Diversity At Weil: Dedicated To Inclusion

Monday, January 28, 2013 - 10:12

The Editor interviews Meredith MooreDirector of Global Diversity, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

Editor: Please share with our readers your professional background. You launched the Office for Diversity at the New York City Bar Association. Would you elaborate on its mission and programs?

Moore: I joined Weil in 2007 to lead its global diversity program. Prior to joining Weil, most of my work focused on issues involving women in the workplace globally and women in professional services firms. Because of that background, I was brought in to work on “Women in the Law,” a study that traced the career  experiences of women who graduated from the top five law schools over the course of 20 years. From there, I found myself consulting on women’s and diversity issues, such as workplace flexibility and mentoring, with law firms.

By 2001, the opportunity was ripe for focusing attention around diversity and motivating the profession as a whole to address it in a systematic and thoughtful way. I joined the New York City Bar Association to found its Office for Diversity, where we brought together 120 law firms and law departments committed to fostering diversity and inclusion. Then in 2007, I was offered the position of director of global diversity at Weil.

Editor: Weil hosts a Diversity Week in its offices all over the world. What is the goal of the program?

Moore: Weil’s Biennial Diversity Week, held in early February, is a week-long series of more than 50 events globally aimed at raising awareness about diversity and encouraging an inclusive environment at Weil. This year, we held our fourth such event from February 4 through February 8. Each year we have a different theme, but the overarching approach is always “think globally, act locally.” We see diversity and inclusion as a global value of the firm, and we want to make sure that, as one firm, all of our offices embody that conviction. While the key diversity issues vary greatly from location to location and each office determines its specific focus, at the same time the importance of inclusion in the workplace transcends borders.

Editor: Would you give us an example of a key diversity issue you are addressing this year?

Moore: Absolutely. We decide on our programs based on feedback from people at the firm. This year, we anticipate that one of the most highly attended events will include a workshop on managing cross-cultural relationships and a seminar on religious diversity. We are offering the cross-cultural relationships workshop in four U.S. offices and will address issues that many people at Weil are facing given our increasing global presence.  We will answer questions such as: How do you successfully negotiate with clients from different cultures? How do you respectfully communicate with different Weil offices? And, how do you work effectively with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds within your particular office? The religious diversity seminar will explore how different religious or faith traditions and levels of religiosity impact the workplace. We hope to create a forum where people can share their experiences and learn from others about how to navigate the complex terrain of religious diversity in the workplace, including dietary restrictions, attire, holidays, etc.

Editor: How do you approach LGBT inclusion in locations that are unreceptive to gay rights?

Moore: Weil does pro bono work to address the fact that it is still punishable under the law to be gay in some countries. In addition, we are often a pioneer in tackling these issues in some of the countries where we have offices. For example, in our offices in Eastern Europe, we’ve been among the very first private organizations to host groups that advocate for members of the LGBT population. For its 2011 Diversity Week, our Budapest office hosted a program on LGBT issues, which may not be remarkable in the U.S., but it certainly was in Hungary. Also, our Warsaw office hosted a conference with another outside group, and there LGBT concerns figured prominently in a larger conversation around nondiscrimination. This year in our London office, we are featuring a presentation on supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual employees as they work overseas.

Editor: Do you include clients in your Diversity Week activities? How are they engaged?

Moore: In various ways. A client will serve as a featured speaker in our London office; other offices invite clients to attend as guests at their events. Weil’s overall diversity program actively seeks to involve clients and community members. Our affinity groups regularly host programs and events that foster client relationships. For example, our LGBT affinity group hosts an annual pre-LGBT Pride Month client networking event, which usually has nearly 100 attendees.

Editor: Please tell us about the Pay It Forward team charity challenge, which you recently held for the second time.

Moore: Weil’s Pay It Forward program was developed to raise funds and build awareness for employee-nominated causes across the globe. Following on the success of the inaugural 2011 Pay It Forward program in New York, Weil expanded the initiative to its Boston, Dallas, Houston, London and Washington, DC offices. A total of 18 teams of partners and employees were provided $1,000 each in seed money to drive a larger fundraising initiative for each team’s cause. Hundreds of employees participated in the program and, through events, donations and drives, raised more than seven times the initial seed money provided.

