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Cleopatra belongs to a small club whose names we recognize but we know little to nothing about. According to Schiff, to most of us, this accomplished woman was delivered to us in history books as a champion seductress, pure and simple. Schiff was able to offer up a few tidbits on her life, which might surprise some:
  • She spoke nine languages
  • She was a hugely capable woman – at 18 she inherited a lucrative enterprise
  • She wrangled with managerial decisions, dispensed justice and presided over the Temples while partisan interests threatened to upend her at every turn
  • Interestingly enough, Schiff noted that Cleopatra had more female role models than any queen in history. Though, notably, her female role models never ruled alone. They all had male counterparts.

What lessons can we take from Cleopatra's story?
  • Appearances count
  • Under promise and over deliver
  • A friend of a friend might well be an enemy

While audience members were clamoring (as many do, according to Schiff) for a "modern-day Cleopatra" comparison, it proved difficult. "Who is immensely shrewd, reinvented and when she walks into the room the temperature changes?" asked Schiff. Understandably, there were not a lot of suggestions from attendees.

Check out a full review of the book in the New York Times.


"My role as general counsel is much broader than anyone would have envisioned even five years ago," said Kimberly Bowers, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Valero Energy Corporation, who participated in the Summit's third panel focused on the evolving role of general counsel over the last two decades.

This broader role was further described by Sheila Cheston, Corporate Vice President and General Counsel of Northrop Grumman Corporation, who believes there are two different roles that general counsel play in today's global business economy, including:

  1. The traditional role – Protecting and worrying about an organization's reputation.

  2. Integrated partner in the enterprise – Where the general counsel is a partner with the other functions within the company, the CEO, and is fully integrated with the board and leadership of the organization.

While some might argue that these roles seem to be ripe for conflict, Cheston argues that they're perfectly consistent and complementary.

However, she cautioned that with the latter role comes far greater responsibility and accountability. She also reinforced that the single most consideration in figuring what your role should be as a general counsel, is the role you want the rest of your team to play.

Some additional tips and tricks from the panelists:

  • Cheston encouraged the audience to be a frequent speaker at industry events and get to know senior leaders in government, companies, etc. It's by doing this that you help to shape the current legal environment.
  • Hilary Krane, Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Affairs of Nike insists that you need to develop individual relationships – but not only at the board level, but throughout the company. Gloria Santona, Executive Vice President General Counsel and Secretary of McDonald's echoed Krane's thoughts, saying that building relationships is absolutely critical.
  • Santona also mentioned that you won't get to be on the board of a large corporation overnight, so begin to serve on non-profit boards, smaller companies, etc.
  • Cheston also noted the importance of helping lawyers outside of the US understand the potential of an expanded role and having a seat at the table.

Gatekeeper vs. "Business Enabler"

Krane also discussed the perceived gatekeeper role and that senior leaders are starting to see GCs as a “business enabler,” not just a gatekeeper. Cheston mentioned that this is a positive step in the evolving role of general counsels as having multi-faceted roles dramatically increases a general counsel's ability to support an organization.

Bowers elaborated, "We wear many different hats throughout every day, every week and every year. We have a larger stage to play from."


Panelists in the second session of the Summit focused on corporate culture – with each having a bit of a different view of the components that make up company culture as well as how to navigate it:

  • According to Stasia Kelly, partner at DLA Piper, it's incredibly important as a GC to know your company's culture. As you move from one job to another, she stressed the need to carry what you believe in as your wisdom and courage will not only make you a great general counsel but you’ll have an impact on that company’s culture as well.
  • Janis Harwell, former senior vice president and general counsel of Intermec, Inc. describes corporate culture as values and norms – values as the operating principles that guide our behavior and norms as the social support mechanism for the values we hold as a group. She noted that as a society, we tend to assume all values are good, but some values can be destructive.
  • Nancy Laben, senior vice president and legal general counsel of AECOM, has a somewhat different definition of the definition of corporate culture. For her, the construct of culture is having everyone understand the mission and the vision of the organization. In fact, it overlaps with the development of corporate governance and defines it further by the following: 1. The need of the entity or organization; 2. The demands of stakeholders; and 3. Demands of the political realm.

