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LGBT equality a firm priority

December 14, 2016

index-factbox.jpgLaw firms have embraced equality for LGBT employees in their policies more than any other industry, and five firms with a significant presence in Indiana have earned top marks for inclusiveness, a new study reveals.

Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Littler Mendelson, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart P.C. and Quarles & Brady LLP each achieved a perfect score of 100 for company policies and benefits that promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index 2017.

Chicago-based Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, which has an office in Schererville, also scored 100. Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg scored a 90 and was the only other Indiana law firm ranked in the survey released earlier this month.

For FaegreBD, Frost Brown Todd, Littler Mendelson and Quarles, the distinction continues a commitment that has earned the firms perfect scores for several years running. Ogletree Deakins earned its first perfect score on the annual survey that evaluates policies of Fortune 1000 companies and other firms in various industries.

“This distinction is the result of continued and dedicated collaboration among firm leadership, the diversity and inclusion team, our HR and benefit professionals, and our employees,” said Kim Amrine, diversity and inclusion director in Frost Brown Todd’s Cincinnati headquarters.

“We are proud to once again be recognized by the Human Rights Campaign for our ongoing efforts in advancing LGBTQ initiatives in the workplace,” said Tom Bender and Jeremy Roth, co-managing directors of Littler, in a statement. “Here at Littler, we recognize, encourage and celebrate the power of diversity to make us a better and smarter firm.”

Brita Horvath Horvath

Brita Horvath, FaegreBD’s director of diversity and inclusion, said the HRC’s index is a holistic measure of a company’s inclusive culture and also provides firms a destination for understanding best practices.

“They do that in a way that parallels the changing and evolving dynamics in the LGBT community, in society and in the workplace,” Horvath said.

An inclusive workplace is attractive for numerous reasons, said Heather Wilson, member-in-charge of Frost Brown Todd’s Indianapolis office. For instance, she’s seen firsthand in recruiting law school grads and lateral hires how important the firm’s commitment is.

Wilson Wilson

“Clients for quite some time have told us the importance of diversity. They themselves have these commitments to diversity and inclusion, and they expect their law firms to have these commitments and really mean it,” Wilson said

“Lawyers want to come to a place where they feel included,” she said. “If you’re not walking the walk, you’re not going to keep them.”

Fast-moving change

index-rating-factbox.gifThe index reports that 112 law firms nationwide earned a top rating of 100, far away the industry with the most companies providing equitable policies and benefits for LGBT workers and spouses. Next on the list was banking, where 69 companies earned top marks, followed by retail and consumer products, and insurance, at 38 and 36 companies, respectively.

Horvath said it’s not surprising that the legal profession, with its institutional regard for individual rights, performed so well on the survey.

Overall, 517 businesses in the survey scored a 100 — a dramatic increase compared with 2002, when just 13 companies did.

Ebert Ebert

Kim Ebert, former managing shareholder in Ogletree’s Indianapolis office, said the firm’s commitment started with employees identifying diversity as a company value and management pursuing and implementing those policies.

“We feel very proud of the recognition we’re receiving,” Ebert said, adding the commitment makes business sense for the labor and employment firm.

“It’s something our clients value and place a high priority on in terms of the commitment of our lawyers to diversity and inclusion,” he said. It also helps the firm to have a wider array of viewpoints. “You end up with typically better business outcomes.”

That’s what Quarles & Brady partner George Marek in the Milwaukee office believes, too. “As an LGBT attorney, I know the benefits of working in an organization that values diversity, and where I can bring my entire self to the table.”

Striving for inclusion

Rosemond Rosemond

Dawn R. Rosemond, a Barnes & Thornburg partner who works in the firm’s Fort Wayne office, was appointed to the new position of director of diversity, professional development and inclusion at the firm when the position was established this fall. She said the firm takes the survey seriously and uses it to see how it can improve.

“Bottom line, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Barnes & Thornburg is ‘all in’ like never before,” she said. “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far and are excited about where we are going.”

Ebert noted that firms really didn’t begin to strongly consider LGBT-inclusive policies as priorities until about the last 10 years or so. He said little is subjective about the ratings in the index, which gives firms a clear indication of the commitments required to earn the HRC’s “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” designation.

For instance, if a firm’s health care benefits don’t extend to same-sex spouses or they’re not transgender-inclusive, the firm will lose points in the ranking and thus lose the designation.

“The criteria are very specific,” Ebert said. “You can’t fake it.”

Building a culture

barber-linden-mug Barber

Linden Barber, managing partner of the Indianapolis office of Quarles & Brady, said the work of building a firm that values inclusiveness “starts with an organizational and personal culture and commitment to respect and valuing every individual.” He said the 100 score is gratifying, but it’s also “a reflection of who we are in terms of respect for people.

“Firms that don’t embrace the value of a diverse workforce are going to find themselves with a talent deficit,” he said, and also will be at a disadvantage in getting work from firms that value LGBT equality.

Horvath said for years FaegreBD has had a free-standing department that stresses diversity and inclusion across all functions of the firm. That was part of an evolution of how firms build a culture of inclusion. Where diversity and inclusion policies once were the purview of human resources departments, the responsibility has become more of a firm-wide and organic concern.

“We do a lot of work where we collaborate in very customized ways,” Horvath said. Better, more creative solutions result, she said, from “having diverse teams of lawyers working together.”•

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