Walmart chief legal officer promotes work-life balance

Rachel Brand says it’s time to ‘make it OK for men to be the one to take the kid to the doctor’

As retail companies prepare for the long-delayed return to office at corporate headquarters across the country, Walmart Inc. Executive Vice President for Global Governance, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary Rachel Brand says executives need to be supportive of work-life balance — especially for working parents.

After two years of meeting virtually rather than getting on a plane, and realizing work can be done from anywhere, “people’s expectations are changing,” said Brand, the keynote speaker at NRF’s Retail Law Summit in February. Many harried parents and other employees won’t tolerate being in the office just for the sake of being in the office.

“Before COVID-19, there were lots of family meltdowns in my household,” Brand said, recalling days when her litigator husband was out of town and she was trying to make it to a high-level, early-morning meeting. “We have no babysitter, someone’s got to get the kids to the bus, and it’s a total you-know-what. Now I know I could just call in to that meeting if that happened. It would be OK for me to just call in,” she said.

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“Getting to that kind of flexibility is going to be extremely important for not just women but men, too, who are trying to achieve some kind of work-life balance and juggle kids and family. We really, really need to achieve that going forward.”

Presented for the second year in a row, NRF’s Retail Law Summit featured attorneys from some of the nation’s top law firms addressing issues facing retailers from COVID-19 to cybersecurity, privacy and the latest developments in wage-and-hour laws. Other speakers included Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Burrows discussing discrimination issues brought by the pandemic and former National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director Bill Evanina addressing cyber risks.

Today, Brand runs one of the largest legal departments in corporate America, with a broad portfolio of responsibilities that include not only a team of lawyers around the world but compliance, ethics, corporate security, corporate governance and even an Emergency Operations Center that brought aid to New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina.

During her career, Brand has held the No. 3 job at the Department of Justice as associate attorney general, clerked for one Supreme Court justice and helped guide the Senate confirmation of two others.

But several years back, she was working part-time in private practice to be able to spend more time with her then-toddler children. She kept quiet about that fact with clients, even if it meant interrupting a trip to the zoo with her son. “I didn’t want them to feel like I wasn’t going to be available,” she said.

“It’s important for legal employers to look at resumes of people — women mostly, but also men — who have taken a step back in their career while their kids were young and be OK with that,” she said. “It should not be a black mark on your resume that you took a couple of years off or went part-time for a little while because you were spending time with your kids. If we can get to that point, that will be a huge boost for women in the workforce, and men — but especially women.”

“One of the best ways to support women in the workforce with families is to support men with families in the workforce, to make it OK for men to be the one to take the kid to the doctor and to take the kid back to school,” she said. “When that becomes OK it’ll relieve the pressure on women.”

Brand spoke during a session with NRF Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Stephanie Martz, who is also a mother married to a fellow lawyer and who has held senior positions at the White House, Senate and in the private sector.

“I’ve always said we were going to really make a lot of progress in the legal profession in terms of accommodating people’s non-professional lives once we started to look at it not just as a motherhood thing but a fatherhood thing,” Martz said. “We can acknowledge the fact that a lot of women do more at home with regard to domestic responsibilities on top of working. We can acknowledge that, but we can also say that men need to have the flexibility as well.”

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