Diana Geseking lives by the idea that she might as well be the one to make the change. The idea of going in-house wasn’t even presented to her in law school. Now, as assistant general counsel at Dyson, she mentors law students. When given the chance to hire outside counsel, she hired a successful team made up of minority lawyers with a strong track record. She likens going in-house to cliff diving (“It’s a leap of faith”) and her legal team is the beneficiary of legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler’s advice that no individual can outplay a great team. Geseking has become a mentor by having a great role model at Dyson in general counsel Jason Brown, who is committed to diversity and valuing the idea that difference makes a difference.
For Geseking, the concept and value of diversity was built into her law school years. She lived in a house with six other students while at the University of Michigan. The demographics varied among Southern conservatives, New York liberals, brand-new citizens, and shipping-off Marines, with experiences, orientations, and backgrounds of almost every variety. But they all found common ground.
“We all wanted to be lawyers, and we all loved Michigan football,” Geseking says. The bond they formed normalized the idea that diversity brought out the best in people, not that it was merely an idea to be tolerated. It was a lesson that would repeat itself throughout Geseking’s career and really take root at Dyson.
“My team is very diverse, and that’s something that my past experiences have pushed me to want to surround myself with: diversity in backgrounds and in personalities. It just always makes a better team,” she says.
Geseking saw that as soon as Jason Brown joined Dyson as general counsel, he began demonstrating his commitment to diversity. The majority of the legal team members are women, and Geseking says that was because Brown includes voices that aren’t always the first to be heard. “He could have hired a bunch of lawyers without regard to creating a diverse team, because that’s a lot of what’s out there in the firms, but he made it a priority to diversify the conversation,” Geseking says.
In turn, she has had the opportunity to apply the same principles that she feels have been made a priority at Dyson. “When I got to the point where I started having the decision power as to who we were going to hire for outside counsel, that’s where I found we could put our money where our mouth was,” Geseking says.
When the occasion arose to staff a new case, she pursued a legal team staffed primarily with women and minorities who had significant success in their cases. Geseking says this has the further effect of influencing other firms to value diversity, if only for their own bottom lines. “We’re the ones writing the checks,” she says. “They’re realizing that they might not get the business or opportunity with this client if they’re not able to retain diverse talent.”
Those outside firms see the commitment and appreciate it. “In our work with Dyson, Diana pushes for all the attorneys on our team to get opportunities,” says Ross M. Weisman, P.C., a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. “She wants women and minorities actively involved because she recognizes that diverse opinions and ideas make us better.”
Diversity at Dyson means more than a lawyer’s background, Geseking says. The company’s open office work environment has meant that ideas and conversations are shared and have the ability to mix and mingle among a variety of minds and talents. When the company moved headquarters, it adopted an agile working environment that doubles down on the commitment to connecting coworkers. “The new office space is designed to help drive those informal conversations where new ways of thinking come about,” Geseking says.
Geseking is grateful that the company’s commitment to diversity seems more imbedded in Dyson’s core and less so in banners or what can often seem like empty gestures. One of Dyson’s meeting rooms was called “5127,” the number of times founder James Dyson tried and failed to perfect the first bagless vacuum. “When you’re looking toward the future and to be innovative, you inherently promote diversity,” Geseking says. “You don’t get that if everyone is the same.”
Geseking says the idea of diversity has also influenced her career path and how she landed in her current role. “The only path I knew about when I was going to law school was to go to a law firm,” she says. “That’s what I did. I didn’t know there was this whole world of in-house lawyers and these opportunities.”
After realizing how much she loved going in-house, Geseking was encouraged to become a mentor for the Association of Corporate Counsel mentorship program, showing future lawyers the many different paths their career might take them. Committed to promoting women lawyers, Geseking has presented at the National Association of Women Lawyers and recently spoke about self-advocacy at the Women In Law & Leadership Summit in Chicago.
While Dyson’s legal team celebrates its diversity, Geseking says its united goal of working to make legal be known as more than the “Department of No” brings it together. “We want to be approachable, and we want to be business partners,” she says.
Geseking says her penchant for new and challenging experiences put her right at home in the world of the in-house counsel. “You have to figure out how to communicate sometimes complicated legal theory with people who don’t speak it,” Geseking says. “You hope that all of your legal knowledge just is enough to get you through and that you’ll figure it out as you go along.”
Passing the Legal Torch
After going in-house, Geseking wanted to pass along her experience as a law student, private practice attorney, and in-house attorney to those law students who may not have any idea where their lives were heading. The ACC Diversity Summer Internship Program provides minority students with internships and mentors after passing a rigorous selection process.
“At this point, I have a much broader perspective than someone who is a rising second-year-law student thinking, ‘What do I do?’” Geseking says. She stays she’s stayed in touch with many of her former mentees, providing an introductory network for many a new lawyer.
Photos: Bethany Fritz, Maypole Studios