Eboneé Lewis’s voice is one of her greatest tools. As associate general counsel of employment at Becton Dickinson (BD) she’s using that asset to promote an empowering, nurturing workplace culture while enabling employees to thrive no matter what. Above all, Lewis has made sure that her efforts will leave an impact at the company.
While Lewis currently works as an employment lawyer—and has since her judicial clerkship after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center—this was not the legal career path that she had always envisioned for herself. When Lewis was in seventh grade at an all-girls school in Rhode Island, she attended an impactful assembly. Laureen D’Ambra, an alumna of the school and the lead attorney in the Office of the Child Advocate, spoke about her service to Rhode Island’s most vulnerable population. Following that assembly, Lewis solidified her desire to also become an attorney working in child advocacy.
As her studies carried on in law school, Lewis realized she could work in a different capacity that still helped people. For nearly twenty years, Lewis has found a home working in employment law. She was a senior associate in employment litigation at Littler Mendelson when an opportunity for a secondment with BD arose. At the time, she was a new mother who had previously been on secondment at another firm client. The idea of supporting another client without having to think of billable hours and with better work/life flexibility enticed her. She said yes to the opportunity.
Four years later, in 2014, she officially transitioned to BD as employment counsel. Even though, initially, she would be taking a pay cut by making this switch, she had a feeling it would be worth it in the long run.
“I am not one to shy away from voicing my opinion. I think serving on the crisis team has allowed me to do that a lot more and bring more visibly to leaders who I did not often have occasion to come into contact with.”
Over time she realized that it was not the schedule that ended up most appealing to her as in-house counsel for BD but rather the involvement with the work she was doing. “When I was outside counsel, it was usually reactionary. I would come in to defend the litigation, an agency charge, or do an investigation, but you’re never really looped in,” says Lewis. “In-house, I am helping to shape and make decisions.”
Of course, with change comes a learning curve. “I am still learning in terms of the vastness of what we make and develop for our customers, but there are many helpful resources available to me. I have to do my homework to stay knowledgeable,” says Lewis. “I have to be proactive and educate myself about my clients and their businesses so that I can best partner with them.”
One of her continuing goals is to shift the narrative surrounding lawyers, legal departments, and HR in general. She sees the value in employment law and the HR function, but she knows that others often view a meeting with legal as a “bad thing” or a “check-the-box” event, or that it will lead to chastisement.
In her role, she aims to change that. “I have an opportunity to shift the culture and mindset, helping my client groups to shift their thinking about legal as a check off. Often, people say, ‘Legal’s getting dragged in,’ and there is this negative connotation, like the lawyers were coming in with a waiving finger. But my job is not to just hold up what is written in statutes,” says Lewis. Rather, her job is to empower her fellow colleagues.
To encourage this culture of empowerment, Lewis’s leadership style allowed for her client groups to take charge of their own work. “I can spoon feed you answers all day, every day. That doesn’t help you grow as an HR partner,” says Lewis. She wants her partners to be able to confidently approach problems they encounter themselves, and to see her as a guide.
“Eboneé has a strong moral compass,” says Christine Hendrickson, partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. “She leads in a collaborative, practical, and business-focused way with an unwavering sense of integrity and commitment to BD’s values. It is a real gift.”
“There is a mental taxation having to navigate day to day, knowing that all of the civil rights, social justice, and racial issues continue to compound.”
In addition to her role as associate general counsel of employment, Lewis is also part of the corporate crisis response team, which has handled BD’s COVID-19 protocols. Her role on this team is pivotal because of the unprecedented challenges that HR has faced as a result of the pandemic. She also finds that this role allows her to gain exposure to more of the company.
“I am not one to shy away from voicing my opinion. I think serving on the crisis team has allowed me to do that a lot more and bring more visibly to leaders who I did not often have occasion to come into contact with,” says Lewis. This added exposure to relatively unfamiliar parts of the company has allowed her to make strides in a different role inside one of BD’s affinity groups: she serves as lead of African Americans at BD (AABD).
AABD gives African American employees a safe space to share their experiences, both personally and professionally. In 2020, many issues of racial justice were brought to light to the general public. But for Lewis, and many other employees at BD, this conversation is not new, and she hopes that she can inspire progress through AABD.
“Most African Americans, people of color, come to work and are able to compartmentalize,” Lewis notes. “However, there is a mental taxation having to navigate day to day, knowing that all of the civil rights, social justice, and racial issues continue to compound.”
As a Black woman in a leadership role, Lewis feels that she needs to be seen—not because she wants to be seen as a role model for overcoming adversity, but because she wants people to know that people who look like her are not the exception. “Part of what I do also is to help dispel the myth that I am an anomaly,” says Lewis, adding that she hopes other employees of color will have the same opportunity to lead inside the company as AABD keeps growing.
Though she couldn’t have foreseen her impact at BD, in her seven-year tenure Lewis has enacted real change and progress not only at the company but in the healthcare space as a whole. She’s used her position and her greatest asset—her voice—to give others a chance to shine.