"Corporate Citizenship Is a Two-Way Street: If Employees Must Comply, So Should Companies"

by Aman Singh Das | June 21, 2010

  • My Vault

At a recent event organized by the Better Business Bureau, I had the opportunity of meeting Rhonda McLean, who currently serves as thedeputy general counsel at Time, Inc. Curious to know what encouraged her to attend an event focusedon corporate responsibility and socially responsible business; I proposed ashort interview. In the hour-long discussion that eventually followed, it wasclear that her passion for women leadership, mentoring and her outlook on CSRwere each unique and specific connectors along her diverse career path fromcorporate attorney to federal prosecution to her current role at Time.

What follows are the highlightsfrom our chat, which touched on several issues, including the current anxietyin the economy, her take on corporate sustainability and how it has evolved ata global media company like Time, the initiatives she started to bridge the gapbetween the C-suite and employees, as well as her latest book The Little Black Book of Success.

On her role withTime

I am the deputygeneral counsel in the law department of Time Inc., and you can think of me asa consumer marketing attorney. So anything that has to do with the marketing ofproducts and services that Time brands generate have to come through me beforethey get out to the marketplace.  So if you are using email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, mailbox,telephone, television, etc.—each of which have different requirementsfrom a marketing perspective—to sell things to the consumer, I haveto approve the marketing language that is used in each of these mediums. We arethe largest flagship publishing company in the world besides having two bookcompanies, with many of our magazines now having their own TV shows.

On herPassion for Corporate Responsibility

For me corporateresponsibility is corporate citizenship. If you are a good corporate citizen,it all falls in place. It’s the same thing for employees aswell as corporations. If they want to be successful, they have to do things acertain way with certain factors and stakeholders in mind. So just like weemphasize the importance of understanding work culture to employees and stressthe need to constantly find ways they can contribute, promote their skill sets,etc., the same must apply to businesses.

Businesses have to do the same thing or they getstagnant and then die. My approach has always beenthe same and not because it’s the right thing to do and that you musthave a moral conscious, but because it's something you have to do in order tosurvive as a business. This has to be a part of your bottom line.

On CorporateResponsibility at Time, Inc.

Time Deputy General Counsel Rhonda Joy McLean

I have been very fortunate that while Time Inc.,hired me for my corporate attorney experience, there are certain accoutermentsthat came with that. My job is to be a consumer advocate, so even inside thelaw department I am not a 'yes' person, which means while I have to do legalanalysis and briefs and all that other stuff, my job has more to do withthinking like consumers.

I getto ask questions like 'What would you think aboutwhat we said about this or that product?' or 'Would you feel that we were upholding our reputation asa good corporate citizen, would you feel we were deceiving you in some way, iswhat we are doing cheating, are we partnering with people you don’trespect and so might diminish our brand,' and so on.

 I lovethe fact that my mission is to be socially responsible, and that from a legalstandpoint be able to justify the marketing we’re putting out to thegeneral public. And as part of this, I also get to train the CEO, the generalcounsel, and other top executives. Corporate social responsibility is a bigdeal here and I love that my role is central to it.

On Discussing Corporate Sustainability with the ExecutiveTeam

To be honest,they were already involved with corporate responsibility long before I came toTime. What I did do to firm up their initiatives,was form the Time Warner Women’s Network (TWWN),and then incentivizing these women who were executives at that time from eightdifferent companies, to go out into the communities and do something useful.They were very open to that and it continues even today despite me having steppedaway from the program. It is still strong and continues to moveforward.  The great thing about Time is that there has always been a strongmission to say the truth in response to what is going on in the world and invitereaders to become more involved in problem resolution.

On WhetherWomen Executives Are Incapable of Self Promotion

Time Deputy General Counsel Rhonda Joy McLean

I don’t think that’s true,we hear this all the time about the personality of women, their unwillingnessor inability to promote themselves, and therefore getting stagnated in theirpositions or not being able to project what value they are bringing to thebottom line.  This is the reason I wrote my book [The Little Black Book of Success] so that women understand that you are your own bestadvocate, and you have to step outside your own comfort zone to doso.

Specifically at Time though, we've initiated a unique programthat has been very well-received. In order for people to get exposure to theexecutives regardless of demographic, race or gender, and be able to ask how tobecome a CFO or the COO, we started what we call speedcareer dating.  We get 20 or 30very senior people throughout our organization to commit to spend two hourswith us where they each sit at a table.  Junior people then can signup for an eight-minute date with these executives. So while you’renot interviewing for a job, you are talking about your career trajectory, andasking questions on how did you get to do what you’re doing, what areyour responsibilities, etc?

We've done this several times with great success and it'sbecome a great way to involve senior management and get them to see thediversity of people we have on the bottom who are trying to moveup.

On Board Service & The Ever Evasive Work/LifeBalance

First of all,I don’t think there is a balance; I think there is more of a tradeoff. It’s very challenging to have high powered jobs and thecommitment we have to communities, which means a lot of your nightsyou’re not working, nor are you with your family, but you are out atcommunity meetings. At the end, it comes down to what your priorities are.Nobody can decide that for you, and that’s why I get highly irkedwhen people come and say, "I’d like to move up and Iunderstand that if I volunteer to sit on the board, it will help mycareer."If you only sit on a board because you think itwill make you look good to your superiors, it will be transparent! If youdon’t really care about that organization, this disregard willeventually come out and the organization will suffer, as will your career.Time Warner has a board placement service where they offer trainingonce a year for executives who are interested, but one of the things that theycounsel against is this kind of thinking.

On Mentoring Womeninto Leadership Positions

I’ve mentored all my life as well asbeing fortunate enough to be mentored by people in the law industry as well asoutside. I mentor people who are not lawyers as well. I don’t reallyworry about the race, age, or gender of my mentors or coaches as long as I feelthey genuinely have my interests at heart. Today, technology has made itpossible to stay in touch with your mentors in many ways. I think we need to be more creative with that. I alsothink that we need to move away from the limited definitions we use of whatmentoring relationships should look like. Instead of saying,"They’re not that many black women around so I can’tbe mentored," mentoring needs to become bias-free.

Read more about her perspective on theimportance of networking, why mentoring should bias-free and more on Time'sinitiatives to promote employee engagement: View from the Top: Time Inc.'s Deputy General Counsel Rhonda McLean.Also,please don’thesitate to leave a comment, email In Good Company orconnect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR.

Filed Under: CSR

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