DRI: It’s Personal!

Posted on June 12, 2015 02:45 by Tanya Lawson

I saw a post recently on the DRI Diversity blog that impacted me at my core.  It is the sort of post that some organizations would have shied away from because it raised serious issues on a diversity topic that is still very controversial for some.  Instead, in subsequent days I saw other posts from DRI members lauding the author of the article for his courage to raise these important issues.  This is one of the primary reasons that I gravitated toward and have been a longstanding member of DRI over any other legal organization.  DRI’s commitment to diversity is real!  DRI and its members have been at the forefront of these issues and I have found DRI to be an oasis in what can sometimes seem like a legal desert.

As an African American woman who has been practicing over 20 years, there are some circles in which I have not always felt welcome or appreciated.  I have had to work hard to try to fit in and get ahead in a profession that I love but which can sometimes be very challenging for African Americans, especially in a large firm environment.  I can remember it like it was yesterday -- the first time I attended a DRI Diversity for Success Conference in Chicago almost a decade ago.  It was at a reception which was filled with people of all ages and backgrounds but who all seemed to be excited about making diversity a priority for the organization.  People were warm and welcoming and I began an odyssey with DRI that would take me to the highest levels within the organization and ultimately the profession.

Ever since that first day, I looked forward to attending the Diversity for Success Conference each year.  I would re-connect and solidify relationships with old friends and would get the sustenance I needed to go back to Florida to continue my drive to achieve success in the profession.  Indeed, the diversity conferences became a fixture in our African American Forum budget at my prior firm and attorneys would vie for a spot on the team selected to attend.  Each time I have attended the conference since that first day, I have experienced an intense feeling of belonging and have felt revived and rejuvenated.  Not only have my experiences with DRI had a curative quality, I gained deep insights as well as good friendships as a result of my participation in DRI sponsored events.

I was for some time the only African American female partner in my former AmLaw 200 firm, and then later only 1 or 2 African American female partners.  DRI’s diversity committee offered sometimes the only opportunity I had to interact with and bounce ideas and experiences off a variety of other African American male and female partners in large law firms.  As co-chair of diversity at my prior firm, I also leaned heavily on DRI’s leadership for ideas to assist me to bring new insights to the diversity and inclusion dialog.  Douglas Burrell, DRI’s current Membership Chair, has been a source of constant encouragement and inspiration.  Pam Carter, who heads up the DRI’s Diversity Committee, was also a tremendously positive influence.

From my perspective, DRI should be a staple in any lawyer’s portfolio of membership organizations.  For me it has been intensely personal and I have thoroughly enjoyed my association with DRI!

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Categories: Diversity | DRI Brand

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I recently read an announcement by a top U.S. law firm congratulating itself on its accomplishments based on a recent Law 360 survey regarding law firm diversity. The firm reported great pride in its placement, issued appropriate kudos and congratulated the firm’s ongoing commitment to supporting minorities in the firm. The problem, however, is that when you speak with African American attorneys who work at major law firms there is often a disconnect between what firms are reporting and what these attorneys are experiencing. 

Some surveys that look at the best firms for minorities in general may overlook important issues affecting African Americans specifically and, as a result, firms may be lulled into the complacent view that things are going well for all minorities when in fact the statistics may be skewed in favor of a particular group (or groups), especially in certain parts of the country where certain minority groups are more heavily represented. A recent article looking at African Americans in law firms reported that African Americans are among the most poorly represented minority groups consisting on average of 3.5 percent of non- partners and a mere 1.6 percent of partners.   

In addition, some of the numbers being reported simply do not convey the full experience of African Americans who are trying to make a long term go at “Big Firm." Over the years I have watched some of most pedigreed and qualified African American attorneys leave big firms. With the number of African Americans going to law school dwindling, this does not bode well for the future of African Americans at Big Firm.  This is an issue that is of some importance to African Americans today and it is one at which firms should take a closer look rather than touting positions on the latest diversity chart.  If the numbers and underlying experience at firms nationwide are issues, comparing one underperforming firm to its underperforming peers does little to move the ball forward.  Perhaps those doing the surveys of Big Firm should place greater emphasis on the overall experiences and longevity of attorneys within these firms.  This may help firms to understand what is needed to ensure the long term success of African Americans in the law firm environment. If not, African American lawyers will continue their exodus to more fertile and inclusive ground. 

