Diversity: The Next Generation

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 00:00

Editor: Last year for our Diversity Issue we interviewed Lisa Cuevas,
newly appointed Global Director of Diversity. Lisa gave our readers an excellent
overview of Weil Gotshal's dedication to diversity as its credo. As Chairman of
the Diversity Committee at the firm, how do you interface with Lisa?

Bernstein: Lisa and I work closely together. Her position as
Director of Global Diversity is incredibly important to the firm. She and her
team enable the partners at the firm to leverage themselves and to get the
diversity message to a broader group of people than they could do on their own.
Having someone dedicated to the mission of diversity across our global law firm
is a critical part of the firm's commitment to diversity.

Editor: Please tell our readers about Weil Gotshal's pioneering work as
one of the very first law firms in the U.S. to set up a diversity training
program and formal diversity policy. How did this program become a model for
other law firms and corporate law departments?

Bernstein: We served as a demonstration firm for the
Association of the Bar of the City of New York's ground breaking diversity
initiative in 1992. The world was a very different place then, with the Bar,
overall, just awakening to diversity issues. (Those of us who were in diverse
categories knew all about the issues well before.) The firm accepted the
challenge of looking inward "in plain view." We began by assessing ourselves
and, in the process, touched many a raw nerve. We went on to develop our first
diversity policy, educate every person at the firm about that policy and conduct
training sessions. We then candidly shared our process with the City Bar
Association and served as a model for other firms embarking on this new
initiative.

The training we did then was very important to us but, as I'll describe
shortly, it was far less subtle than what we do today. Last year we completed
our second round of firm-wide diversity training in all of our U.S. and U.K.
offices. We trained over 3,000 people, including partners, counsel, associates
and staff. It was a tremendous commitment reflecting the firm's strong feelings.
We are now rolling the training out in our continental European offices. We
adopted a phased approach to this initiative since we did not want to take on
too much at one time and wanted to learn from our prior efforts.

The kind of training we do now is diversity and awareness training which aims
to teach people the meaning of diversity - to move away from the early 1990s
concept of diversity as merely the difference between races and genders. We
understand that diversity encompasses any individual difference that could
present a barrier to inclusion and advancement. We try to embrace our
differences and use them in a way to make the firm a place where people can
succeed based on their talent and commitment. We are pleased with our success so
far, but as we say in our Diversity Brochure, we know this is a marathon and not
a sprint.

In an organization as large as ours you will have people who embrace the
training and those who question it. However, those questions become fewer and
fewer as the training takes hold. We do our training in tailor-made ways,
because what is happening in one office may not be what is happening in another.
We try to bring different kinds of diversity programs to the firm so that we can
reach people in a variety of ways and make sure we are "heard."

As part of our diversity commitment, we provide diversity training on an
ongoing basis so that we continuously bring the diversity issue to our
population. We want to have a level of diversity awareness and inclusion
training that is consistent throughout the firm. In addition to providing
diversity training to all of our personnel in the U.S. and London, we are also
very excited that we are extending this effort to our continental European
offices. We also provide diversity training for our summer associates, each
year's incoming first year associates, new partners and lateral hires, as well
as new staff. As an example of our continuing diversity education, in
conjunction with our annual partner meeting, we invited Steve Young, who teaches
about Micro Inequities, to address our partners, senior associates and senior
staff over the course of two days. Everyone who attended could relate to being
not only on the receiving end but also on the generating end of
"micro-inequities" in his or her life.

And last year we organized a diversity client panel, with representatives
from four of our clients who addressed our partners, counsel, senior staff and
invited guests on diversity issues from a client's perspective.

We also ask our recently formed affinity groups to help us with our diversity
training by telling us the issues that they would like us to address. The firm
has five official affinity groups for lawyers: the Hispanic Lawyers, Asian
Lawyers, Black Lawyers, Women@Weil and the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and
Transgender Affinity Groups. We do envision and have had some interaction with
affinity groups of clients and envision more. We believe that is a way of
getting the message across and building closer relationships with clients. We
also ask our affinity groups to consider pro bono activities and help us select
charities to support that would extend our diversity message. Another major
responsibility for affinity groups is to act as mentors for both junior and
senior people at the firm, helping to raise awareness overall.

Editor: How do you manage to keep all members of your 20 offices on
track with diversity initiatives in terms of hiring, mentoring and promoting
minorities and women?

