Corning’s Law Department Makes a Case for Diversity

by LP Green, II

As General Counsel of Corning Incorporated, Lewis Steverson strives to build an inclusive work environment that reflects the world in which we live. A passionate champion of diversity, Steverson joined Corning in 2013 and was impressed with the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. However, he also recognized opportunities to expand on that commitment.  “Fostering diversity of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and capability empowers employees, drives innovation, and reflects our global customer base. Numerous studies have shown that diversity makes good business sense; but in the legal profession, a variety of vantage points is paramount,” Steverson said.  “Ensuring that all viewpoints have been considered, and that decisions are made with the utmost integrity is critical to providing the best legal advice,” he added.

Organizational Imperative
Corning has produced life-changing innovations for more than 165 years.  “This requires diversity of thought, background, and experience,” Steverson said. “But in order to help Corning continue to succeed, we must seek opportunities to increase workplace diversity across the company, in all departments and functions. I wanted the Law Department to be proactive in this process.”  Fortunately, Corning has had formal diversity and inclusion initiatives in place for 50 years.  Corning CEO Wendell Weeks stated: “Diversity is one of Corning’s greatest strengths. We depend on diversity of ideas, experiences, and perspectives to develop solutions to tough problems, identify opportunities for growth, and unleash new capabilities that make a positive difference in the world.”

A Proactive Law Department
Steverson has launched a department-wide diversity initiative with two goals: to increase diversity within the department and within the external law firms working on Corning matters. While still a work in progress, some actions have already been taken:

First, Corning is encouraging its outside counsel to become more diverse, and has asked them to submit firms’ demo- graphic information through the company’s e-billing system.

“Corporate in-house counsel can be catalysts for change. We can help outside law firms understand the business case for diversity, and we can illustrate that for Corning, a company with global operations, employees, and customers, diversity is imperative,” Steverson said.

Second, the Law Department engaged a diversity consultant to conduct focus groups and elicit feedback from employees to incorporate into department directives. These actions include conducting diversity seminars for members of the department and developing a plan to focus on recruiting, retention, and succession planning.

Third, the department is joining other corporate legal departments in adopting a version of the “Rooney Rule,” ensuring that every slate of open positions includes diverse candidates. Implementation is facilitated through recruiting firms that specialize in identifying diverse candidates.

Additionally, the Law Department is exploring opportunities to work with organizations such as the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and is supporting events organized by affinity professional organizations – recently participating in the Defense Research Institute Diversity for Success Seminar and Corporate Expo in Chicago.

Finally, for the past two summers, Corning partnered with Ward Greenberg Heller & Reidy LLP, an external law firm,  to support the firm’s Diversity Scholar Program. In order to increase the recruitment and retention of lawyers from under- represented populations, first-year law students were selected to join Ward Greenberg as summer associates while working closely with Corning lawyers and spending a week at  Corning’s headquarters.

“This collaboration was such a tremendous success that we are considering expanding the program,” said Steverson.

He added: “I’m proud of the Law Department’s ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives. Of course, there is no end to this journey, so we will continue to evolve our efforts and find creative ways to increase diversity, in order to help Corning succeed for another 165 years.”

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