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Categories: Diversity

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President Obama signed an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hiring and for federal contractors and subcontractors.  The Order requires that the US Department of Labor issues regulations to implement the order within 90 days. This Order takes effect immediately as to the hiring and employment provisions affecting over 2.5 million Federal employees. Contracts entered into on or after the regulations are promulgated by the Department of Labor must comply with the Order. Federal contractors will be required to maintain and/or amend hiring and employment policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Currently, there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity that applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”) would extend existing federal law protections to LGBT employees and was approved by the Senate, but has stalled in the House of Representatives. 21 states (NH and MA included) and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and 18 states (MA included) also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

This blog was originally posted in the Employment Law Business Guide on July 22. Click here to read the original entry. 

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Categories: Discrimination | Diversity

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After several decades of experience with women’s initiatives in a number of law firms, and DRI, the article below rings true to me. 

We recently reviewed DRI’s membership data and reached some interesting conclusions. DRI successfully recruits women at a rate equal to men in ages 26-30. Women become very engaged in DRI, participating significantly more than their male counterparts in seminars and the like. Then DRI loses them at a rate dramatically greater than men during ages 31-40. After that age, drop rates for men and those women who have remained members are roughly equivalent.

Of course, DRI’s membership demographics grossly track those of our member law firms. To the extent we can determine from limited data, DRI is losing women members disproportionately during ages 31-40 because women are leaving law firms disproportionately during those ages, which should come as no surprise to us in law firms.

This article suggests an approach to consider in reversing that trend, but it cannot succeed without senior leadership driving it. Nor can DRI reverse this trend in its membership ranks without leading its law firm members by example to do the same.

How One Law Firm Maintains Gender Balance

Harvard Business Review, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox 


No area of the business world is more illogically gender imbalanced than law firms. Every year, top law firms recruit 60% female and 40% male law graduates into their practices. Within two years, their female majorities begin to leave. The percentage of female equity partners is now 17% in the top 100 US law firms.

The strangest part is that women lawyers aren’t leaving the profession. They are only leaving law firms, taking on corporate, government or regulatory roles instead.

Law firms who want to hold onto their female recruits can do so – but they need to behave differently. Gianmarco Monsellato, head of TAJ insists it’s only an issue of leadership.

His own firm is 50/ 50 gender balanced, at all levels – including equity partners and governance bodies. It’s fueled their success over the past decade, and TAJ is now the No. 5 law firm in France.

How did he do it? Dramatically differently than most law firms. Most of his competitors have spent years organizing women’s initiatives, networks, or mentoring programs that have done little to increase the percentage of women reaching the top. The National Association of Women Lawyers’ recent report is pretty clear: These “fix the women” approaches have not delivered.

Instead, Monsellato tackled the problem personally. He was involved in every promotion discussion. “For a long time,” he says, “I was the only one allocating cases.” He insisted on gender parity from the beginning. He personally ensured that the best assignments were evenly awarded between men and women. He tracked promotions and compensation to ensure parity. If there was a gap, he asked why. He put his best female lawyers on some of his toughest cases. When clients objected, he personally called them up and asked them to give the lawyer three months to prove herself. In every case, the client was quick to agree and managed to overcome the initial gender bias.

This kind of leadership on gender is rare, but spreading. A growing number of courageous male leaders are working very hard to balance their companies – because they ferociously believe it will enhance their businesses. I spend a lot of time with these kinds of leaders. The smartest among them know that gender balance is more about getting male leaders, and men in general, to push for balance than it is about getting women to change their own behavior.

