It’s been nearly three years since GC magazine last examined the state of diversity and inclusion within the legal sector of the US. And since
that time, it’s fair to say that a lot has happened!
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, which in late 2017 mushroomed from a social media hashtag into a global phenomenon – one which has irrevocably transformed the film industry and the treatment of its staff – corporate America has found itself on the back foot as a renewed spirit of protest has captured the hearts and minds of the wider population.
In the current political climate, that in and of itself may not be surprising. But the prominence of the underlying diversity and inclusion issues has proved powerful. Google employees across the globe walked out in protest at what they characterized as the company’s culture of ‘sexual harassment discrimination and systemic racism’, utilizing the power of social media to spread their message and tell their stories.
Another company that bore the brunt of social media-fueled outrage was Starbucks, after two African American men were arrested in one of its Philadelphia stores, seemingly for just being there. The powerful eyewitness footage, which went viral online, prompted a public apology from the company’s CEO and a complete rethink of just how Starbucks trains its staff members to be more inclusive and recognize diversity – something we discuss with general counsel Rachel Gonzalez inside this issue.
Perhaps most importantly, such incidents highlight the fact that no matter how diverse a community or a company might be, there remains a compelling need and opportunity for corporations to help make both public spaces and workplaces not just diverse, but welcoming and inclusive for all.
But while it would be all too easy to focus on the negatives, once again GC has found that the legal arm of many corporations, fed and supported by the broader legal profession, is an enthusiastic participant in that collective project.
Consider Michael Wasser, assistant corporation counsel at the New York City Law Department. He shared with us his story of how his own battle with muscular dystrophy and the need for him to advocate for himself from early on in his life not only drove him to become a lawyer, but one willing to champion the cause for inclusiveness within the legal profession for other attorneys with a disability – visible or otherwise.
Or there’s the story of Kimberley Harris, general counsel of NBCUniversal, who has taken up the mantle of improving diversity – a real challenge during a period when the microscope is truly on anyone involved within the entertainment industry.
In the pages that follow, it’s abundantly evident that while diversity and inclusion will continue to be an ongoing issue – both for the legal sector and corporate Americas as a whole – the progress being made, and the increasing awareness underpinning that progress, gives rise to the belief that change is not just possible, but achievable. And if the examples featured throughout this report are anything to go by, lawyers – whether in-house, private practice or otherwise – are in a prime position to continue to be agents of agent.
Finally, I would be remiss to not thank our partners on this project, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Their input throughout the lengthy process of identifying the thought leaders, diversity and inclusion champions, as well as providing a private practice perspective on the issues discussed has been invaluable – and without that, none of this would have been possible.
Editor-in-Chief – GC magazine