Legal Departments Of The Year: Emphasis On Diversity Helps Cigna's Culture And Customers
And she brought that philosophy to Cigna. If someone can communicate well, displays tenacity and appears to be able to learn the ropes quickly, Jones said she is not afraid to take the same sorts of chances that people took with her. A few years back, the legal department hired an African-American lawyer with only a year-and a half of experience.
"But we were really impressed with her," Jones said. "Normally we take more seasoned attorney with more experience. We brought her on, trained her, created opportunity for her and she's been here about four years now in successive roles. She's been one of our shining stars."
Jones says creating a diverse legal department "makes a tremendous difference. As an organization, we are shifting [our focus from] corporations to individuals. We have a push to customer-centricity. Everyone, including the lawyers, is supposed be to thinking about how this impacts our customers."
One example: The legal department now drafts contracts and summarizes benefits so that they are understandable to all of Cigna's clients. From a diversity standpoint, having any inclusive legal department means that it mirrors the population. Jones said, "we need someone with the perspective and background that can acknowledge, 'This isn't understandable to the Latino community or won't be received the way we think it should be received.' It helps us as an organization to relate to our customers better."
John Bogan, the department's head litigator, said it's the person at the top who sets the tone. That person is Jones and the tone is progressive and broadminded. Bogan said when searching for ideal job candidates, a focus on diversity ends up creating a better legal department.
"It's all about talent," Bogan said. "The wider you cast the net, the more you find top talent. By looking past the surface characteristics, [hiring is] based on merit. Different backgrounds bring different ideas and perspectives. A narrow focus is limiting."
Jones, he added, is perfect to lead the legal team because "she's an extremely open communicator. She's not afraid to share her personal story and has a casual style with people. She is approachable and treats everyone the same regardless of their level of experience."
As a result, said Bogan, the legal department's culture is one where "we respect people for their differences, their ideas and their perspectives. People feel they get a fair shake and are valued for what they bring to the job. There is a sense of fair treatment and inclusion. People's character matters. Being diverse has created a more client-oriented approach. People are here to provide a service. We need to relate to clients and what they need."
Romey Murphy, a senior litigator at Cigna, said having a dynamic leader helps the department, and the company, continue in a progressive direction.
"There is a sense of community within the legal department that Nicole has created where each one of us is encouraged to use our own insights, perspectives and experiences to find new and better ways to approach things," Murphy said. "When important issues are brought to the leadership team, Nicole leverages the diverse makeup of the legal department to examine the issues and recommend changes. She pulls together an inclusive and broad range of individuals who share a common goal but offer a diverse approach on achieving that goal."