Monsellato laughs at the ideas of “leaning in” and diversity programs. “If partners aren’t convinced, you won’t get anywhere. And diversity programs headed by women reporting to all-male boards will never work.” He never referred to his gender push as a diversity initiative, and he has never run diversity programs. “What I have done is promote people on performance. If someone works 50% of the time, we adjust that performance to its full-time equivalence. When you adjust performance on an FTE basis, maternity issues stop being an indicator.”

He knows just how hard his female lawyers work, and he doesn’t want to lose out on the benefits of their productivity and ideas. “My biggest issue is trying to stop women from working all the time,” he says, “as technology allows them to work anywhere, anytime.” It’s the “tone from the top” that is key, he insists. Speaking to a roomful of female lawyers at a recent conference, he reminded them, “You are not a minority. It’s about balance, not about gender diversity.”

Interestingly, in my experience, most of the leaders who’ve pushed hardest for gender balance are themselves not fully members of their companies’ dominant majority. They are often a different nationality than most of their colleagues, or the first non-home- country CEO. So, for example, the Peruvian-born Carlos Ghosn at Nissan in Japan, the Dutch Marijn Dekkers at BAYER (disclosure: they are a client) in Germany, or the Italian Monsellato at TAJ in France.

There is nothing better than being a bit of an outsider to understand the particular stickiness of the in-group’s hold on power. These are some of the more enlightened leaders on gender balance. They build true meritocracies, they get the best of 100% of the global talent pool – and they will win a huge competitive edge in this century of globalization.


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Categories: Diversity | Life/Work Balance

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According to the February 25, 2014 Report from the National Association of Women Lawyers, its annual survey reveals little change in the  compensation, leadership roles, rainmaking, and equity partnership of women at the nation’s largest 200 firms. See National Association of Women Lawyers 2014 Eighth Annual National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms (February 2014).  In addition, recent NALP research found that while overall representation of minorities among associates at large firms has more than recovered since sliding in 2010, the representation of African-Americans/Blacks specifically has in contrast declined every year since 2010 — from 4.36% of associates in 2010 to 4.10% in 2013.  See Perspectives on Diversity, NALP Bulletin, June 2014.  Some additional statistics related to African Americans reported in the ABA Journal recently are as follows:

  • Only 3 percent of lawyers in large law firms are African American, and only 1.9 percent of partners are African American;
  • Although the percentage of all minorities increased slightly last year, at 223 reporting law firms the number of African American lawyers fell;
  • Out of 77 Am Law 100 firms that reported minority numbers for equity partnerships, 31 either had no African American equity partners or just one. 
Statistics on the slow progress of women and minorities at law firms highlights the importance of continued diversity efforts, such as the DRI Diversity Seminar and Expo.  

During the upcoming DRI Diversity for Success Seminar, attendees will learn about new diversity initiatives created by a bar association, law firm, and corporation. Attendees will also learn about the training and exposure needed to develop clients. During the Expo, attendees will use the tips they have learned during interviews with corporations, seeking to diversify their outside counsel.

The 2014 DRI Diversity for Success Seminar and Expo will be held June 12-13, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Click here for additional information on the Diversity for Success Seminar. DRI members may still register to attend on-site with payment by check or credit card.

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Categories: Diversity | DRI Brand | DRI Committees

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The integration of the federal judiciary is a significant achievement for equality and the law. That is why the recent action by the Senate is worth recognition.  The Senate voted 96-0 unanimously on Wednesday to make Diane Humetewa the first-ever female Native American federal judge. Humetewa, a professor at Arizona State University, has worked in private practice and as an assistant U.S. attorney. She's a member the Hopi Indian Tribe.  She previously worked as a U.S. attorney for Arizona under the George W. Bush administration, as well as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe and as a special counsel and professor at Arizona State University.  

