Written By Christopher B. Dolan, Mari Bandoma Callado, and Katelyn P. Dembowski
This week’s question comes from Skyler from San Francisco who asks: There is a lot of talk going on right now about diversity, equity, and inclusion within corporations. Is your firm doing anything to foster diversity yourselves? If so, what can others do to follow your lead?
Thanks for your question, Skyler. In the winter of 2020, senior associate attorney Mari Bandoma Callado approached Dolan Law Firm Founder and Chief Legal Officer Chris Dolan about starting a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Committee. This was right after the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020. Mr. Dolan was immediately on board with her vision. It was an easy transition because our firm has always been supportive of attorneys being involved in DE&I initiatives outside the firm, including but not limited to, sponsoring diverse bar association fundraising efforts, encouraging attorneys to take leadership roles and/or volunteering at community organizations and events. The firm was also very supportive of attorneys with children and has allowed a more flexible schedule for new parents.
However, every organization or law firm is different. There is no “one size fits all approach” to starting a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee or implementing DE&I initiatives. This article will discuss information on the importance of DE&I and provide tools on how to establish a DE&I committee or initiative as well as reflect on the success and challenges of the Dolan Law Firm’s efforts.
What is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I)
Diversity is expressed in different forms including visible and invisible diversity: race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, language, culture, religious commitments, and (dis)ability status.
However, diversity without “Inclusion” is exclusion. Most lump diversity and inclusion together but they are actually two different things and having diversity does not necessarily translate to inclusion. Inclusion is diversity in action. It’s about creating an environment that understands, accepts, and values the differences between people – and not just different backgrounds but different ideas, experiences, and perspectives.
Equity or the experience of fairness is about ensuring that all people have equal opportunities, and that bias, harassment, and discrimination are not tolerated. It involves an understanding that not everyone’s path is the same and eliminating the barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups.
Developing a DE&I Strategic Plan
We recommend collaborating with stakeholders and supporters in developing a DE&I strategic plan based on the firm-wide assessment you conduct. It was important for us to take our time in scaling the program and working as a group to build a shared vision and determine our goals. This included extensive discussions within the committee (which included heads of human resources and marketing) and encouraged participation from everyone at the firm by inviting all staff to monthly planning meetings.
The Dolan Law Firm Committee drafted a mission statement and objectives as a group:
Mission Statement: In order to deliver equal justice for all, the Dolan Law Firm is committed to advancing and nurturing a diverse, equal, and inclusive workplace that reflects the communities we serve.
Implementing DE&I Initiatives
Implement a structure to facilitate your plan. Through our monthly meetings (which were held virtually during the pandemic), we were able to delegate tasks and coordinate the programming and activities to fulfill our objectives related to retention, recruitment, and community outreach.
A key component is including an activity or discussion that allowed us to get to know each other better and for employees to be better understand their own experiences and even their own biases. The Committee came up with group activities depending on the presentations we were doing that month, things that were happening at the firm, and/or current events. Sample group activities include:
- Discussion regarding the use of pronouns;
- “Land Acknowledgement” presentation;
- Activity on overcoming imposter syndrome;
- “Wall of Appreciation” which allowed members of the committee to anonymously tell each other things they appreciated about their colleagues;
- Activity on identity and diversity – “How Does the World See You?”;
- Discussion on “What is your superpower?”; and
- Check-in on the highlight of your week.
During the first year, we focused on developing DE&I presentations and activities created by our committee members to fulfill the retention objective of our mission statement. Sample presentations include:
- Black History Month presentation on the Unsung S/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement
- Women’s History Month Presentation on Intersectionality
- Anti-AAPI Hate Presentation + Bystander Intervention Training
- Celebrating Diversity Month – Presentation on Implicit Bias
- Celebrating Pride Month – Pride Month Presentation
- Anti-Semitism in Progressive Spaces Presentation
- Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Presentation
It is important for the Committee to be part of recruitment efforts. We have a representative at each attorney and/or staff interview who shared the firm’s commitment to DE&I and to ask questions to gauge the candidate’s interest and/or commitment to DE&I. We also added the mission statement/commitment to DE&I in job postings. The committee continues to collaborate with Human Resources in developing and implementing the DE&I talent acquisition strategy.
Marketing and Community Outreach
A DE&I representative is part of the marketing team and assists with ensuring that the firm continues to be connected to the community that we aim to serve. The Committee regularly creates content for the firm’s website and social media accounts that highlights the diversity of our team, issue statements that reflect the commitments and values of the firm, and regularly spotlight our team members who are doing incredible things for the community through their leadership roles and volunteer work.
Additionally, the firm is committed to supporting organizations that share the same commitment to DE&I. The firm is a long-time supporter and sponsor of various organizations such as the CAOC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC), East Bay La Raza, and just recently became a sustaining law firm member of the Charles Houston Bar Association.
We hope you found this information useful and if you know any firms or organizations looking to implement more DE&I measures, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.