31 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – MARCH 2024 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM ROUNDTABLE strategy. That has multiple focus areas: linking I&D strategy to business, legal, and HR objectives; being the conduit for I&D communication between internal stakeholders; identifying opportunities to embed I&D into business operations; spearheading external I&D partnerships; and serving as the main external I&D ambassador. In Mewburn, we see the CDO role as a key part of being a forward-looking firm. Recent years have seen shifts in societal expectations of equality and workplace culture, shifts reflected by our current colleagues and clients, as well as our potential future recruits and business partners. Moreover, the developing body of data on how I&D relates to business performance consistently shows that diverse organisations outperform their more homogenous peers. We, therefore, believe that leading on I&D is critical for sustaining Mewburn’s strong growth and performance. LESLIE RICHARDS-YELLEN, chief diversity officer, Sidley Austin: I’ll start with my thoughts on the significance of the Chief Diversity Officer role in law firms. By utilising the “chief” designation, the firm is sending a strong internal and external signal about its support for DEI. The “chief” title implies that the diversity leader is fully accepted and integrated into the firm. Titles aside, some law firms intentionally or unintentionally structurally subordinate the DEI function. For example, one indicator of structural subordination may be when the CDO doesn’t report to a key decisionmaker or have direct access to resources, important relationships, and information. Structural subordination may reflect weaker support for DEI or indicate that the firm isn’t fully open to different perspectives. For example, when the head of DEI reports to the leader of a sister function, such as Human Resources, Talent, Learning and Development, or Marketing, it may be less likely that the firm’s processes will reflect true collaboration. In many client- and thirdparty DEI surveys of law firms, a factor in the assessment is whether the DEI leader is a “chief” who reports to firm leaders. Implicit in this inquiry by clients and others is whether the DEI leader has the structural authority to be an agent of change. As for responsibilities, the Chief Diversity Officer role has been evolving at most law firms. Broadly speaking, CDOs are tasked with creating value and impact for the firm’s lawyers and staff, alumni, and clients. Specifically, CDOs, with firm leadership, must set the vision for DEI and then the path forward for execution at their firm. To do this effectively, CDOs must understand the narrative of the firm’s past, the profession’s past, and the firm’s culture and imperatives, and deliver impactful initiatives in the moment while laying the foundations for future initiatives and innovation in existing programming. Then there is the day-to-day that builds the relationships and credibility necessary for success: CDOs should mentor and support women, diverse, and LGBTQ+ lawyers and nurture the firm’s culture. They also need to be broadly available to the sponsors and advocates for DEI in all the different firm functions and departments to address the needs of women, minority, and LGBTQ+ lawyers and staff, and to reinforce the firm’s culture and goals. CDOs need to be ambassadors for firm culture - strong culture provides the foundation for the development of trusting relationships, and trust is the major ingredient for supporting an inclusive environment in which lawyers provide unique perspectives that enrich their work product. Last, CDOs should, of course, keep up with their professional network on market innovations and practices, and, when practicable, seek to adapt and implement best practices in their firms. ALB: How has the role of CDO given firms an advantage over those which don’t have such a role? BATTS: I am a firm believer that a CDO can help elevate DEI within an organisation and institutionalise DEI practices across the entire business. Ultimately, a strategic alignment with business goals ensures that diversity efforts contribute to a company’s success. An effective CDO can help ensure alignment and be a differentiator for a company that wants to truly move the needle. A CDO can also help attract top talent from a variety of backgrounds and, at the same time, send a message to Kelly Batts Robert Andrews Leslie Richards-Yellen