Culture Shock

Harwell cited research by Corporate Executive Board that suggests that most companies have significant culture problems – for example, recent surveys cited 50% of employees witness unethical behavior in the last year and only 25% of US employees are willing to report unethical behavior. So, seemingly a company’s culture, according to Kelly, "all comes down to human nature."

So, what is their advice to fix this problem? Janis outlined the following approaches:

  1. Modify behavior – After identifying the people that are doing harm, modify the behavior. If all else fails, you have to find a way to move them out.
  2. Recognize any subtle ways that are inducing people to engage in unethical behavior – For example, even an aggressive corporate logo can trigger unethical behavior.
  3. Acknowledge that this is a "slippery slope" problem – You need to sweat the small stuff and get behavior under control before it spirals.
  4. When you discover unethical conduct, know that the workforce is watching – According to Kelly, "what you tolerate is what you teach."

Maureen Del Duca, Deputy General Counsel of AOL, let the audience know that you can’t ever completely control impulsive or rogue employees. But, you can look at these three common areas:

  1. Cover the bases – You might not be able to control rogue behavior, but you can have a process in place to defend yourself.
  2. Match process to culture – Make sure your messaging is in-line with your corporate culture.
  3. Institutional alignment – Make sure all components of your company (from HR to the comptroller) are aligning to support the objectives of the company.

How does one do this without appearing as the dreaded naysayer that we mentioned in our previous blog? Balance it. Know your lawyers and above all else, follow-up and enforce. As Del Duca said, "I'm the one that needs to make sure that everything gets buttoned down."


Ann McLaughlin Korologos, former US Secretary of Labor, set the tone of the inaugural DLA Piper Global Women's Leadership Summit by telling an audience of women general counsel, associate general counsel and other executive-level women in the legal department that common sense, diligence and integrity are vital while serving as a board member and as a general counsel. Korologos, who is the only woman who has served on two corporate boards simultaneously, also noted that general counsel are the key to a company's moral and fiduciary responsibilities.

Two traits Korologos has seen develop at good boards is a consciousness about ethics and a consciousness about people.

She noted that the "tone at the top" of the corporation should involve the board working with the CEO and upper management to shape the corporate culture – including ensuring the company's strategic goals are met and are ethically sound.

Companies should provide supplemental training programs for employees, but also board members.

"Pretty Clear Responsibilities" for GCs

Korologos went on to discuss the "pretty clear" responsibilities she sees for general counsel when dealing with boards, including:

  1. Be effective educators – General counsels’ experience with the law should equip them well to help the rest of their colleagues regarding relevant, ethical considerations.

  2. Be counselors – Counsel the board – not just for governance activities, but on business judgment and how the company is functioning. This aids your relationship with the board, allowing you to develop a good comfort level with the board and in turn helps the CEO.

  3. Be the conscience of the corporation – Speak up and be heard. However, don’t just be a naysayer. It’s important to say no when legal compliance is at stake, but then guide the client in the right direction. Beware, however that legal compliance isn’t always an efficient guide for acting with integrity. There are cases of right and wrong, not just legal and illegal.

    A valid point that Korologos subscribes to is that if you’re uncomfortable, go with a different course. If you have a gnawing inside of you, ask more questions.

  4. Conduct thorough investigations – When missteps have occurred, conduct a thorough investigation. But, also offer advice on how to avoid missteps in the future.

    In an era of public mistrust, government scrutiny, and notable company scandals, she reinforced that the willingness of a company (led by an honorable GC) to do the right things under tough circumstances is the mark of a responsible company with serious integrity.


DLA Piper's inaugural Global Women’s Leadership Summit kicked off last night with a dinner reception attended by 140 clients and guests of the firm. Attendees enjoyed a lively panel discussion between Amy Schulman, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Pfizer, and Senators George Mitchell and Tom Daschle on a range of policy issues and those issues impacting women in the C-suite.

This morning's keynote address from former US Secretary of Labor Ann McLaughlin Korologos is under way so please check back shortly for a related post.