A word with Melissa Jones on Stoel Rives’ diversity programs

photo of Melissa Jones
Melissa Jones

Stoel Rives has ambitious plans to improve diversity among its legal team.

In September, Stoel Rives announced its participation in Diversity Lab’s Move The Needle Fund (MTN), a national effort to boost diversity and inclusion among law firms.

Through its participation in MTN, Stoel Rives has committed to improving the retention rate of its diverse attorneys (women, racial/ethnic minorities, individuals identifying as LGBTQ+, and individuals with disabilities) to at least equal that of its non-diverse attorneys by 2025, with the goal of increasing the percentage of diverse partners in the firm. To achieve this goal, the firm would need to reduce the attrition rate of its diverse attorneys by 40% to match the attrition rate of its non-diverse attorneys.

MTN will launch in January and continue through 2025 with an emphasis on addressing the challenges of law firms and other legal organizations, such as lack of diverse leadership, higher attrition rates among diverse talent and unequal access for diverse attorneys to career-enhancing work experiences and sponsorship.

In September, Stoel Rives also achieved Mansfield Rule Law Firm Certification, which measures whether legal departments have affirmatively considered at least 30% women, people of color, LGBTQ, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles.

The Idaho Business Review spoke with Melissa Jones, Stoel Rives’ firm managing partner-elect, to see what else Stoel Rives has been doing in this area.

Why is Stoel Rives implementing various diversity and inclusion efforts?

Stoel Rives is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse, interdependent, highly performing workforce of dedicated professionals. This commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion is not an arbitrary, feel-good goal. It is vital if we are to meet our ultimate goal of offering to our clients the highest caliber of legal service and diversity of thought. That is why the firm is participating in two groundbreaking programs, Mansfield Certification and the Move The Needle Fund, both of which are sponsored by Diversity Lab.

What is the Move The Needle Fund?

Move The Needle Fund is a five-year model program intended to help five law firms nationwide reach aggressive, measurable diversity and inclusion goals they set for themselves. Together with Diversity Lab and more than 25 general counsels and top leaders from the legal community, Stoel Rives and four other law firms are working together in this first-of-its-kind experimental “laboratory.” Supported by a combined $5 million investment, the program aims to develop bold new approaches that will serve as a model for learning and transformative change in the legal profession and beyond.

What led Stoel Rives to decide to go for Mansfield Certification?

While attending Diversity Lab’s Hackathon in June 2018, one of our Executive Committee members learned about the Mansfield Rule and how it had positively impacted firms that participated in its initial pilot. Through her participation in the Hackathon, she also learned about how diverse attorneys are less likely to put themselves forward for leadership and other job opportunities even when they are very qualified for the positions. She brought this learning back to the firm managing partner and the executive committee and all agreed the program would be a great tool to help Stoel Rives ensure that we are consistently encouraging and considering diverse candidates.

What sort of response have you gotten?

Response to our Mansfield Rule participation has been very positive. The program has encouraged attorneys at all levels of the hiring, promotion and leadership selection process to seek out and encourage diverse candidates. That focus has helped to increase participation by diverse attorneys across the firm, as evidenced by our diversity metrics.

For several years, we have been tracking diversity metrics that overlap with the Mansfield Rule areas – hiring, pitches, promotions and the composition of leadership committees. Over the course of that time, we have seen the gap between diverse and non-diverse lawyers close as we began reporting those metrics to the executive committee and all the firm’s lawyers. Our practice group leads and office managing partners also report to the executive committee and firm managing partner on the metrics specific to their group or office.

Over the past year, we have been more purposeful in our efforts and have raised awareness of opportunities, thanks to the focus on broadening the candidate pool and the tools and resources provided through Mansfield Rule Knowledge Sharing.

In fact, our success with the Mansfield Rule Certification has led us recently to become one of five trailblazing law firms nationwide to launch the Move The Needle Fund.

What percentage of attorneys at Stoel Rives are women?

46% of associates, 27% of partners, 46% of counsel, 80% of staff attorneys and 38% of those in key decision-making roles.

What is the benefit to supporting women attorneys?

The benefit to supporting women attorneys is the same benefit that comes from supporting attorneys of all backgrounds and experiences. We believe that a more diverse law firm is a better law firm. Our efforts to increase the diversity of our firm have been driven by our deeply held belief that increasing diversity – of race, of gender, of religion, of sexual orientation, of socioeconomic status, of thought, of experience, of individuals with disabilities, and more – helps us to be better legal counselors and problem solvers.

In addition, industry is demanding that the legal profession become more diverse. Our existing clients – and the clients we want to attract – are watching for progress in this area. We believe that becoming one of five trailblazing law firms nationwide to publicly commit to reaching certain diversity and inclusion goals through the Move The Needle Fund is a key strategy for continuing to win business from the clients for whom we most want to work.

Micron, Zions add corporate officers to improve diversity

photo of micron at pride parade
Companies like Micron and Zions Bank are hiring new officers to help improve their diversity. File photo

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Micron is looking at gender orientation and gender identity in its diversity goals. The company is not at this time due to difficulty in reporting.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officers have been cropping up in coastal companies for the past few years, but they’re beginning to appear in the Mountain West as well, with Micron Technology and Zions Bank each announcing such positions in the past few weeks.

Micron has hired Sharawn Connors as vice president of diversity and inclusion, based in San Jose, while Zions Bank has hired Neelam Chand as diversity and inclusion officer, based in Salt Lake City. Both are expected to improve the organizations’ diversity efforts company-wide, including in Idaho.

With Idaho’s low unemployment rate and lack of skilled workforce, companies are looking to expand their hiring pools, as well as attract a broader range of customers. In addition, studies have shown that diverse companies tend to be more successful.

