Equity in the workplace is currently a popular theme in best-selling books and front-page news. Having witnessed many changes over the years in the legal profession, Kate Adams has valuable perspective and insight into that subject.
As senior vice president and GC at Honeywell International Inc., she enjoys stature at a company known for its intersections in such industries as transportation systems, engineering services and aerospace products—decidedly a non-traditional environment, historically speaking, for women.
“If you go back a decade, women were much more represented in non-industrial sectors,” says Adams, whose current high-intensity in-house role at Honeywell touches a multitude of legal arenas, among them, global security and cyber issues, government relations and global compliance.
“I love what I do intellectually,” says Adams, who is formerly of Sidley’s Environmental practice in the New York office. She points to the misconception that leaving a law firm for in-house work takes a practitioner off the fast track. “It’s not a lifestyle choice,” she jokes. “This is a Type A atmosphere.”
Adams, who spent a decade at Sidley and left in 2003 for Honeywell, credits the firm’s Environmental practice, as well as the litigation work she did with the Appellate and Complex Commercial Litigation teams, with laying the foundation for her current success.
“I honed important skills at Sidley—how to write and make arguments. I also worked for a diverse portfolio of clients, including those in industrial operations. It was good grooming for what I do now,” she said.
She recalls fondly the firm’s collaborative workday culture. “There was a premium on being inclusive. There was a special down-to-earth quality about the place.”
Adams was also gratified by how supportive the firm was while she was building her family. She had been at Sidley for about three years when she went on maternity leave.
“I made partner when I came back,” says Adams, who had estimated after the birth of her son that she could take on about an 80 percent workload. “I give them enormous credit that it did not affect my career path. The firm was truly forward-thinking in the way it cultivated the talent of women lawyers in that time period. It was truly uncommon.”
Honeywell is equally dedicated to diversification, Adams says. It boasts a diverse in-house law department with about 40 percent women lawyers.
Still, the job is by no means done, according to Adams. “We would like law firms to be more representative of the people coming out of law school. We need to focus on how to grow and keep talent in the profession and in our companies,” she said.
Published June 2014 - Update General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Legal and Global Security of Apple Inc.