By Yoriko Hayes, Assistant General Counsel

Photo of Yoriko Hayes with her young daughter in her lap. Caption reads: Yoriko with her daughter - a.ka. the next generation of strong women
Yoriko with her daughter – a.k.a. the next generation of strong women

International Women’s Day was born out of a protest by New York garment workers demanding better pay and working conditions. More than a century later, we honor the legacy of these brave women by continuing to break down barriers – especially in the legal profession.  Did you know women make up 52% of law students at ABA-approved law schools? Yet, at the associate/counsel level, women make up 47% of the lawyers at law firms, and women of color account for only 14%. At the equity partner level, women are 20% of the group. Yet I see hope and progress as a lawyer, a woman, a mom and Asian for what the future holds.

I am proud to say that I work for an organization that strives to do better – for women and BIPOC. As an assistant general counsel with Delta Dental of California, I recognize the challenges and opportunities in my field. I am fortunate to work with individuals and at a company that values and views the diverse experiences and perspectives of our group as a competitive business strength. The legal department is a champion of diversity, inclusion and belonging. This is not a motto; this is part of our DNA to contribute positively in our organization and community.

In 2018, our legal department joined the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), an organization of over 350 corporate chief legal officers and law firm managing partners who have dedicated themselves to creating a truly diverse U.S. legal profession. The unwavering support and enthusiasm of our General Counsel has empowered the legal department attorneys to do amazing things:

  • Mentor 19 first year law students from diverse backgrounds.
  • Host a virtual leadership lunch for diverse attorneys to connect and hear from our general counsel and the managing partner of a national law firm.
  • Design and plan a summer internship program to host two law students starting this summer. 

For our activities and participation, Delta Dental received recognition as being among the group of top performers of corporate legal departments from LCLD, and we have two attorneys who are nominated to be fellows this year.

We continue to strive for other ways to foster and promote diversity within our ranks. Delta Dental is among 19 pioneering legal departments nationwide to achieve Mansfield Certification after completing the inaugural program in July 2020. The certification is named after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the United States in 1869. The Mansfield Rule Legal Department program supports legal department efforts to consider women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership, high-visibility opportunities and secondment or intern programs internally, and for leadership roles when hiring new outside counsel.

In leading the certification effort, I see the positive ripple effects corporate legal departments can make in their field and industry and am pleased to see others following suit. More law firms are becoming certified, which is a factor taken into consideration in our retention of a law firm. Currently, during the second round of the Mansfield program, more than 54 legal departments have joined the program.

Beyond the work of the legal department, Delta Dental shows its commitment to supporting women through the launch of the first employee resource group (ERG) at the company: Women@ Delta Dental, for which I have the privilege of serving as co-chair. Our executive sponsor, a female vice president in the legal department, has long had interest to connect and empower women across our enterprise. In celebration of Women’s History month, we are excited to offer events and communications bringing the group and allies together. The events will engage the group on the topic of wellbeing and allyship.

Our department’s commitment to the value of inclusion and belonging extends beyond women. One of our counsels co-led the establishment of DLANTE, the Hispanic/Latinx inclusion community. This counsel also contributed to developing pro-bono community events for our attorneys to participate in.  And in 2020, a legal team member was part of the group that created the inclusion community for LGBTQIA employees, known as SPECTRUM.

It is very rewarding and fulfilling to be part of a department and a company that promotes and values diversity and inclusion. I hope that through our engagement with the rest of the legal community, we can help close the gap across the profession for women – and especially women of color – in leadership roles.