In November 2020, Dorcas Adekunle, JD ’13, became Director of Federal Government Affairs at AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical company seeking to solve serious health issues and have an impact on people’s lives.
Adekunle, who was born in Nigeria and raised in New Jersey, began her career in the policy world as an intern while she was still a student at Kline School of Law. After graduating from Kline Law, she worked for several years in the House of Representatives and recently made the jump to the private sector.
As part of Kline Law’s ongoing series “Alumnae Rising,” Adekunle answered a few questions about her journey to her leadership role and her experience at Kline Law.
Why did you choose to study at Kline Law?
I chose to study at Kline Law because I felt welcomed when attending an event for prospective students. I immediately connected with Issa DiSciullo, who was the Assistant Dean of Admissions at the time, because she made me feel that at Kline Law increasing diversity in the legal profession was a commitment not just a slogan. As I’m the first lawyer in my family, I wanted an environment where I’d feel supported through the good and bad times in law school. The administration and faculty at Drexel encouraged me and challenged me, but also invested in my interests and aspirations.
Please tell me about your journey to becoming Director of Federal Governmental Affairs at AbbVie.
My journey in the policy world began as an intern with then New Jersey Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman during my second summer of law school. With support from Kline Law, I also completed a co-op placement under the New Jersey Legislature General Counsel. Shortly after graduating from law school, I joined now Congresswoman Watson Coleman’s Congressional campaign and worked my way up to chief counsel in her office.
While working for Congresswoman Watson Coleman, I helped her and her colleagues establish the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, where part of our work was to study health disparities. AbbVie employees from the Government Affairs team met with us to discuss the work the company was doing on uterine fibroids, a condition that disproportionately impacts Black women. They were also going out of their way to ensure that Black women were represented in clinical trials for that medication, which made a lasting, positive impression with me.
I later became deputy chief of staff and legislative director to Representative Susan Wild. Our team worked on other healthcare issues, including children’s health insurance and access to care during the pandemic.
When I was ready to transition from Capitol Hill and diversify my professional experiences, I was happy that my experience led me to AbbVie.
What advice would you give a student or alumni interested in taking on leadership roles in government relations?
First, I would tell students and alumni to remain optimistic, encouraged and persistent. For many reasons, it can be difficult to land a position on Capitol Hill, but the opportunities will come. Depending on the type of role that someone is pursuing in government relations, those opportunities might come in waves; meaning, that it can make a difference which political party is controlling the government at that time.
This might sound obvious, but I’d also advise that they should treat people with respect, no matter their title. This type of work relies heavily on relationships and you’ll get further if people like working with you. In D.C., it’s not unusual to see some of the same people move into different roles.
Lastly, find a mentor and/or manager that believes in you. I am fortunate to work with colleagues who have shared values and mutual respect. Throughout my career, I’ve had several managers who saw more in me than I saw in myself, which has made a remarkable impact on my life.
What are the main skill sets you need to thrive in your leadership role?
I’ve always been direct, a straight-shooter. Honesty, integrity, creativity, critical thinking skills and time management are incredibly important skills for all leaders and professionals aspiring to leadership roles.
What has been your experience in practicing your area law/being an attorney in your role?
As a Black woman who has worked on Capitol Hill and the corporate side, I am encouraged by the increasing awareness of the lack of diversity and the value that diversity brings. While on Capitol Hill, I found a sense of community in the Black Women’s Congressional Alliance through which I was able to expand my network. At AbbVie, embracing diversity and inclusion is one of our core company principles, and we are committed to recruiting, developing and retaining diverse talent.
I believe having a legal background helps me to be effective in my role because I’m able to concisely synthesize complex information. It also helps me identify good, lasting policy by understanding how it might be interpreted if challenged in court.
Now that you’ve reached your current role, what’s next on your horizon?
As the new director of Federal Government Affairs at AbbVie, I’m looking forward to collaborating with coworkers across all areas of the business and partnering with external allies. I also continue to prioritize building relationships with colleagues. I am currently part of a mentoring program focused on Black, Latinx and other underrepresented professionals. My mentoring pod is composed of colleagues from different parts of the company, which has been helpful and fun. It’s a safe space to share my thoughts and learn from incredible leaders at AbbVie.