You just need a foot in the door, someone to mentor you and see your worth.
In-house lawyer Lily Wong has worked as a consultant for KPMG, as Corporate Counsel for BAI communications, and gained experience in legal recruitment. She is now the acting General Counsel at PepsiCo ANZ and an advocate for diversity, mentorship and continuous learning.
For Wong, her commitment to diversity stems from her own background.
“My parents fled Vietnam when I was one. We left on a rickety boat and arrived in Malaysia after two days and nights on the high seas. Pretty incredible to think back,” she says.
“What would that scenario have had to be like, to leave everything including family, and sail on a rickety boat into the ocean with a one year old?”
The first lawyer in her family, Wong was also the first to attend university. She recalls how impressed her parents were when she started working at KPMG, “in an office block”.
“My career has been bold, because I’ve rolled the dice a bit and followed my gut,” she says.
Clearly the approach has paid off for Wong, who won the 2019 FMCG Lawyer of the Year award and led her team at PepsiCo ANZ to win the Law Society’s 2019 Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession.
“Winning these awards confirmed that I’m in the right place, which was nice because I think I’ve doubted myself at times and thought I’ve bounced around too much,” she says.
At PepsiCo ANZ, Wong has helped implement the Larry D Thompson Internship, an opportunity for two law students who demonstrate a commitment to diversity to gain experience working in-house.
“With the program, the overwhelming feedback from applicants is that they’re so grateful there’s something out there that’s trying to change the legal profession, even if it’s just baby steps,” Wong says.
With more than 15 years working in the legal profession, Wong believes the diversity landscape has changed for the better.
“Twenty years ago, when I finished law school, my friends and I from diverse backgrounds found it really hard to crack those top-tier graduate jobs,” she says.
“But it’s changing, and I’m passionate about being able to make even the smallest difference.”
Wong attributes her success working in-house to her commitment to learning and understanding the business as a whole.
“There are times when you’re not going to be the most popular person because you put a stop to things. But so long as you’re able to give clear reasons, relevant stakeholders can appreciate it,” she says.
“In addition to providing legal advice, be aware of the business goals, challenges and risk appetite.”
As evidenced by her commitment to diversity and mentoring students, Wong advocates the importance of being more than just a lawyer.
“Bring your personality as well as your lawyer hat to work,” she says.
“That’s the human side of it.”