Bernstein: A large part of that responsibility falls on Lisa's
shoulders. We are extending the diversity and inclusion message throughout the
firm in a careful manner. We recognize that there are differences from office to
office, and we have been careful not to import issues from one office to another
where they may not resonate. In formulating our diversity and cultural
initiatives, we first do a cultural assessment to determine the particular
issues that our population faces. We then tailor the training to address the
issues at hand. For example, in addition to language differences, in Continental
Europe we have the reality that history and the community are different than in
the U.S., not to mention the challenge of finding ways to really communicate
with each other. We look forward to the time when every person affiliated with
the firm will have the opportunity to have diversity training. However, with our
global reach, that will take time.

Editor: Was the training program you use today first implemented when
Lisa Cuevas joined the firm?

Bernstein: Lisa joined the firm as we were completing the
initial stages of our next generation diversity and cultural initiative.

In the beginning, we recognized that it was important that we address the
real issues facing the firm. In addition to conducting a climate assessment to
determine the issues of concern, with the help of consultants we customized our
training to make it relevant for our firm. Within each office the program is
customized further.

Editor: You really need an understanding of the firm's history and how
each of the offices has evolved over time.

Bernstein: Exactly. This is a very discerning community. If we
try to bring in a generic program, no one would buy in. We knew that when we
began.

Editor: I assume that you use some of your key partners to talk with
the various offices providing the tone at the top so that everyone recognizes
that it is something that everyone has bought into.

Bernstein: The message starts with our chairman, Stephen
Dannhauser. Steve's personal commitment to diversity is very real to him. The
message is spread by the management committee and by the heads of the various
offices and practice groups so that there can be no doubt whatsoever that people
are expected to make diversity issues a priority. We also include diversity
metrics in our business plans and hold practice groups accountable for their
progress.

Editor: People at lower levels do not object to having it promoted from
the top?

Bernstein: No. They appreciate the commitment and guidance.
Usually at firms like ours change happens from the top. If you cannot get the
people at the top to embrace opportunities and changes, it is never going to
happen.

Editor: Is there a need to repeatedly conduct training sessions with
staff and attorneys?

Bernstein: We do not repeat training in that sense. We have all
of our personnel take part in the basic program. We continue to offer the
program on an annual or semi-annual basis, to allow new hires to catch up and
get the basics of the program. Then we provide additional diversity programs so
that we keep the issue in front of people. We do this with outside speakers and
internal resources. We want to explore new topics because diversity comes in all
different packages.

Editor: It is customary for programs to evolve over time as
improvements are introduced. How has Weil's program changed from, say, five
years ago?

Bernstein: We are more focused now. We have Lisa as part of our
staff. We have affinity groups, which we did not have before. We have improved
mentoring programs because the ones that we used to have did not always work as
planned. Our newly inaugurated mentoring program is set up in such a way that at
the end of our associates' second year, they choose a partner mentor. (We used
to assign people but that was often hit or miss.) This is designed to allow
people to get to know the firm over their first two years so they can identify
someone with whom they know they can establish a rapport. The relationship is
designed to last through the careers of the mentors and mentees. As the program
expands, each mentor will get new mentees and the hope is that that all the
mentees will form a network with each other so that there is a web of mentoring.

Editor: What measures have proven effective for retaining women lawyers
and staff?

Bernstein: A lot of it includes affinity groups and mentoring.
We also have flex time at the firm, and have been doing that well before it was
fashionable. I started at the firm as a first year associate and then, after a
few years, left to start a family. Twenty-one years ago, when my son was three,
I came back to the firm to work on flex time, not knowing precisely what that
would mean. Shortly after I was back, I got a call from a national legal
publication that wanted to interview me about the "mommy track." I told them
that I would be happy to talk to them, but I was in the middle of a tender offer
so I could not do it at the time! I was told that that was not the focus they
wanted for their article. At that time, the firm had men and women working flex
time. The firm is incredibly responsive and always has been. It has always tried
to find ways to maximize the experience that people have here and to retain
people who did not fit into the regular mold. I continued to work on a flex time
basis for a number of years and ultimately rose to counsel and partner. All
along the way, I was able to do challenging work and progress in my career,
while still being a "Mom."

Editor: Is policy on diversity matters set by the Diversity Committee
or the Management Committee of the firm?

Bernstein: The Management Committee sets policy but actively
solicits the input of the Diversity Committee. When policy is set, the Diversity
Committee determines how to implement it. We report back to the Management
Committee periodically.

Editor: How do you distinguish between a viable diversity policy and a
quota system for hiring?

Bernstein: We do not have quotas. A diversity policy helps
every person develop to the best of his or her potential. Once you have that
policy in place, you will attract the best people you can, by embracing
diversity and providing a welcoming environment.

Please email the interviewee at andrea.bernstein@weil.com with questions about this
interview.