Elizabeth Campbell, newly elected chair of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity and director of inclusion and diversity for the Snacks Division of Campbell Soup Company wanted to offer context on her considerable achievements as an attorney and corporate leader.
“I’m black; I’m blessed; and I’m privileged—things that I took for granted growing up in a small town where my parents were college educated, and my grandparents were college educated, and the expectation was that all four of us would get at least a bachelor’s degree.”
Campbell was elected chair of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, whose mission is to inspire, motivate, and prepare students from underrepresented communities to succeed in law school and beyond, last month.
After graduating in from the University of Michigan in 1978, Campbell initially headed back to Washington, where she spent a year as a program attorney at the U.S. Department of the Interior as part of the Solicitor’s Honors Program.
Following this were nine years as an associate at DLA Piper, also in Washington. She did administrative litigation, lobbying against proposed changes to the federal tax code that would affect annuities of non-profit employees, and, she prevailed in federal court challenge to the contract procurement process of the United States Department of Defense.
She also had a long career with companies like Aramark, where she served as a corporate diversity officer.
“I remember always knowing from my parents that we could do anything we wanted to do, be anything we wanted to be from career standpoint, go to any school we wanted.” The only limitation they put on their four children was not allowing them to have their own cars, although their parents did have three cars.
Early on, Campbell knew she would become either a doctor or a lawyer—because she wanted to help people. But medicine fell out as a career choice early on because, she says, “I don’t like inflicting pain in the name of helping people.”
It was a television show, Perry Mason, that first introduced her to the law as a possible profession. “He drove a convertible, had a secretary, and had a nice office,” she says, but also “I saw Perry Mason helping people in the courtroom, and he was an advocate.”
What clinched her decision to pursue law, though, was a junior high school teacher’s assignment to read several books by the same author for a book report. Either at the Bordentown Public Library or her school library, she selected the books to read, “literally, I would say, by divine intervention. I stumbled upon Earl Stanley Gardner, [who] wrote the books that formed the story line for Perry Mason.” Those books, which go into much greater detail than possible in a television screenplay, strongly reinforced the groundwork that the television show had laid.
But she also had some pragmatic reasons for wanting a legal career. “I liked the research, loved the investigation, liked the analysis,” she says.
Although her parents and family fully supported her decision to pursue the law, not everyone did. While she was at Peter Muschal, then a K-8 school with very few African Americans, one male teacher told her she couldn’t be a lawyer, but that she could be a teacher or a nurse. “I was puzzled by that,” she recalls, noting that she wasn’t raised to question authority. When she did cross paths with him again in Washington, D.C., already a lawyer, she says, “He was very gracious.”
In her junior or senior year, she encountered another effort to steer her future, on the part of a Caucasian student who told her “in a very dismissive and demeaning way, that I couldn’t get into Princeton.” She took this as a challenge, applied, and got in, but she decided not to matriculate, in part because “it is literally in my backyard.” Also, in visits to schools in Washington, D.C., she realized “that was the environment I wanted to be in—I loved government, politics, and advocacy.” So she chose the honors college at American University.
She was accepted to live on the black cultural floor on a predominantly white campus, where, she says, “I got a chance to cushion the blow going from a small town to a big city and a big university by having other people like me. … It was an incredible group of women who were very supportive,” she says, and she remains friendly with many of them.
When Campbell chose American, she was aware that to get into a good law school she “had to do very well because I didn’t go to Princeton. I needed a springboard because I was not coming from an Ivy League school, so I did everything,” she says. She was on dean’s list, was involved in student government, and double-majored in political science and psychology.
She encountered another potential obstacle at the beginning of her senior year, one that narrowed the number of applications she submitted to law school. Her honors program counselor met with to talk about her graduate school plans. Luckily she had already submitted some applications when he advised her, “You can’t go to a top law school; you have to apply to schools where you can get in, like Rutgers, American, and UNC Chapel Hill—because they’ll accept any black student.”
