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Firms broaden scope of diversity efforts to include LGBT issues

Three of the firms on this year’s top 25 largest list are not only the biggest in the state but are also considered among the Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality in the nation.gay flag

K & L Gates, Alston & Bird, and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft all scored 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index Survey. For the past 12 years, the survey has rated law firms and other businesses on issues related to LGBT equality in the workplace. Participation is voluntary.

The 100-point scale assesses whether companies’ equal employment opportunity policies include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (30 points), whether certain employment benefits include LGBT individuals (35 points), the organizational LGBT competency, which includes whether there is a firm-wide, sustained and accountable commitment to diversity and cultural proficiency (20 points), and the company’s public commitment to LGBT issues (15 points).

Other North Carolina law firms on the top 25 largest list that participated in the survey are Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, score: 90; Moore & Van Allen, score 75;

McGuireWoods, score: 90; Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, score: 90; Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, score: 60; and Williams Mullen, score: 90.

Global leadership

K & L Gates has received a score of 100 on the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for the past four years. Valerie Jackson, senior advisor and director of diversity and inclusion for the firm, said K & L Gates supports the LGBT community internally through a firm-wide LGBT affinity group. The firm also provides confidential opportunities for those who reside in countries where they cannot publicly self-identify. The firm supports the community externally as well.

“For example, in Australia we represent the producer of a documentary on LGBT athletes and in the U.S. we represent a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of gay men through reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS in minority communities,” Jackson said. “We also support many organizations focusing on LGBT inclusion around the world, including Freehold UK, InterLaw Diversity Forum, Lambda Legal, Stonewall UK, and the National LGBT Bar Association. Additionally, we are a founding member of the Stonewall Global Diversity Champions Program, a collection of companies dedicated to global equality.”

Alston & Bird has received a perfect 100 score on the survey for nine consecutive years. According to Rick McDermott, intellectual property partner and co-chair of Alston & Bird’s North Carolina Diversity Committee, the firm has more than doubled its budget for support of LGBT organizations in recent years. The firm also publishes an annual diversity and inclusion magazine called “Change in Motion” that is distributed to all employees.

“Cadwalader has big ears,” said Stuart Goldstein, managing partner of the firm’s Charlotte office. “The key to inclusiveness is hearing people and creating a comfort level for people so they feel like they can talk to you.”

Cadwalader’s LGBT Network developed out of the firm’s affinity group program. The program encourages diverse attorneys to form groups based on shared interests, experiences, and perspectives. The affinity networks function as support groups. Last year the firm was a presenting sponsor for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and initiative that came from the attorneys, Goldstein said.

Striving to keep a high standard

Womble Carlyle, McGuireWoods, Kilpatrick Townsend, and Williams Mullen each scored 90 out of 100 points. The lower scores reflect the fact that the firms do not provide transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage.

John Mitchell, a partner at Williams Mullen, said that the firm has an LGBT initiative in place at the firm. Internally, he said, the firm has strong antidiscrimination policies. Externally, he said, the firm promotes LGBT equality through its engagement with the community.

“The index gets tougher each year and we strive to keep a high standard as measured by the index,” Mitchell said. He said the firm’s failure to provide transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage relates to a medical insurance issue the firm hopes to resolve.

Moore & Van Allen’s score of 75 reflects on the index evaluations of the “soft” benefits category, which evaluates policies on benefits other than medical, and the LGBT competency training, resources or accountability measures. The firm also does not provide transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage.

“The CEI is an important metric that allows us to appraise our progress, challenges us to broaden our efforts, and encourages us to redefine boundaries,” said Valecia McDowell, Moore & Van Allen’s diversity committee co-chair.

Nelson Mullins failed to score maximum points in four categories. They did not receive 15 points, because their equal employment policy does not include gender identity or expression, they did not receive 5 points out of 10 for the “soft” benefits offered to employees, they did not receive 10 points, because they do not provide transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage, and they did not get the 10 points in the category of LGBT competency training, resources or accountability measures.

Art Coleman, chair of the diversity committee at Nelson Mullins, said the firm has begun to survey and count the LGBT individuals at the firm who are comfortable sharing the information about themselves. He said this practice allows them to get better data. “We have also developed a systematic firm-wide conversation to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion,” said Coleman.

Find the results for all businesses and law firms at: www.hrc.org/campaigns/corporate-equality-index

Follow Laurie Landsittel on Twitter @NCLWLandsittel


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