Law firms continue to struggle to diversify their ranks, with people of color making up less than 7 percent of law firm partners and women about one-fifth. While many law firms leave diversity efforts to attorneys who juggle other daily tasks, Stinson Leonard Street hired Ann Jenrette-Thomas to solely focus on the firms diversity and inclusion goals throughout the firms 13 offices, which include several in Minnesota. Everyone here is truly generally interested in moving the needle, said Jenrette-Thomas, who is chief diversity and inclusion officer. Her hiring comes at time of a renewed push for firms to diversify their ranks. This past September, two dozen of the top lawyers from companies from Wal-Mart to PepsiCo signed a letter pledging their support of efforts to diversify law firms.
Q: Why do you think more firms are getting separate people dedicated primarily to diversity?
A: I think there are a number of good reasons why. First and foremost, when there is somebody at this level like a chief diversity and inclusion officer, this role is responsible for driving the diversity strategy and its impact across the entire firm, not just an HR function for example. It deals with recruiting, retention, business development, infrastructure. I think in order to really drive change, create an inclusive culture that lets all attorneys thrive, we need to make sure that we look at the firm comprehensively. I think thats why you are starting to see some movement. Some firms are not going as far as Stinson Leonard Street in terms of going for C-suite individuals in this role, but you can see that law firms are starting to realize, Oh, this is really important not only because its the right thing to do, but also because its important to many of our clients as well.
Q: What are your primary responsibilities at the firm and what are you most excited about pursuing in your role?
A: Im really thrilled to be here. My responsibilities are twofold. They are both internal and external. Internally, its along the lines of really driving the strategy with respect to diversity and inclusion. How can we create an environment that really allows all of us to thrive and succeed so that there are clear pathways to success so that there is the right support, the right infrastructure to achieve those outcomes. Inevitably, that also includes making sure that we have a solid number of diverse attorneys and staff, making sure that there are programs in place that ensure that people are not left in silos but are really able to be integrated into the firm. With respect to marketing and business development, what I see is being able to help shape what we do making sure that we are responsive to our clients needs and that we are reflective of our community at large and our clients and making sure we continue to keep a forward motion as it pertains to diversity. Externally, I see my role as being able to continue to let the rest of the world know that Stinson Leonard Street is really committed to moving from a position where we have cared about this issue to a place where we want to be a leader in this realm.
Q: How do you think you will be able to help Stinson Leonard in terms of recruiting and retaining people of color, which has become a larger cause that stakeholders in the region are concentrating on?
A: With recruiting, I think part of it is being very clear on what kind of targets we want to achieve. If you dont know what kind of goal you are going toward, its difficult to measure. Just being clear about how we want to raise our demographics here. With respect to retention, its a combination of things. It really just isnt one thing. Can the individuals, the attorneys of color feel connected, included, welcomed, and that there is a clear pathway to success and that they have the support for that. From a firm perspective, its about looking at programs comprehensively to understand how we can impact the individual. Lets say we recruit some attorneys of color from the East Coast or West Coast. There are certain things we can do in the firm, but we can also encourage partners that have lived in the area to take out the newbies and introduce them to the area. We can encourage them pairing up and bringing them to affinity bar groups or other types of networking events. If we can start to get that sense of family or connection or community, then that will go a long way in keeping people.