Q and A with Karen Russell, Manager of DWT Diversity Initiatives and Corporate Diversity Attorney
Why is building a more diverse legal industry so critical?
We need all the talent we can get! Don’t let the current economy fool you. As boomers retire in increasing numbers, there will be more competition for talent. There is a 60 percent gap between the 46 million members of “Generation X” and 76 million “Baby Boomers.” Organizations focused on building an inclusive culture will have an institutional advantage in recruiting, retaining, and promoting talent.
Inclusion delivers a financial advantage. According to Ernst and Young, groups with greater diversity tend to perform better than homogenous ones. In fact, the diversity of the group’s members matters as much as their ability and brainpower, if not more.
What does the manager of diversity initiatives do exactly?
I work internally and externally on promoting diversity in the legal profession in key areas including recruiting, retention, and cultural fluency.
Running our diversity programs is an inclusive, team effort. I work with our managing partner and the PRISM committee on strategy and execute that vision with team members in departments such as marketing, human resources, and professional development.
The diversity team also helps our attorneys complete client diversity surveys. We host cultural events and sponsor diversity events in the legal community.
We also create partnerships with clients, such as the Microsoft Mentoring Program. Many of the clients I work with have cultures that mirror ours. Our corporate culture encourages innovation, so I feel free to push the envelope when it comes to creative problem solving. As a result, we have created award-winning and cutting-edge programs in the diversity and inclusion arena.
I also help outside clients with their diversity and inclusion concerns, and conduct diversity, harassment and leadership training. In addition to assisting with strategic planning, I collaborate with our clients’ diversity professionals to take their inclusion game to the next level.
What prompted you to get involved with diversity in the legal industry?
My parents were civil rights activists, and my dad, NBA legend Bill Russell, was the first African-American coach in sports, so I feel diversity is in my DNA. I’ve always been inspired by his team approach to winning. Inclusiveness helped make the Boston Celtics one of the great sports franchises in history. Diversity was a winning tool for the Celtics, and it made sense to share that message.
I use the team approach in my diversity and leadership training and enjoy doing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for our clients. Working with clients can be as simple as meeting with their diversity committee to help jump-start their efforts, or as involved as tailoring a training program to their needs. We also create unique diversity partnerships, such as outside mentoring programs, with our clients.
Can you share a rewarding experience you’ve had as a result of your work with diversity in the legal industry?
It’s a toss-up between veterans programs and pipeline programs. Building the pipeline of legal talent is critical to the future of our profession. Plus it’s always so satisfying to mentor young people. Our attorneys and paralegals enjoy working on pipeline programs
I’m also proud to be part of an effort that recognizes the sacrifices that veterans, active military, and their families make for all of us. I was surprised to learn the number of veterans who work here, and it was cool to discover that our named partners—Mr. Davis, Mr. Wright, and Mr. Tremaine—all served our country. Veterans inspire me, and I enjoy sharing that passion with others.