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If you don’t know, it could cost you.  In the past few years, federal courts have seen an influx in “donning and doffing” lawsuits.  These suits reflect a general discontent of employees that are not compensated for the time spent dressing in work-related attire while on employer premises. Sometimes employers are required to pay and sometimes they aren’t, but it is best to be aware of recent developments to avoid being caught with your pants down.

Consider Your Collective Bargaining Agreement & the FLSA

On January 27, 2014, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion for Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp.  The Supreme Court granted cert on this case to determine whether an employer must pay employees for their time spent putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) their work-related garments and protective gear under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  

The FLSA sets out the circumstances under which an employer must compensate an employee.  Pertinent to “donning and doffing”, section 790.8(c) of the FLSA requires that an employer compensate an employee for the time they take to put on and take off safety equipment. However, section 203(o) creates an exception, which indicates that any time spent changing clothes or washing at the beginning and end of the workday shall be excluded from compensated time if the collective bargaining agreement in place excludes compensation for these activities.  In Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., 800 steelworkers from Indiana have challenged the definition of clothes in the applicable collective bargaining agreement in line with section 203(o) of the FLSA.  

When United States Steel Corp. steelworkers arrive at the plant each morning, they report to their respective locker rooms and dress in protective gear that is stored at the facility.  A steelworker wears fire retardant jackets, fire retardant pants, steel toed boots, protective goggles, ear plugs, hard hats, a flame retardant or aluminized snood (a head covering to protect the head and neck), a flame retardant wristlet that covers the forearms, and flame retardant spats that cover the foot and shin area.  If these items fall outside of the definition of “clothes,” perhaps qualified as “protective gear,” then Sandifer and the other steelworkers must be compensated for the time spent changing.

The amount of time that it takes each worker to put on (don) and take off (doff) each protective item can certainly accumulate each day. Sandifer and the other steelworkers allege that they are owed back overtime pay because the amount of time spent donning and doffing their protective gear would qualify as overtime beyond the normal 40 hour work week.

The Supreme Court determined that all items worn by the steelworkers, other than protective goggles and ear plugs, qualified as “clothes” under the ordinary meaning of the word, defined as “items that are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress”.  Because these items are deemed “clothes," employers and employees are authorized to decide whether that time is compensable and memorialize the decision in a collective bargaining agreement.

The Supreme Court’s determination of Sandifer can impact your business if you have established a collective bargaining agreement that qualifies the donning and doffing of safety equipment or protective gear as “changing clothes.”  It is important to review the types of work-related garments and gear your employees wear.  Are the items commonly regarded as articles of dress?  Or are some of the items more similar in function to ear plugs and safety glasses?  Certainly no one would question whether jeans, a tee shirt, a suit, or a blouse were clothes.  But the Supreme Court’s decision requires that you consider each element of your employees’ uniform in a new light.  It may be necessary that you reconsider whether certain items be donned during work hours in order to prevent the risk of future litigation.  The Sara Lee Corporation failed to address these implications in time to avoid litigation.

The Portal to Portal Act: Donning & Doffing May Be a Principal Activity

In 1947, the Portal-to-Portal Act was enacted as an amendment to the FLSA in order to clarify the type of time that classifies as work time.  Section 254(a)(2) provides that no employer shall be liable for failure to pay wages or overtime for activities that are preliminary or postliminary to principal activities, which occur before the workday starts or after the workday ends. Thus, the pertinent legal question is whether an activity is a principal activity.  

In Duran v. Sara Lee Corp., a group of Sara Lee factory workers in Zeeland, Michigan, brought suit to demand back overtime pay for the time spent donning and doffing their protective gear, including ear protection, safety glasses, steel-toed boots, and bump caps, while on-site.  These workers argued that putting on and taking off this protective gear qualifies as a “principal activity” of their job.  In March, a federal jury determined that the Sara Lee factory workers were engaging in “principal activities” of their jobs while donning and doffing their protective gear because it is one of the many tasks that must be completed on the job daily.  The jury also determined that these factory workers are owed back overtime pay for these activities.  In addition, the jury determined that Sara Lee’s actions were willful, which allows for greater recovery of damages.  Although it is certain this verdict will be appealed, the Michigan jury is sending a message to employers to review their contracts and reconsider their donning and doffing policies.


