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| 21 minutes read

CMO Series REPRESENTS - Inspiring Inclusion: Creating a Culture of Action and Accountability

This year we’re celebrating International Women’s Day by shining a light on the experiences of incredible women across the industry.  In this second installment of Inspiring Inclusion, we uncover the personal stories of our guests and the inspirational people who have influenced their journeys.

From creating safe spaces to the power of putting words into action, this incredible lineup share their insights and perspectives on the role of firms and their leaders in inspiring inclusion. 

We’re so grateful to hear from Julie Chodos, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Axinn, Veltrop & HarkriderSandria Lherisse, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Groom Law Group, Emily McKeown, Business Development Director at Godfrey & Kahn, Sarah Short, Business Development & Marketing Manager at McLennan Ross, Angela Quinn, Chief Client Officer at Husch Blackwell, Christie Cáceres, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, Sarah Kempsey, Chief Marketing Officer at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, Laura Long, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Finance Officer at Hanson Bridgett, Liz Bigham, Chief Marketing Officer at Burford Capital, Marianne Talbot, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Bailey & Glasser, LLP, Gina Connell, Chief Marketing Officer at BP Collins, Diana Courson, Chief Marketing Officer at Wiley Rein, Nicole Miles, Chief Marketing Officer at Dentons, and Despina Kartson, Chief Marketing Officer at Baker Hostetler.

Listen to part one of Inspiring Inclusion, here. 



Charlie: Welcome to another special edition of the CMO Series REPRESENTS podcast, a platform for diversity, equity and inclusion in professional services marketing. This year, we're celebrating International Women's Day by shining a light on the experiences of incredible women across the industry. On the second installment of inspiring inclusion, we hear about the personal stories and inspirational figures that have influenced our guests along their career journeys. Now creating a safe space for professionals to be hard is the foundation for creating an inclusive workplace. And our first group of guests shared their thoughts on how firms can build a supportive environment where everyone can thrive.

Julie: I'm Julie Chodos, I'm the Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Axinn. I think one important thing that leaders and firms can do to inspire inclusion is to create a psychologically safe place for their teams that allow people to share ideas and feel like they have a voice so they can be heard. In my experience, great ideas come from a wide range of experiences and in professional services firms I've noticed for the last 25 years, all of them have different degrees of vestiges of their hierarchical structure which can make some people feel like they need permission to share their thoughts and ideas for things or they feel uncomfortable raising their hand to do that. So by creating that psychologically safe space through one on ones or through group conversations where we can talk about things more openly helps them feel like part of the dialogue to contribute to the solution of things.I'm a big proponent of helping people join a conversation who might not have otherwise so that they feel a sense of impact or more purpose in what they're doing. It may seem obvious, but when people feel hurt themselves, they tend to listen more to other people, which I think tends to inspire them to also be more inclusive and think about the more diversity of thought within a team. So when I was in a regional sales role at a consulting firm leading the region, which was a true sales culture, I was partnered with a very inspiring person, Jennifer Robinson, who led the talent recruiting arm where I led sales. She was critical to the business because she ran the sourcing of all the talent that we deployed on projects. We were both two new women leaders. We joined about a month apart from each other and we replaced two male leaders who had been there for 20 years in a more traditional environment. So you can imagine that that was a big change for everybody in the organization. Especially in an area like the tri-state region. Lucky for us, we really liked and respected each other right away. And we knew that in order to be successful in creating change in the company, we needed to form a very collaborative partnership. And while that felt very natural to us, we learned as we went that that was kind of unprecedented in the firm's culture. Jen's background was very inspiring to me because she has background in coaching and she had tremendous insights into people which you can imagine if you're sourcing talent and skills to deploy on projects. She had well-honed and she had a strong ability to see long and short-term solutions for all kinds of situations that we ran into and some of those situations were really fraught and sticky. But we leveraged our strengths to manage the region together. And we learned as we went that our genuine collaboration actually inspired many other women across the firm to work together in a way that was more of a true partnership that the sum was greater than the parts and our friendship, our genuine friendship inspired others, which of course, was one of the most gratifying things for both of us that we took away from those roles. So I feel grateful to be friends with Jen and she's just a wonderful human. We're still close today.

