Sony Electronics, Inc.

Sony Electronics, Inc.

2008 Employer of Choice Award Winner

West Region

Michael Williams
Executive Vice President and General Counsel

In today’s electronic marketplace, Sony is a ubiquitous brand. The Tokyo-based company is sure to be mentioned when it comes to diversity practices as well.

At Sony, diversity starts at the top. The corporate director of diversity coordinates company-wide diversity efforts. Sony’s legal group management works closely with the corporate director of diversity, and is a member of the company’s umbrella diversity affinity group. The top-down strategy is one reason why the Sony legal group is committed to pursuing diversity within all of its law and compliance business units.

“Diversity was a priority from the moment I joined Sony. I inherited a legacy from former general counsel Frank Lesher that was very successful, and I built upon the great foundation he laid for diversity,” explains Michael Williams, executive vice president and general counsel for Sony.

The demographics at Sony illustrate its diversity. Four of the seven business units that make up the legal group are headed by minorities who report directly to Williams. “I have seven direct reports. Of those seven, four are people of color and two are women,” Williams clarifies.

(L to R) Veta Richardson of MCCA, Sean Johnston of Genentech, and Christopher Reynolds of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc.

Minority attorneys comprise four of eleven managing attorneys. Additionally, two of the eleven managing attorneys are women. Of the fourteen associates, there are eight women lawyers and one minority lawyer.

Efforts to foster inclusion at Sony are not limited to the company’s U.S. offices, according to Williams. “When I first went to Tokyo as the new general counsel, I had a conversation with the chairman of the company about diversity. He could have mentioned the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or other business issues, but instead he focused on the need to promote diversity. I was impressed,” he explains.

“When most people think of Japanese companies, they think they are dominated by men. At Sony, the typical office space is a big room, much like a classroom —no cubicles. The first time I walked into the law department in Tokyo, more than half the employees in the room were women. Sony has been promoting diversity for a long time,” Williams adds.

In addition to its internal diversity efforts, Sony’s legal group understands the importance of retaining diverse outside counsel. The company conducts a bi-annual survey to promote firms that make diversity a priority.

“I use the bi-annual report whenever I consider sending work to an outside firm. It is important to us to identify a diverse team. If diversity is not mentioned by a firm in their pitch to us, I will bring it up. Our outside firms wholeheartedly support the measure. I have seen the [overall] numbers improve since we started tracking data locally and globally in 2004,” Williams states, adding, “The Employer of Choice award is an accelerant; it super-charged our organization with pride about what we have accomplished and what we hope to do. We put the announcement of the award up on our intranet to inspire other departments to take the lead in diversity as well.” DB

From the November/December 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®

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