Savvy business owners should carve out time to review the articles of clothing and protective gear worn by their employees.  Consider the purpose and function of each article. If there is a chance that an item is more likely to be qualified as protective gear rather than clothes, it is vital to revisit your current collective bargaining agreement and employment manual with respect to the donning and doffing of work-related articles.  The time spent examining your current policies is well worth the benefit of avoiding or minimizing future litigation whether your employees wear clothes to work or not.

This article does not constitute legal advice, is not applicable to factual situations, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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Categories: Diversity | Employment/Labor Law

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“Diversity” is a concept at center stage in today’s ever changing world. And, all of us have heard or used the phrase “be politically correct.” Diversity can be visually obvious such as age, gender, and race. But, there are many facets of diversity that are not visual such as religion, politics, sexual preference, etc. And, even if diversity is totally obvious, oft times we simply don’t know what to do with diversity! Do we avoid eye contact, or address it head on?  As attorneys, how do we tap into the power of diversity to make us better people, counselors, colleagues and litigators? None of us want to be the next Paula Dean or Duck Dynasty patriarch!  As lawyers what do we need to know about diversity and trial tactics to provide our clients with the best defense? In a medical case it’s a given that throughout the case we will encounter many people with who look different than us, practice different religions, come from different cultures, and so on. From the patients, to the admissions clerk, to the nursing staff, to doctors, clients and jurors, the various human differences are mind boggling. How do we go from “tiptoeing” around our differences to weaving diversity into our cases to achieve winning strategies? 

Learn more about how you can address diversity issues in your practice and during trial at DRI’s Medical Liability and Health Care Law Seminar, taking place at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas March 20–21, 2014. You will not want to miss the presentation on “Diversity in the Courtroom: Putting the Odds in Your Favor.” Click here to register for this program. 

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Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, is remembered by members of the DRI Diversity Committee community as a courageous leader and the symbol of a new era for his country.  He was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, lawyer committed to the legal profession and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was South Africa's first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. The fact that Mandela could emerge from 27 years of prison with so much strength and commitment to changing his country, end the injustice of apartheid, to become the moral center of his nation, as it rebuilt itself, is a testimony to the strength of his human spirit.  The father of an independent South Africa will be sorely missed. 

Nelson Mandela’s life serves as a model for others, South Africa, Africa, and America and serves as confirmation that one courageous man can make the world a better place. 
Our profession must continue to embrace the spirit of inclusion that was demonstrated by the life of Nelson Mandela.

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The Approach to Diversity

Posted on October 18, 2012 02:24 by Alison Y. Ashe-Card

“Is dicing the workforce into pre-set categories going to encourage working together,” ponders author Liz Ryan.  In a recent Harvard Business Review article, she describes a recent diversity conference with which she was involved where concurrent sessions were held focusing on women, Baby Boomers, the GLBTQ population, Asians, African-Americans, and the physically challenged.  Ryan suggests, "We are not going to get better at confronting the differences that hamper our ability to work together by separating our people into broad-brush groups... Instead, we're going to get better at celebrating the family backgrounds, religious traditions, and ethnic heritage that our people bring with them to work. We can do that by talking about it — all the time — and by teaching people to talk about the 'sticky human stuff' in general."  She advocates that barriers will be broken down when we actively engage in conversations about our differences.

DRI has demonstrated that it is on the path to becoming a thought leader on the issue of diversity within our profession.  A core centerpiece of DRI’s diversity efforts is the Diversity for Success Seminar and Corporate Expo which will be held on May 30, 2013 in Chicago.  Diversity not only involves how people perceive themselves, but how they perceive others. Those perceptions affect their interactions.  The Diversity for Success Seminar provides a forum for attendees to have courageous, thought-provoking discussions about our differences and the role it plays in our firms, businesses and in the legal profession. 



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