Upstanding Allies in Diversity: Taking its inclusive approach to new heights, Weil actively engages employees – and clients – in its program’s efforts

Monday, November 7, 2016 - 22:10

Workplace diversity has become an increasingly important topic over the past several years. With more organizations recognizing the need and importance of investing in diversity and inclusion, some are launching new programs and initiatives. For example, within the past few months, Starbucks launched its Upstanders campaign, which is its first original content series, aiming to inspire people to engage in acts of compassion, citizenship and civility. In order to explore the important topic of workplace inclusion, we sat down with Weil Global Diversity and Social Responsibility Director Meredith Moore to discuss Weil’s own Upstander program, which the firm launched in November 2015. Her remarks have been edited for length and style.

MCC: Tell me about the Upstander@Weil program.

Moore: The Upstander@Weil program takes the “ally” concept beyond the LGBT community, where it has traditionally been applied, to forge alliances across all levels and demographic groups within the workplace and in the community. Upstanders are allies and advocates for people and communities with a different background than their own. Upstanders are defined by their actions. We describe four types of Upstander behaviors: listen up by learning about experiences of those from different backgrounds; show up by attending diversity educational programs and events where they’ll be in the minority; talk up by promoting the careers of colleagues from different backgrounds; and speak up when witnessing overt or subtle bias.

MCC: How did you feel when you saw Starbucks launched a similar program?

Moore: We were surprised but excited to see that such a widely recognized, global brand has taken the steps to identify the importance of being an Upstander and supporting the Upstanders culture in our communities. And I’m excited that the term will attain greater recognition so that we no longer have to define what it means.

MCC: When did the Upstander@Weil program start?

Moore: The Upstander@Weil initiative was formally launched in November 2015 during Global Diversity Month in all of Weil’s 20 offices worldwide. This launch campaign included an internally developed marketing and communications strategy, education and awareness programming for staff and attorneys, as well as celebrating and recognizing the tremendous efforts of the firm’s Upstanders around the world.

MCC: Why did Weil introduce this program? Was it in response to a specific event?

Moore: No, it was not launched in response to a specific event rather, it is part of our evolution from a focus on diversity to one of inclusion. Since 2011, Weil has had an annual mandatory two-hour diversity education requirement akin to the ethics CLE. As we design each year’s program, we listen to our attorneys and staff, and we heard from many that they wanted to do more to support diversity at the firm and in the community but didn’t always know the best way to go about it. The Upstander@Weil initiative provides a new framework to build upon a legacy of “allyship” by explicitly communicating that all employees have a part to play in creating an environment of inclusion and mutual respect at the firm. 

MCC: How is the Weil program different from the Starbucks program?

Moore: I can’t really talk about the specifics of the Starbucks program, but I can tell you about why our program is special. Our program was inspired by the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, who we believe coined the term “Upstander.” While this concept started in the education space, we introduced it to the workplace and more specifically to the legal industry. We believe that we are the first law firm (or private-sector employer) to have such a program across demographic groups – not just for LGBT or gender diversity. Other highlights include an established marketing and education campaign inclusive of an Upstander Action Guide (with 50-plus behaviors), an Upstander Diversity Training Takeaway Document, as well as an Upstander logo and style guide.

The centerpiece of our rollout was to devote the 2016 annual two-hour mandatory diversity training requirement to interactive diversity theater, which utilizes professional actors and guided group discussions to bring the Upstander behaviors to life.

A special Upstander@Weil page was created on Weil’s internal employee intranet, which includes over 50 resources, our internal Upstander video and information on our Upstander@Weil award.

The Upstander concept has been woven into several programs since the initial launch to maintain focus and momentum, such as Professor Kenji Yoshino of New York University School of Law sharing his latest research on uncovering talent and the power of allies to contribute to powerful social change, a Veteran’s Day event featuring research from the Center for Talent Innovation, and a book talk with author Linda Hirshman on Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World.

MCC: How are employees at Weil recognized for being Upstanders?

Moore: The firm established the Andrea Bernstein Upstander@Weil Award, named after retired partner and longstanding Chair of the Diversity Committee, recognizing Upstanders across the firm and amongst clients. Recipients receive an Upstander@Weil certificate and desk items to proudly display in their offices to further spread the message. To date, over 70 Andrea Bernstein Upstander@Weil awards have been distributed to attorneys and staff and continue to be awarded on an ongoing basis.

MCC: Did Weil invent the Upstander concept?

Moore: The terminology was inspired by the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, which uses the language to distinguish between well-meaning allies who are passive bystanders from the more active Upstanders in schools and the community. However, we pioneered bringing this concept formally to the workplace. 

MCC: Has the program been successful?

Moore: Yes. All staff and lawyers are encouraged to nominate their colleagues, or even themselves, for actions large and small to promote diversity and inclusion at Weil and the broader community. In addition to having over 70 Andrea Bernstein Upstander@Weil award recipients, the Upstander@Weil initiative has instilled a new life within the firm’s already robust and existing diversity and inclusion programming, providing a space where all, regardless of their background or demographic, can find a way to get engaged and demonstrate their commitment to inclusion.

MCC: Are there any other law firms that have this type of program?

Moore: No. To our knowledge, we are the only law firm with a program of this nature. Other law firms, and employers, have LGBT ally efforts. Some companies have “He for She” campaigns or gender diversity ally programs. But no other employers to our knowledge have a broad-based ally effort like ours. 

MCC: After seeing the Starbucks Upstander program, do you plan to introduce any changes to the Weil program?

Moore: We’re always looking for ways to continue to improve and expand these types of initiatives, so we’ll continue to monitor the Starbucks program and any other relevant programs for ideas to make our program even better.

Meredith Moore serves as the Global Diversity and Social Responsibility Director at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. She can be reached at meredith.moore@weil.com.