By Dawn R. Rosemond
I attended elementary school back in the late 1970s. I remember this practice during recess where the self-appointed “cool kids” would take it upon themselves to pick teams for the game of the day. I was faster than most then, so I was always pretty much chosen in the first round. I can still see the faces of those kids who were chosen last or not at all. I wish I could say that I stood up for them, championed them, advocated for them to be on my team, but such would be untrue. Instead, I was silent.
When I think about our illustrious profession and this seemingly elusive concept of sustainable diversity and inclusion in the practice of law (as demonstrated by reports like the recent NALP survey), I think my school girl memory informs. Plainly, perhaps the practice of law still remains the least diverse profession because teams are built more often than not, in keeping with these playground protocols.
At Barnes & Thornburg, such is not an option. Diversity and inclusion is a long-standing value of the firm. Indeed, the first African-Americans in the state of Indiana to advance through the ranks from associate to equity partner proudly call Barnes & Thornburg home. But we understand that achieving a sustainable diverse and empowering environment will not just happen. Deliberate action is required.
In a recent interview, Firm Managing Partner Bob Grand stated, “We are very action oriented as a firm, and our approach to diversity and inclusion is no different. We aim to align the business of diversity with the business of the firm and send a clear message, both internally and externally, that diversity and inclusion contribute directly to our business goals and top-line revenue and, most importantly, are qualities that are valued by firm leadership, attorneys at all levels and our clients. We are continuing to evolve with the modern workforce where the assembly of diverse, engaged teams yields higher levels of employee satisfaction. Having a diverse set of attorneys makes us better as a firm since our distinct experiences and viewpoints lead us to better solutions, better service and a better work environment. Hiring, training, empowering and promoting diverse talent is smart business.”
Bold leadership begets bold action, which begets bold results. For example, four women and one Latino now sit on the firm’s Management Committee. One-third of the Management Committee executive team is female. The firm’s General Counsel is female. We have hired a Director of Lateral Recruiting to specifically focus on recruiting women and minority talent at the partner level. In October 2016, Barnes & Thornburg established a firm-wide executive-level Director of Diversity, Professional Development and Inclusion position and named me (an African-American female partner and 20-plus year Barnes & Thornburg teammate), to fill the role.
And as for “Team Barnes & Thornburg,” unlike my school days, we have instituted a protocol with accountability measures, to ensure the diverse makeup of our client teams. In fact, aggressively pushing for such is part of my responsibilities. Translation – it is my job to stand up, to champion, to advocate – to not be silent.
Bottom line, here is our vision: To align the business of diversity and inclusion so fully with the business of the firm that Barnes & Thornburg is established as the national standard relative to inclusive engagement and empowerment in action. And our mission (what we are doing to get there): We hire great legal talent from all backgrounds and then work together as a team to deliberately position themto win. Presently, that “positioning” manifests in three strategic priorities: Sponsorship (to drive the professional development of all of our talent); Integration (to drive the alignment of diversity and inclusion with the wholesale business of the firm); and Culture (to drive inclusion and an environment that is sensitive and aware). At the end of the day however, Barnes & Thornburg is committed to doing whatever is necessary to see our vision come to pass, because when we achieve our goals, our firm, clients and our profession win.