“It’s an ethical and moral obligation, but it’s also very good for business outcomes,” Chand said.

Jay Larsen, president and CEO of the Idaho Technology Council, said he keeps an eye on these types of positions.

“Companies locally are very focused on building a strong, diverse workforce,” he added.

Banking and technology are both industries that have been criticized as lacking diversity. As recently as this month, the House Financial Services Committee released an analysis finding that big banks, in particular, were lacking in sexual and racial diversity. Similarly, major technology companies such as Google have been releasing annual reports to promote workforce diversity.

photo of neelam chand
Neelam Chand

Chand’s primary role for now is internal education and awareness, such as crafting trainings and workshops to facilitate conversations around bias, stereotyping and inclusive language.

“Eventually, we’ll focus on clients, but we want to get our employees to look at their work through a DEI lens,” she said, such as helping human resources staff recognize unconscious biases when interviewing candidates.

Zions is focusing primarily on racial and sexual diversity, as well as veterans and the disabled, but the company is working on what it wants to do on gender orientation and gender identity, Chand said.

“There’s a lot of conversations we’re having internally,” she added.

So far, Zions doesn’t have diversity representation goals for hiring employees, Chand said.

“It’s super important, but the vision for leadership is to make sure our culture internally is inclusive before we think about recruiting,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re fostering a space of inclusion.”

Chand reports to an executive vice president, who reports to the Chief Financial Officer at Zions. While DEI is typically tied to HR, “this makes a statement that it is very important and high priority,” she said.

photo of Sharawn Connors
Sharawn Connors

In contrast, Connors reports to April Arnzen, senior vice president of HR, and the company’s emphasis is on increasing diversity in employee representation.

“Over time, we’re looking for at least year-over-year progress in representation and making sure we have an inclusive environment, so people can bring their full self to work,” Connors said.

While Micron has had a DEI team for several years, the company soon realized the position needed to be elevated, Arnzen said.

“It has to be integrated in everything you do,” she said. “It can’t be a separate layer onto your people strategy.”

Like other major technology companies, Micron produces an annual report on its diversity goals, which thus far is focused primarily on sexual and racial diversity. The company is not looking at gender orientation and gender identity at this time because of the difficulty in reporting, Connors said. The 2019 report will come out in October, and there may be information by then about the diversity and inclusion strategy she’s developing.

In particular, Micron is looking for additional sources for employee recruitment, such as sites for mothers with technical degrees who took time off and want to return to work.

“It’s very nichey,” Arnzen said. “You don’t run into them. You have to be really intentional.”

Increasing diversity is your job, CFOs are told

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Attendees at the CFO Forum in Boise learned about the importance of diversity in age as well as race and sex. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Chief financial officers have a fiduciary responsibility to increase diversity in their companies, and that includes age as well as race and sex, according to speakers at the annual CFO Forum in Boise on June 20.

Increasing the diversity of the board of directors by as little as 5 percent leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance, said Stacy Parson, principal with Knowetry Consulting and partner with The Dignitas Agency. Given this information, CFOs could be considering negligent by not increasing diversity, she said. “If this were any other issue, would you be hesitating?” she said. Moreover, diversity is driven by culture, and culture is controlled by budget, controls and processes, and business strategy – all of which are controlled by the CFO, she added.

Companies also need to be looking at generations by age differently, both for workforce and for customers. The millennial generation is 83 million people and is larger than the Baby Boomer generation, which is starting to retire, said Matt Beaudreau, from the Center for Generational Kinetics. In ten years, they will be 70 percent of the workforce.

Millennials — which Beaudreau defined as people born starting in 1977, which would make them as old as 40 now — are technology-dependent. Companies are losing job applicants because they don’t have an Instagram account and don’t have a way for people to apply for jobs from their phones, he said. The generation that follows, Gen Z – born after 1995 – has a strong work ethic but has grown up with technology that lets them work and buy products from home. Consequently, for that generation, mobility and being able to work from home are major factors.

Beaudreau also recommended using pictures and videos to train employees, videos with testimonials from employees to humanize the company, and social media and LinkedIn to recruit employees rather than requiring resumes. Because technology trickles up, steps taken to attract Millennials and Gen Zers will still attract Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as well, he said.

Locations like Idaho that are seen as further away, and with lower pay, can still have an attractive corporate culture, Beaudreau said. Or people can live in Boise or Spokane for the lower housing costs and work virtually for a company in Portland or Seattle, said Steve Scranton, vice president and chief investment officer of Washington Trust Bank.

Companies should also be looking to attract millennials because employee productivity increases until 45 and then levels out until 55, said Kyle Healy, vice president of corporate development for NFP Retirement. In addition, almost 80 percent of healthcare costs occur after 40, he said.

CFO Forum membership includes 25 percent women, with just two Asian minorities. One is Bachchi Samahon-Oumar, president of the Treasure Valley CFO Forum, which put on the conference. The organization has no Hispanic or African-American members, and doesn’t track members by age, Samahon-Oumar said.

A Deloitte survey from earlier this year found 95 percent of respondents agreed their boards needed to seek more candidates with diverse skills and perspectives, and that 90 percent agreed that gender and racial diversity alone was insufficient. On the other hand, only 16 percent rated a lack of diversity among the top problems they faced recruiting new members or planning succession. And 87 percent of board members said they continue to source talent from a relatively small and similar pool of candidates — most of whom are current or retired CEOs — which is just 19 percent minority and 16 percent female.

As with many other Idaho industries, finding accounting talent is a problem given the tight labor market. One attendee, who asked not to be named, foresaw difficulty hiring a new accounting person because of the company’s location in a small city on the outskirts of the Treasure Valley, but said the CEO wouldn’t consider moving the company or letting people work remotely.