In 2007, Karen Cottle traveled to New York for the inaugural awards of the DirectWomen Institute, which promotes women on corporate boards. Cottle, the general counsel of Adobe Systems Inc., was inspired by the event, but didn’t know of any similar organizations closer to her West Coast home.
She reached out to Mary Doyle, currently the global chief compliance officer at Oracle Corp. “She and I thought it would be great if we could create a women GC network in the Bay Area,” remembers Cottle. “So eventually Mary just scheduled a dinner and called a bunch of general counsel … and it was really great.”
So great, in fact, that the women continue to hold “Dinner Among Friends” events three or four times a year. The current group of attendees includes between 23 and 25 female GCs who represent a broad swath of industries. “There’s Clorox; there’s McKesson; there’s The Gap, Adobe, LinkedIn, a variety of companies,” says Cottle. “It’s a great cross-section.”
Though their backgrounds are diverse, the participants experience many of same challenges in their professional lives. Each meeting focuses on one of these common business concerns, allowing members to swap ideas and advice. “We have discussions of big issues that face every company, whether it’s how to do business in a particular geography or a general compliance issue,” says Cottle.
The dinners also provide opportunities to network with other GCs and potential law firm partners. At two “Dinner Among Friends” events, each member—most of whom manage legal budgets—brought a female law partner as a guest.
Building these professional and personal relationships is what Cottle values the most. “The GC job can be a little bit lonely in some respects,” she says. “And it’s just a fabulous network of women to get to know and to call for counsel on various issues … We have some great conversations.”