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‘Health of our judicial system’ depends on diversity

Sidney Evering has embraced his role as Parker Poe’s director of diversity with precision and dedication. His can-do attitude has bolstered the firm’s effort to make its diversity program a model for others. Parker Poe’s “Life in a Law Firm” project, piloted in the firm’s Columbia office and expanded to its Raleigh operation, provides an opportunity for minority law students to participate in mock job interviews, panel discussions and presentations. Evering, who took on the role in January 2011, brings mentors from all areas of law to speak to and challenge participants.

Evering’s core belief is that successful minority law students become successful minority lawyers. Last year, Parker Poe recruited its most diverse group of new associates to date.

When you accepted the position of director of diversity, did you have any reservations?

No, not at all. I am really fortunate to work with a great group of people who are extremely supportive. Moreover, I was very lucky to be following in the footsteps of Kristi Walters, who originally served as Parker Poe’s director of professional development and diversity. Kristi really laid the groundwork and got the ball rolling when it came to diversity initiatives and raising awareness. She currently serves as the firm’s chief talent officer and continues to play an integral role in all that we do as it relates to diversity.

What has been the most unexpected aspect of this position? 

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the large number of people who truly embrace diversity and inclusion – people who want to do the right things for the right reasons. You will find those who are willing to admit their biases, acknowledge their blind spots, and who are totally dedicated to making diversity work beyond just a numbers game.

How do you measure success in your role?

I measure my success by the success of others. When diverse attorneys are becoming partners, firm leaders and are successfully accomplishing their career goals, then I know that we’re making progress. These types of success stories do not often occur overnight, but if you remain intentional about ensuring opportunities for career growth and professional development, if you try to keep your finger on the pulse of how people are truly doing, and if you address issues in a consistent and timely manner, then your chances for success are increased.

What do firms considering a position such as yours need to know?

The first thing I believe they need to know is that support from firm leadership is essential. Beyond being responsible for the allocation of resources, firm leaders are instrumental in setting the tone and creating an atmosphere that embraces diversity and inclusion. In addition, I believe a firm must be intentional about its support of diversity and inclusion. For example, diversity and inclusion is a part of Parker Poe’s strategic plan. It means the firm is committed to taking the necessary steps in a measured and thoughtful way that ensure our firm is diverse, inclusive and is meeting and exceeding our clients’ needs and expectations.

Finally, any firm considering creating a similar position should know that one person can’t do it alone. At the very least there should be a diversity committee or a group of individuals who are willing to commit time outside of their practices to assist in developing and implementing initiatives that will help the firm accomplish its diversity-related goals. Ideally, this group of individuals would themselves be diverse, not just in terms of race and gender, but in experience, age, background and so forth.

Do you envision a time when positions such as director of diversity will be unnecessary?

Yes, I certainly do. But unfortunately, I know we still have some ways to go. The legal community faces significant challenges in terms of getting diverse students into and through the pipeline and even greater challenges of ensuring opportunities for success once these students graduate law school. However, the health of our judicial system hinges on their success. As the nation’s demographics become increasingly more diverse, it is imperative that our judicial system reflects this diversity. I’m always mindful of this bigger picture aspect of my work and this is why I find it so rewarding.

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