As the nation and workforce become increasingly more diverse, and with recent heightened awareness of social injustices and economic disparities towards minorities, companies are recognizing the importance of viewing business practices through a variety of lenses. That’s why many companies are adopting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs into their business models.
DEI is a term used to describe initiatives promoting the representation, fair treatment, and belonging of different groups of individuals, ranging from gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, physical abilities, and religious and political beliefs.
Why DEI initiatives are beneficial to companies
While DEI initiatives have been around since the 1960s, they were often thought of as something “nice to have.” Today’s business leaders see DEI as a “must-have.” Companies with effective DEI programs are more creative and innovative, and employees who work at companies with strong DEI programs are happier in their jobs and perform better. Of course, that all leads to improved talent attraction and retention.
THK’s DEI journey
THK knew that diverse teams produced the best advice for their clients; the firm wanted to be more intentional about DEI in its practices but didn’t know where to start. So, they hired DEI consultant Kim Amrine in November 2020. Amrine began THK’s DEI journey with an overall DEI assessment of the firm; the assessment findings allowed firm leaders to construct a multi-year DEI strategic plan with four goals:
- Cultivate a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Work Environment
- Develop and Utilize a Talent Strategy Incorporating the Firm’s DEI Goals
- Leverage THK’s DEI Work for Clients, the Community, and Legal Industry
- Communicate the THK Story
“Kim has transformed the way we see and communicate with each other,” said THK partner Greta Roemer Lewis of Amrine. “She has injected new energy and possibility into our thoughts and actions. We are continuing to learn and grow and Kim’s partnership on this journey gives us confidence as we move forward.”
While THK is still in the beginning stages of its plan, one of its early successes included a mandatory in-person DEI training. The 2.5 hour training touched on unconscious bias, microaggressions, and real world hypotheticals, where attendees openly shared and learned from one another.
“I was able to have frank, open, and honest discussions with my colleagues regarding our personal histories and worldviews,” said THK attorney Libby Klesmith regarding the initial workings of DEI at the firm. “It seems like such an obvious thing, but I don’t think you can really understand how two people can see the same issue in very different ways (even if they agree on the ultimate goal) until you sit down and have a conversation with someone from a different background, culture, generation, education, state, family structure, etc.”
Another early DEI accomplishment for THK has been the establishment of a DEI committee comprised of firm equity partners, associates and a business professional. The committee is charged with taking consistent action steps that move closer to carrying out the strategic plan.
One of those committee members is THK Founding Partner Tom Hall. Hall understands that to be relevant in today’s world and to protect THK’s unique culture, the firm must be committed to continuous improvement in all facets–from employee recruiting and retention, to client service initiatives, and ongoing legal education.
When reflecting on why he believes DEI is an important consideration for the firm’s future growth and success, Hall said, “We need to help all our professional and paraprofessional staff recognize and respect the different history and heritage of American society. That way we can attract and retain a diverse group of members able to serve our clients.”
Even though THK has experienced early success in its DEI journey, the initiative is still in its infancy, and the firm is learning as it goes. Most importantly, this isn’t a one-time “project” that can be checked off a list and forgotten about. Looking ahead, the firm will have accountability reports at least twice a year, where it will examine its successes and progress.
“I am excited about the commitment to keeping the channels of dialogue and education open, and expanding our involvement in the South Bend and surrounding community,” Klesmith said of the potential of DEI at THK. “I believe you need diversity of experience, history, and thought to have a creative and productive workplace. These things are essential to effectively serving our clients, and they also make us better humans. Long term, I believe this will impact the talent we bring into the firm and the clients we serve.”