“Here I’d been busting it for three and a half years and was graduating with honors,” she says. “That was disheartening, but fortunately my application to Michigan was already in. But I never applied to Harvard or Yale.”
She got early acceptance to the top-ranked University of Michigan Law. “My class consisted of people who were from the University of Michigan undergrad, Michigan State, some others, but a ton of Ivies. That was a great equalizer—in the field of law your law school trumps your undergrad.” She adds that she probably had much more fun in undergraduate school than the Ivy graduates.
Citing the benefits of her experience at the University of Michigan, Campbell says “it teaches you how to think; teaches you the big picture; teaches you theory and policy.” Graduates, she continues, go on typically do good work, and are not typically functionaries. And they come out of law school equipped with confidence that if they put their minds to it and work hard, they can do anything they want to do.
As her career developed, she started doing employment law, representing large employers. She soon realized that what really intrigued her was how to help improve the workplace environment. “In representing large companies I realized that sometimes the employers actually did what the employees said they did, the negative things, and I became more intrigued with the opportunity to address workplace issues—not just defend companies and get the best deal for a company but to actually look at the underlying root causes. If you look at it that way, you can effect change over time.”
In 1988, after nine years at DLA Piper, she moved to Delaware North in Buffalo, New York, a privately held company that provides concessions and retail food to sports venues—a good fit for Campbell, who is also passionate about sports.
Until 1995 she worked in the general counsel’s office, but in 1995 she moved out of pure law to the business side, where she was doing policy and having an opportunity to influence change.
From 1995 to 1996 she served as special assistant to the president, coordinating the implementation of an overall business strategic plan, including the launch of new fine dining and retail brand operations and the implementation of human resources recommendations.
From 1996 to 1997, as vice president of administration for Sportservice, she was responsible for the management of both support services, including training, purchasing, and new business development, and of food and beverage concepts.
Once she was out of pure law, and on the business side, she says, “You are doing policy and have the opportunity to influence change. I was working on strategy, and I liked affecting policy.”
In 1998 Aramark, a corporation with 175,000 U.S. employees headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hired her as a senior director to create an employment practices department. “I had all the proactive pieces I needed, and being in HR and not legal I was able to do policy and work on things in the culture, the environment that enables people to be successful.”
She left Aramark in 2001 when she was offered a position as vice president of human resources at Globeground North America in Great Neck, a program that worked in the aviation industry in New York. It was a promotion and was an incredible learning experience, she says. However, being at a company whose employees all worked at airports during the period following 9/11, even though they didn’t lose anyone, made her open to returning to Aramark when they invited her to come back as vice president of employment relations and corporate diversity officer.
To give a taste of some of the diversity work she is proud of, Campbell talks about what she accomplished at Aramark.
In situations when an employee’s documentation or even legal residence has been questioned, she says, “Some employers just fire people.” But she came up with a better solution to ensure that all employees at Aramark were in compliance with government requirements and authorized to work in this country. She instituted a process where everyone in a particular location was audited and required to show their documentation.
“We made sure we had double checked everything, and if there was a discrepancy, we gave people three days to address it,” she says. For example, sometimes payroll might mistype a person’s social security number, which would generate a report from the Social Security Administration, and “it makes sense to give people time to correct that.” But if they can’t prove in three days that they are authorized to work, they go through the termination process.
“I was very sensitive to what we were going to do as a corporation and how we treated people,” she says. “Aramark was open to me doing these things—taking a step back and looking at the big picture.”
A more policy-oriented achievement was related to how the company gave people promotional opportunities. In contrast with the widespread approach of ‘Oh, I know somebody you should hire. I’ll just bring this person to you, and you say fine,’” she required that opportunities be posted. The more informal approach, she says, “doesn’t go a long way in creating opportunities for others who may have been excluded from the process.”
Later in her time at Aramark, she helped develop training around diversity. She started with building awareness.