Sandria: Sandria Lherisse, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Groom Law Group. Outside of a strong commitment from leadership,  I think the number one thing that law firms can do is actually take a pause to listen. And that means listening both internally to members of the firm and externally to clients.  I've been watching the latest series of True Detective and in it, Jodie Foster plays the main character and she's constantly prodding her colleagues, ask the question and then digging in a little bit deeper to ask the right question. Most importantly, asking the question to the people that we work alongside every day. I know at my firm, we are constantly asking our diversity equity inclusion committee as well as the advisory board that we have set up. Like, what are things that we could be doing? How do we organize ourselves around it and then extending that to our firm as a whole? Like what things do you wanna see? What cadence do you need to see in order to feel included? And outside of listening actually following through, I think that's also the key. The one person that comes to mind, and this goes to my point of having a strong commitment from, you know, the top leadership. I'd have to say without any hesitation, my executive principal, she is the equivalent of what other law firms call managing partner. And her name is Chris Keller. She has consistently been a person who holds a space at the table for not only just me but other people who may not be in a place to fight for that seat at the table or feel like they deserve a seat at the table. And for me personally, she has just been that light who is constantly pushing me to do things and to step outside of my bubble. And she is constantly trying to elevate my voice in a very, a very, a very nurturing but bold way. And, I give myself as an example, but I hear of ways that she's doing this for others. And the second person I would have to say is another principal at my firm and she is also chair of the Firm's Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee. And her name is Viv Hunter Turner. She is the firm's first black principal and she is the firm's first black female principal and I am just in constant awe of her. She has exemplified everything that you'd like to see in a law firm of just showing up every day, encouraging, trying to find motivation in others, motivating others and leading the hard to help the firm make the right changes that it needs to make, having the difficult conversations and just being a beacon of light for people that look like her and people who don't look like her.

Emily: This is Emily McKeown, Business Development Director for Godfrey & Kahn out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I think that one thing firms can do to drive equality in the workplace is to embrace flexibility. Many women in today's working world still shoulder the burden for childcare obligations and daycare pickups and they may shift their working schedules as a result, women may start their day earlier so they can leave earlier or they may sign on in the evening hours to make up for any time that they have lost and embracing a policy that allows for this kind of flexibility really helps to level the playing field. And of course, it's a policy that helps everyone embracing workplace flexibility, helps dads too.

Sarah: I'm Sarah Short, I'm the Business Development and Marketing Manager with McLennan Ross LLP in Alberta, Canada. I would say firms really just have to be authentic about it being authentic about being inclusive and driving equality when you feel equal and you feel included, that's important for anyone, regardless of your industry, whether you're in legal or not. And regardless of what your position is in the company, it's really easy to tell if someone's being fake um or being inclusive because they have to be here because it checks a box. So if you are able to understand how other people may feel that can really go a long way, show how you care and just be authentic. It's extremely hard to choose just one person in my career. I've been very fortunate to work with so many people, men and women who see the importance of inclusion. And I find if you don't feel like you're fighting for your voice to be heard and you feel you're part of a team rather than in a hierarchical structure. And you're in a team that inspires inclusion, that's really what helps with feeling part of a team. I'm lucky also to be part of a great management team at McLennan Ross. Everyone makes you feel included from our human resources managers to our office managers, our COO our director of Marketing, accounting, IT, everyone's really, we're all one team and I can't really point to just one person. I've been very fortunate.

Charlie: Our next group of guests discuss the power of putting words into action and how firmly this can create tangible outcomes promote a culture of inclusion.

Angela: My name is Angela Quinn. I am the Chief Client Officer at Husch Blackwell. From my experience in professional services marketing, the one thing that a firm can do is to assign mentors or a sponsor and that mentor/sponsor really includes the person in the meetings and at the table includes them in stretch opportunities and challenges. I think that's the best way to inspire inclusion and to drive equality. The one person in my career who has inspired inclusion for me is Greg Smith. He was our former CEO and chair of Husch Blackwell. He always included me, challenged me, supported me and gave me permission to make mistakes in order to grow, learn and move up the ladder, so to speak.

Christie:  Christie Cáceres, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Sheppard Mullin. I think the most important thing that firms can do to inspire inclusion and drive equality is to actually put in place what they're talking about. Not just have programs out there to check a box, not just have initiatives out there to be able to get a certain ranking or accreditation. You really have to be able to make sure that the people at your firm feel that what you're saying is true. Their experience at the firm is really true to what the firm says that they believe in. I'd have to say Michelle Michaels who is in the legal marketing industry. And she hired me at my first law firm and my first big law firm. And my experience with Michelle was she identified opportunities for people taking a look at who they were, what they could offer, pushing people a little bit beyond their boundaries. And I really admired her for giving people opportunities to have open discussions about where they wanted to go in their career, what was important to them. But she balanced that with making sure that there was equal opportunity for anybody on our team. So she let people raise their hands and she let people have opportunities to grow and to really see the path that they could set forth. And she just set such a phenomenal example for me, she was my mentor. She also had five Children in the time that I worked for her and I had my three kids during that time as well. So she was not only a professional mentor but a personal friend and somebody who really helped understand the important balance of life and work and how to make it all be manageable and feel successful at the same time.

