Mary Ann Hynes is a governance and compliance expert with more than 20 years of service on the boards of Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations. Ms. Hynes was the first female General Counsel of a F500 company, engineered numerous mega-mergers and was instrumental in establishing stock markets in Eastern Europe. She worked for seven years at Ingredion, Inc., (formerly Corn Products International), as a senior vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer. Ms. Hynes began her career and spent 25 years at CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business, rising to the rank of vice president and general counsel.

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 “Corporate Chairman Placed on Leave of Absence over Gender Comments.” Mary Ann Hines kicked off the final day of ELM16 by opening her keynote address with this headline. She asked attendees when they thought the headline was published. The astute audience correctly identified the headline as very recent. It was, in fact, from last month – August, 2016. The story was about Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi, who had made dismissive comments about women in leadership. Roberts said that “Many women are content never to reach leadership roles because they lack the vertical ambition of men.”

Roberts gave voice to an attitude that pervades some parts of the global legal and business communities. It’s an outlook that Mary Ann is very familiar with. When she was first appointed as a General Counsel at 31 years old, women were not usually present in the upper levels of corporate leadership. It was so unusual that people would sometimes come to her office just to see what she looked like. She even heard from universities who wanted to study her and learn about her family background and habits to try to understand what was different about her.

Over time, more women, as well as people who represent other categories of diversity, have entered leadership positions. But law is among the least diverse professions in United States. Despite being a significant percentage of law school graduates for decades, only 3% of managing partners at the top 200 largest firms are women. And women of color, in particular, represent only 2.6% of equity partners at firms. Corporate law departments have made more progress in diversity as they embrace company diversity initiatives, but there is still more work to be done before equity is achieved.

The definition of diversity isn’t the same in every organization. When measuring diversity most consider gender, age, race, ethnicity, physical and other disabilities, and sexual orientation. Some also include additional categories such as geographic background, cultural skills, life experiences, and socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Whatever the specific measures used, the goal is to bring in many differing perspectives. And with good reason. Beyond the desire to be fair and to demonstrate that fairness to customers and clients, there are real, tangible benefits to hiring a diverse workforce and leadership team.

Mary Ann explained that diversity is a lever for business success and innovation and provides value to an organization. There is a statistically significant link between diversity and workforce engagement. Diversity also contributes to financial success. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform the industry median. Those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform.

Mary closed by explaining that the most impressive innovations come from teams that actively seek out different points of view because the ability to approach a problem from many directions stimulates inventiveness. “When we embrace different ways of thinking,” Mary said, “we bring in new perspectives, we unlock the human mind and create new opportunities to shape the future.”