Faegre Drinker: Creating and Exercising a Mindset for Success

After just a few years as the Chief Diversity Officer at a 600-lawyer firm where I had spent most of my legal career, my position radically changed when my law firm merged and doubled in size overnight in February 2020. What did that mean for me and my role? It was a gift in many ways. It provided me–and our firm which is 1200+ lawyers strong-with opportunities to structure and scale our efforts to support a culture that supported justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Then, one month after the merger came the COVID-19 pandemic, and shortly thereafter, the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where our firm has a large office.

All of these developments mean that the DEI landscape both at Faegre Drinker and in the legal and broader world is very different than before and is even more challenging. These challenges have brought newfound attention, and that’s why we are trying something different to make progress.

First and foremost, we are focused on creating a culture of belonging at our firm. People feel like they belong when they can look around and see others from similar backgrounds, when they believe they will be treated equitably based on the firm’s record of hiring and advancement, and when they know that the highest leaders at the firm and people around them consistently act in inclusive ways. But this does not happen magically. To get the results we want, we are focusing on accountability and intentionality.

How do we do that? First, we ensure that intentional allies are rewarded, including by receiving billable hours credit for DEI work. Second, we inspire people who are complacent to leave the sidelines and play a role. And finally, we address unintentional bias and microaggressions through trainings. Each time we are successful at any of these tasks, we challenge ourselves to do more while bringing everyone along the way.

We also realize that education is essential to bringing people off the sidelines. Our education starts from the top, and we try to send a clear message and express our vision in firm communications. And we create spaces for continual individual and collective learning.

We know that diverse colleagues benefit from participating in affinity groups where they can connect in a safe space with others who may share similar lived experiences. That’s why we have various resource groups, including the Diversity Collective, which consists of over 180 lawyers and consultants, and hosts regular meetings and an annual retreat where discussion topics include skills training and business development.

Further, we connect with clients on DEI topics, knowing that many of them are equally committed to the values we hold dear. To that end, we partner with clients to host speakers, including to recognize heritage months.

To keep ourselves accountable, we continually evaluate our efforts. We collect data to aid our hiring, retention, and advancement of diverse talent. Additionally, we share metrics with our clients to support efforts to build diverse client teams. We also know, however, that all progress isn’t quantifiable. For that reason, we conduct stay and exit interviews to assess our workplace culture. We also host small group discussions that work to protect voices and prevent psychological trauma when discussing sensitive topics.

Finally, to return to me and my role. The role requires empathy that leads to action when needed but also understands when we need to do more groundwork before acting. Today’s DEI leader must be nimble and not siloed in human resources. It’s a lot of work, but a position that I cherish, knowing that I can make a positive difference in the lives of my colleagues and the legal community.


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