The charities ranged from Canines for Combat Veterans to homes for homeless children to creating soccer programs in local communities. Many clients participated by joining teams, taking part in events and even serving on selection committees.

Editor: What is the purpose of the Weil’s affinity groups? What groups are represented?

Moore: We have five affinity groups: Women@Weil, WEGALA, Asian Attorneys@Weil, Latinos@Weil and the Black Attorney Affinity Group. Though informally in existence for quite some time, they were formalized in 2006. Notably, our affinity groups host biannual conferences for which we bring together the members from around the globe. (We can’t invite members worldwide for our Women at Weil conference, as that group is too large!) For example, we are hosting the Black Attorney Affinity Group conference in March, and members from all of our U.S. offices and London will come for two and a half days for client events, professional development events, town halls with firm leaders and community service. It’s a wide-ranging, substantive program that is also designed to be fun. In September, our LGBT conference will host members from Asia and Europe as well as from across the U.S.

Editor: I understand your commitment to diversity extends to the non-legal staff.

Moore: Very much so. Diversity Week is definitely a staff and attorney program. With the exception of our partner sessions, every event must be open to all attorneys and all staff in each office.

Furthermore, our affinity groups often host events that are open to staff members of their particular group. For instance, the WEGALA kick-off for the AIDS walk every year is a joint effort between attorneys and staff members.

Editor: Many law firms find that while recruitment of diverse attorneys has improved, retention of them has proved more difficult. How does Weil address this ongoing challenge?

Moore: Retention and advancement really are key issues, and I believe our affinity groups serve as a powerful collective voice so that we as a firm can understand what issues these groups are facing. In a new Weil initiative, a management committee member who is not a member of a particular affinity group serves as its sponsor. So, for example, even though we have a number of women on our management committee, the management committee sponsor for our Women@Weil group is a man. The goal is to create a better understanding for firm leaders of the issues the group faces and to serve as an advocate for initiatives the group is proposing. For example, the head of our Dallas office, who is white, is the sponsor for the Black Attorney Affinity Group, and he will be playing a significant role in the upcoming conference by hearing about their challenges and determining what the firm can do to respond.

We also work very hard through our mentoring programs to retain and promote diverse attorneys. For instance, we have a new mentoring circle program for our Women@Weil that’s designed to give female attorneys access to both male and female partners as well as to female peers. We believe this may serve their needs more effectively while also broadening awareness of women’s concerns.

Editor: Is Weil involved in sponsorship and/or pipeline programs in the community?

Moore: Yes, we work with a number of different organizations, from The Posse Foundation to Summer Search, and we have worked with specific schools such as Boys & Girls Harbor. We have invested in six or seven programs in different cities around the United States and in London. All of these locations have also been involved in the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity by facilitating mentoring programs, summer internships, college advising workshops and career days.

In terms of law school pipeline programs, we are in the second year of a diversity fellowship for first- and second-year law students. We’ve been very involved in PALS (Practicing Attorneys for Law Schools Program), which is aimed at helping minority law students not only to succeed in law school but also to make a smooth transition into practicing.

Editor: Since diversity and inclusion are never really “finished,” where do you see yourself concentrating your efforts this year?

Moore: One of the newer areas we’re investigating in our New York Diversity Week is religious diversity, and in fact we intend to do a series of programs on the subject over the course of the year.

Not long ago, our Dallas office held a religious diversity panel featuring religious leaders from a number of different faith traditions. Challenges to religious inclusion, particularly anti-Semitism, have often been addressed in our European offices. We’re realizing that we have great religious diversity within our own four walls, and so it’s important to understand other people’s religions and to know how to behave respectfully around, for instance, customs, food and holidays in a tangible way.

We’re also trying to address more concretely the concerns of people with disabilities. A few weeks ago, we hosted Disability Mentoring Day for the fifth time. We partner with the city and bring into our office students with a wide array of disabilities to be mentored and coached by both staff and attorneys. We in the U.S. need to be more inclusive ourselves in this area; Europe on the whole has definitely placed a much higher priority around disability issues. While we’ve done a number of Diversity Week programs on disability, we’re not as advanced here, so we’re definitely going to be learning from what our European offices have done in terms of programming.

Please email the interviewee at meredith.moore@weil.com with questions about this interview.