Taking A Commitment To Diversity To The Next Level

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: Ms. Moore, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Moore: People are often surprised to find out that I am not a lawyer by training and that, in addition, I have never worked at a law firm prior to joining Weil Gotshal, which occurred six months ago. My graduate degrees are in Public Policy and Administration, from Columbia, and I went on to spend more than ten years in the non-profit sector working with a variety of organizations on diversity and work/life balance issues. Most recently I launched the New York City Bar Association's Office for Diversity. That entailed working with nearly 120 law firms and corporate law departments. Previously I was at Catalyst, which works globally with both businesses and professional service firms to build inclusive work environments.

Editor: I understand that you became Director of Global Diversity at Weil Gotshal this past May. What is the title attempting to convey, to the firm and to the world at large?

Moore: I am the third person to be in a full-time diversity role at Weil. Lisa

Cuevas, my immediate predecessor in this role, was recently promoted to head up Strategic Associate Programs. She was the Director of Global Diversity, and the title was new when she assumed it nearly four years ago. Global Diversity reflects responsibility for the firm's diversity and inclusion efforts on a worldwide basis. And the title is meant to communicate the comprehensive nature and the breadth and depth of these efforts. By way of example, I just returned from conducting diversity training for our attorneys and staff in the firm's Paris, Prague and Budapest offices.

Editor: In light of Weil Gotshal's longstanding commitment to diversity, would you share with us your thoughts at the time of your arrival on what needed to be done to move the firm forward?

Moore: Having been engaged on the outside in moving diversity forward for such a long time, it was no small decision to join a law firm and focus on making decisions from the inside. I did know something about both the diversity challenges and the level of commitment to diversity in the legal community, however. Weil Gotshal was at the top of my mental list of firms truly committed at every level. Weil was actively engaged in moving diversity forward, both because it was the right thing to do and the smart thing to do, long before most other firms had even considered the diversity discussion. They were not afraid to be ahead of the curve, and, indeed, in many ways they were the profession's leader in making real systemic change. Nearly 25 years ago Weil was the first, or among the first, law firm to have a diversity policy, and ten years ago they were the first to have a supplier diversity initiative. When I came to the firm I was aware that they were truly ready to take things to the next level. One aspect of the next level concerns accountability, which is not part of the traditional law firm model. It means providing tools for department, practice group, and office heads to measure progress and prioritize where change needs to occur in their groups. It also means enabling the firm's senior leadership to understand what it is really like to be a member of a minority group. Finally, it is about addressing the work/life balance issues, something that is extremely difficult in a professional services firm but is one of the principal ingredients in addressing women's advancement.

Editor: Please bring us up to date on your current diversity initiatives.

Moore: With respect to global diversity, we have long included our London office in our diversity efforts, and just over a year ago we really started going global. We developed a Cultural and Diversity Assessment for our Continental European offices, which included conducting a survey, interviews, and focus groups. They permit us to understand the diversity challenges in these particular locations. We then piloted a customized version of our U.S. and UK training in Warsaw, Munich and Frankfurt.Based on their feedback, we delivered the final phase of training for attorneys and staff in Paris, Prague and Budapest.

Editor: There are cultural differences to be addressed here. How do you bridge the gap?

Moore: The secret is avoiding any notion that you are imposing an American concept. That simply does not go over well. What does is a focus on the diversity issues prevailing at a particular office and the steps necessary to create a truly interactive atmosphere at that site. This is about the particular people in that room at that time and their issues. In this regard, it is important to understand that inclusion and exclusion are universal concepts.

Also, gender issues tend to transcend international boundaries. We just held a Women@Weil meeting last month in Warsaw, and it is apparent that there is a real hunger for these issues to be aired and addressed. We understand that we are often the first in some of these locations to offer women's client events and, needless to say, we receive a great deal of positive feedback.

Editor: How do you measure progress in places where diversity and a culture of inclusiveness have not been longstanding values?

Moore: Well, you set a baseline about the awareness that is there and the key issues. That sets the stage and enables you to determine, as you follow up, whether we are making progress.

I find it interesting that Europe is, in some ways, ahead of the United States in its thinking about inclusion. Living in such close proximity to other countries, cultures and languages certainly plays a part, particularly when you compare it with the experience of traveling across an enormous country like the U.S. But, while there are certainly people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds throughout Europe, thinking and talking about racial diversity is a new development. I should also point out that talking about racial/ethnic diversity when it is present in the larger society but not yet reflected in the professional workforce - and this is generally the case in Europe - is very different from talking about it where diversity is already in place in the workplace, as with many, if not most, American companies and firms.

Editor: Speaking about Women@ Weil, would you tell us about this initiative?

Moore: Women@Weil is one of five affinity groups we have for attorneys at the firm. We also have one for our Asian, Black, Latino, and LGBT attorneys. They have been a tremendous tool in providing a community and a forum for the individuals constituting that group. They are also crucial because they are a voice that speaks to the firm on the issues that concern the group.

Editor: I am sure one of your primary responsibilities is focused on how to maintain the momentum once you have an initiative launched.

Moore: Capitalizing on momentum and following up are incredibly difficult. There is always a tendency to conclude that a successful initiative can now be left to run by itself and move on to the next initiative. One key response to this tendency is our affinity groups. In addition, this year we will be hosting our second firmwide Diversity Week in each of our offices around the globe. Each office will convene a committee of attorneys and staff to plan events focused on raising the profile of diversity and inclusiveness, and we hope that this can become part of that office's culture and daily life.

Editor: What about the innovative pilots like the New York Life/Work Taskforce?

Moore: We are engaged in tailoring best practices from accounting firms and corporations and in piloting innovative initiatives on a small scale to minimize risk. One example is our Life/Work Taskforce being piloted in our New York Corporate Department. The initiative is focused on improving the life/work balance for transactional work but we anticipate creating a model to take firmwide. Two groups of the taskforce - one looking at quick win solutions capable of immediate implementation and the other at long-term solutions for the more intractable issues - are working on this.

One of our other upcoming pilot projects concerns reverse mentoring. This turns the traditional mentoring paradigm upside down and involves junior associates mentoring senior partners. The purpose is to help senior leaders understand in a personal way how diversity issues are experienced by associates in the firm, including gender, race, sexual orientation, generational issues, and so on. In our initial launch, we will have one associate mentor representing each of our five affinity groups (Asian, Black, Latino, LGBT, and women).

Editor: What about religious diversity? Addressing this sounds like sailing on very dangerous seas.

Moore: There is a tendency to sweep difficult issues, such as religious diversity, under the rug. We recognize, nevertheless, that religious diversityplays out in the workplace in a variety of ways and that it cannot be ignored. To this end, we seek to proactively address dietary issues, religious holidays, prayer rooms, and so on. We have established a sub-committee of our firmwide Diversity Committee, and about a year ago we invited the Tannenbaum Center to meet with our senior leadership to get this initiative underway.

Editor: What about the future? What are the areas on which you wish to concentrate over the next couple of years?

Moore: I think the future, at least in the near term, is about embedding the culture of diversity and inclusiveness that is already in place into the culture and fabric of the firm. And to enrich that culture with a series of initiatives that reflect the firm's role of standard-bearer in diversity. In addition, I think we will increase our focus on the staff side - in addition to the attorney side - and, of course, on our global diversity commitments. We are working to ensure a diverse and inclusive environment for all of our people, wherever they reside, and in every aspect of the workplace we create for them.

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