As a career development opportunity, her manager assigned her to a team of people senior to her, including human resources vice presidents and the head of training, that was tasked with developing training to build awareness of company strategy. She emphasizes that this was not Equal Employment Opportunity training that targeted areas like discrimination and sexual harassment, but rather strategic diversity training.
“That was when a big light bulb went off for me,” she says. Rather than compliance issues, “we were helping people see the advantage of having a diverse workforce—the business advantage.”
The training that the team developed over a year, called Kaleidoscope, taught people about a strategy and “ways of behavior consistent with that strategy,” she says, and she learned a lot about what was involved with designing training.
In her second stint with Aramark, the company was ready to take the next step beyond baseline awareness training. She created the Diversity Leadership Council comprising Aramark decision-makers, with tiered training focusing on particular skills for different management levels. She also wrote an outline of training that could be deployed to the hourly workforce. “It was important to me that we develop these concepts and share them,” she says.
At Aramark she worked successfully on policy in partnership with the vice president responsible for benefits they agreed to provide domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples—before same-sex marriage was legal. “If we were really going to drive the company to diversity and inclusion at a high level, that’s what we had to do,” she says.
At Aramark another focus was on increasing the representation of women and people of color among the top 250 people in the company.
To increase the representation of women, Campbell says, “The key was to have a strategy around attracting, developing, retaining, and promoting women.” One effort involved a women’s summit for women from the education division and their clients, who were CFOs, provosts, and senior officials at colleges and universities, were invited to participate. At the summit, she says, “We were creating opportunities for our female senior level people to interact with clients—to develop skills and relationships and learn about the business.”
To draw more African Americans to work at Aramark, the company sponsored a national conference of the National Black MBA Association and showcased its own African American employees at the event, for example, by putting them on panels and having a chef do a culinary demonstration.
“It takes strategy, what you are trying to do and why, and the hard tactical work of how to bring the two together,” Campbell says.
After leaving Aramark in 2005, she worked for a year at The Weinstein Firm, an employment law and human resources consulting firm in Philadelphia. In 2007 she was hired by a 350+-lawyer firm in Houston as partner and chief diversity officer.
Then the Campbell Soup Company (no relation) found Campbell on LinkedIn and offered her a position in 2018 as director of diversity and inclusion. “It is the most prominent brand I’ve ever worked for; it’s not something you turn away,” she says. And it was also close to family.
Campbell Soup, she says, “is less like a law firm and more like Aramark with a greater number of employees: I have the opportunity to make a difference, to help other people.”
In August 2018 Campbell Soup announced a two divisional operating model, and she became director of inclusion and diversity for the snacks division.
As a first step in the long-term process of developing a diversity strategy, she interviewed members of the leadership team individually to understand “where they see inclusion and diversity in the business for the future—where the opportunity is.”
The diversity at Campbell Soup’s business happens on many levels. Its consumer base is diverse.
“Our consumers in the United States are going through changing demographics—who goes to the grocery store; do we buy products at the grocery store or order online; how does product get to a household; who is in the household; and what does dinnertime look like. These all reflect the evolving diversity in our society.”
“I think an inclusive culture unleashes the power of diversity. Diverse teams are high performing and innovative.”
Campbell is also on the board of the National Diversity Council, which advocates to businesses about the benefits of diversity and inclusion.
“I have been fortunate to be able to work in this space and to work with organizations—in this case nonprofits—that align with my values. I believe that we need more diversity in our legal profession, and I’m doing what I can to support that by working with prelaw students,” she says.
A member of four state bars, Campbell also coaches women and people of color to pass the bar.
“The reason I’m so motivated to help students in particular is that I don’t want anyone telling them they can’t do something. This is what drives some of my work,” Campbell says. “I just don’t want what happened to me to happen to someone else—being told by a junior high teacher that I couldn’t be a lawyer and by my college adviser that I couldn’t get into a top-notch law school.”