Business

On the job: A chat with HP’s Chief Legal Officer, Kim Rivera

Rivera didn’t go to law school until a mentor gave her a push. Now she works to open the legal world to a broader pool of talent.

By Garage Staff — January 25, 2018

In our “On the job” series, we’ll talk with a few of the remarkable talents that power HP and find out what gets them out of bed on Mondays — and out the door on Fridays. Because at HP, we believe that to truly love what you do, you have to bring your whole self to work. Know a talent deserving of the spotlight? Email garage.editors@hp.com

 

HP’s stance on diversity is clear: It’s critical to the future competitiveness of industries and society.

Kim Rivera, who became HP Inc.’s Chief Legal Officer in 2015, is all in for this mission. After growing up in Puerto Rico and Paraguay and moving to North Carolina for university, Rivera has been an advocate for equality throughout her career in corporate law at DaVita Healthcare Partners, Clorox and Rockwell Automation. As a member of HP’s inaugural Global Diversity Advisory Board — made up of HP executives as well as global diversity thought leaders — she’s helping to shape and lead HP’s drive to reflect the diversity of our world.

In the legal profession, progress has been slow: Women make up just over 20 percent of partners at U.S. law firms, and minorities trail even further, at 7.3 percent. In 2016, Rivera was one of three Fortune 500 general counsels to call on law firms to scrutinize their diversity demographics and inclusion policies. Last year, to give that call teeth, Rivera implemented a diversity “holdback” mandate for outside counsel doing work for HP: She is cutting 10 percent of fees to firms that don’t meet HP’s diversity standards.

Rivera spoke with the Garage from her office in Palo Alto, Calif.

 

How did you end up as a lawyer?

I don’t have any lawyers in my family, but during college, I did a lot of public-policy advocacy and nonprofit work. Then I took a year off to be a social worker in Washington, D.C. There I had a great boss and mentor who pulled me aside one day and told me I wasn’t being smart about how I was using my talents and energies. She said I should go to law school.

 

What made your mentor think the law was a better fit?

She said, “It’s great to want to connect with people individually, but you can do more good in the world and have greater impact if you pursue a career that gives you a bigger voice, a broader platform and deeper systemic influence. Not everyone has the talent or the fortitude or the determination to do it, but you do.”  

 

Rivera sitting with her leadership team during an all-hands meeting for HP's Global Legal Affairs group.

Courtesy of HP

Rivera sitting with her leadership team during an all-hands meeting for HP's Global Legal Affairs group.

How are you making the most of your platform?

I try to spur people to action. I want to help everyone feel there’s something they can do about diversity every day, starting with how they choose to behave and how they choose to engage — and what they choose to speak up about. Both inside and outside HP, I’m keeping this front and center in conversations about innovation, progress and how we can work together to create environments that are more diverse, innovative and fulfilling.

 

What is needed to push the needle?

People are finally starting to understand that tackling diversity takes an ecosystem mindset — adapting how you work and think to integrate it into every aspect of what you do. It starts with the pipeline — encouraging people from all backgrounds to think the law is something they could have a fulfilling career in. It’s approaching legal education in a way that helps people succeed, especially those who don’t have the background or preparation that others do. It’s having professors and other students and systems in place that help people navigate a legal education — and supporting their professional development through mentoring and sponsorship. 

On top of that, we need to look at financial structures. Can you tackle the systemic barriers in a way that incentivizes behavior that results in more diversity? One example is HP’s diversity holdback initiative, which says, “All these things matter. But without taking a stab at the fundamental financial structures and incentives of law firms, it’s going to be harder to have any of that other stuff succeed.”

I try to spur people to action. I want to help everyone feel there’s something they can do about diversity every day, starting with how they choose to behave and how they choose to engage — and what they choose to speak up about.

What kind of a kid were you?

I was incredibly curious and adventurous. I was a voracious reader — everything from fiction to nonfiction to technical manuals. I learned a lot about a lot of things, probably sooner than my mother wanted me to!

And I was always trying to do the next daredevil thing. It wasn’t enough to ride my bike — I needed to figure out how to do a wheelie and make it last as long as possible. I was constantly covered with bruises and scrapes.

 

Was there any one seminal moment in your life?

A defining moment was when my mom died. I was just barely into my teens. It felt like, “Wow. I am on my own here now.” Fortunately, it just made me more determined. If you’d asked me then, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it, but I became doubly dedicated to the notion that I would live an interesting and successful life — for me and for her.

 

What’s on your desk right now?

Flowers — I love flowers. Two HP laptops. A book called “Positive Professionals,” which is about teaching lawyers the science behind strong employee engagement and how engagement and a sense of fulfillment lead to greater productivity and better business results. This is something the rest of the world has known for a long, long time. Lawyers apparently need it broken down and translated differently.

Oh, and I have a pile of holiday cards still. I have the hardest time throwing those away. I hold on to them for months.

 

That’s funny because the next question is do you collect anything? Clearly, you do.

Does clutter count? Because I have a lot of clutter.

 

What’s your favorite thing to do on your days off?

I love being outdoors. I was training for my first ultra marathon, and then I broke my toe. Before that, I would have answered, “Outside running, enjoying the beautiful California weather.” Now I’m not allowed to run, so I’m trying to become a cyclist. I tried to be a swimmer — for a day. That was not a success.

 

What’s your best advice for a recent college graduate?

Be in the moment. When I think back on what I was like as a college grad, you’re planning, thinking about where you’re headed, how where you are fits into that future plan. My advice is, just pay attention to whom you choose to be with, where you are now and what you can learn right where you are. Don’t get too distracted by what’s next or what might be in the future.

 

Read more about HP’s commitment to diversity.