Deborah Majoras, Chief Legal Officer & Secretary of Procter & Gamble, admits that her career path through law firms, government agencies and corporate legal departments was more of a zig-zag path rather than a straight trajectory.
So, what would she advise women in the law today who want to join leadership ranks?
There are two main points in her thinking about this. First, is that her views of leadership and role models evolved over time. “When I was younger I didn’t think I needed women’s groups to succeed. I didn’t want to think about gender so much,” Majoras says, adding that as she grew into more senior leadership roles, more young people were asking her for career advice. “I knew I was in a position to help lead and manage them,” she says. “But I also noticed that different people need different points of inspiration.”
As a result, she made sure that when she was in leadership that she was there for other women (and men, too) if they felt they needed support in a senior leadership position. “When you’re in the minority, there are times when you look up and want to see someone who looks more like you,” she explains. “We know that now, and I take that on as a responsibility, for women and men.”
Second, when she went to P&G, she learned that “development of leaders is a very deliberate and thoughtful” process — it doesn’t just happen by chance. “As a legal profession, we need to get a lot better at deliberately developing leaders,” she says. “If we do that, we’ll see more women in leadership.” The reason? Traditionally in law, we promoted a law firm’s best lawyers into leadership roles at the firm, she notes, adding that often the best lawyer gets to run the litigation practice, then the firm, and so forth. “There’s very little thought given to leadership,” she says. “So, as a result, your thoughts on leadership simply come from your bias on leaders, meaning, ‘This is how they look and act.’”
Majoras explains this leaves very little room for different types of leadership styles. “And that’s because we think that what makes a great leader looks an awful lot like the person in the mirror!”
While most senior partners “tend to be men, and there’s been a lot of handing off senior roles to men, we have made progress.” This progress was made, however, because some in the legal industry who wanted to see more women in these roles have been deliberate about it, she contends. “We’re going to develop people into leaders, including women — that’s when we make genuine progress, not just counting-heads-progress.”
At P&G, most of the company’s customers at the retail level are women because it’s still primarily women who buy household and beauty products. That reality fed into the company’s “We See Equal” program in which P&G is striving to get equal gender representation in the company. In legal globally, about 64% of the 540 people in Majoras’ department are women. In P&G management, 62% are women. “I have to be careful not to go too far! We want a really inclusive environment,” Majoras says.
One factor that may have contributed to P&G’s success in this area is that the company offers flexible work schedules, she adds. “About 80% of people in my department are on flex schedules,” Majoras says. “We have to live it and not just talk about it.”