Like many law school graduates, Rachel Reid began her journey at a large law firm, which provided a solid foundation to hone her craft. “They teach you law in law school, but you learn how to be a lawyer and how to be an effective business-oriented lawyer on the job,” says Reid, senior vice president, deputy general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief privacy officer at Voya Financial.
Reid started her legal career at Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan after graduating Harvard Law School. By virtue of hard work and training, Reid earned opportunities to counsel demanding clients, but was eager to move on. There’s nothing wrong with the law firm environment, she says, but when a woman needs to decide whether she’s going to pursue a partnership or follow a different path, she must consider the work/life balance.
“I had gotten engaged, I was about to get married and was thinking about starting a family, and the demands and billable hours didn’t feel sustainable,” says Reid.
She left the law firm and moved in-house at McKesson, an experience that “opened her eyes” to the employee evaluation process at law firms compared to corporations. “In corporate America, it’s not always pure skills or talent that get you a promotion,” she says. “It’s not the glass ceiling, but to get to the most senior levels of management it’s often as much about relationships as it is about performance.”
This realization turned Reid passionate about mentoring junior attorneys, something she regularly does today. “It’s hard to climb the corporate ladder without a mentor or advocate,” she says. “I didn’t have that at my prior jobs.” It may seem obvious, but individuals need time and training. “We all went to law school and most of us worked at a law firm before coming in-house, but we forget that there’s a lot to learn. Even if it’s just how to navigate the company,” she adds.
Reid, who came to Voya in 2009, manages a team of eleven attorneys and paralegals, providing legal advice and support in a number of different subject matter areas, including corporate governance, data privacy, data security, general business advice, intellectual property, corporate transactions, procurement, and litigation. Reid has evolved into a business-oriented lawyer, calling herself “a partner to management.”
Leading by example, Reid often invites team members to her home. “At the end of the day we’re all just human beings with families and interests outside work,” she says. “Yes, work is extremely important, and the company has a mission that we’re all passionate about, but work is much more enjoyable when you like the people you work with.”
During her evolution at Voya, her knowledge and sophistication in business matters, technology, operations, and finance have grown considerably, making her nimble, efficient, and effective. Initially negotiating technology vendor contracts for the strategic sourcing team, she was eventually given responsibility for privacy, intellectual property, outsourcing, government affairs and corporate governance. Most recently, she’s added the role of corporate secretary.
Reid attributes much of her success to the relationships of trust and respect she’s built over the years. “I know how things work and I understand the business objectives,” she explains. “Even though I might not have subject matter expertise in a particular area, I’m able to effectively support and advise the business, supplementing with outside counsel support where needed for subject matter expertise.”
In addition to her various roles, Reid is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), including hiring and mentoring diverse talent within Voya’s legal department.
“We have both formal and informal mentoring programs, as well as employee-led councils for racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ+, and allies. We also established a DEI task force to increase equity and inclusion and serve as a foundation to generate ideas and focus on different communities that have historically been marginalized,” says Reid. When engaging outside counsel she has asked those firms to bring a diverse group of attorneys to the work they do for Voya. She’s delighted that most are not just willing to comply but take the opportunity to make positive diversity, equity, and inclusion decisions at their firms.
It took Reid many years before she received the mentorship she needed—a common refrain in the profession. With that in mind, she is quick to advise young lawyers to find a mentor early in their careers. Although Voya has a mentorship program, not all corporations do. Since many seasoned lawyers started their careers without mentorship, they are often eager to accept the role. “Take time to get to know people and seek out someone who might be a good mentor,” she says.