Sarah: Sarah Kempsey, Chief Marketing Officer at Montgomery McCracken, I found that fostering a culture of mentorship and sponsorship can be unbelievably impactful in inspiring inclusion and driving equality within law firms or any company for that matter. This type of culture involves actively supporting and promoting the advancement of women at all levels of the organization, providing them with opportunities for growth, leadership roles and visibility by pairing these more junior women professionals with senior mentors who can offer guidance, advocacy and access to opportunities and even dropping their names in rooms and conversations they aren't in or aren't a part of firms can really break down barriers, empower women to excel and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive, feel safe, feel seen and feel heard. So this is perfect timing with Women's History Month, obviously starting on March 1st as this is also the 112th year anniversary of Montgomery McCracken as our firm was founded on March 1st of 1912. This past May May 2023 we elected Ashley Lynam as Co-Chair, obviously making history as the first woman to lead the firm and as a leader in our organization, Ashley has demonstrated a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion through various actions and initiatives. Obviously, one of which and the most impactful to me in my career was hiring me to the C Suite. Ashley consistently prioritizes creating an environment where everyone feels valued, respected and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. She has actively sought out opportunities to amplify underrepresented voices through mentorship, affinity groups and obviously inclusive hiring practices. You know, like I mentioned earlier, this has been extremely impactful for my career and it has been incredibly impactful for our firm as well.

Laura: My name is Laura Long and my title is COO and CFO and my firm is Hanson Bridgett LLP. So in my dual role as COO and CFO, really the most impactful action to inspire inclusion and drive equality is embedding the values into our operational and financial strategies. So what what I mean by that is really prioritizing our investments in diversity and inclusion initiatives such as our inclusive hiring practices and continuing training programs and transparent promotion pathways. So I think it's really important for us to demonstrate that these are values that are not just HR policies, but they're really fundamental to the firm's business model and our growth strategy. So that by aligning our diversity and inclusion with our firm's objectives, we really send a message that every member's contribution is valued and we foster a culture where everyone feels empowered to succeed. So I really think this might sound a little cliche, but our firm's Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer, Jennifer Martinez, has really been that person for me. Her leadership has been transformative, especially in how she integrates diversity and inclusion into both our operational framework and our corporate culture. This is a fairly new role for our firm. So it's been really great to not only learn from her but help her create this role and help it evolve over time. I've seen her really champion diverse talent by, you know, creating pathways for advancement. She's very involved in our associate recruiting. And she just really fosters an environment where every voice is not only heard but it's valued and so her initiatives range from things like mentorship programs to diversity-focused recruitment strategies. And they've just really significantly impacted our firm and made it more inclusive and more equitable.

Liz: Hi, my name is Liz Bigham. I'm the Chief Marketing Officer of Burford Capital, a finance firm focused on the legal sector. To me, the thing that firms should really focus on is foregrounding how diversity and inclusion benefit the business. I would keep the focus on benefit to the business when talking to clients, when talking to team in our case, investors and other stakeholders, obviously firms should want to do the right thing. They should ground diversity and inclusion in their values and culture and just doing the right thing. But starting with why a more diverse workforce will result in better business outcomes and how it will generate value, I think corrects for what may feel subjective or otherwise potentially shifting. And we certainly see that now within the US some real backlash against the concept of DEI. To me, keeping the business focused on why advancing equity is gonna benefit the business over the long haul is really the primary way to ensure um progress towards inclusion and equity over the long term. A story that stands out to me is one from Burford's own business. And of course, that's in the business of Law at Burford. We look at hundreds of billions of dollars of commercial disputes every year and for years it was very evident that a vanishingly small number of the matters that were brought to us for funding were led by a female or racially diverse lawyer rather than just being upset about that. Our Co-Chief Operating Officer, Aviva Will, worked with me to launch an initiative called the Equity Project in 2018. The basic premise of the equity project is to use our capital to fund matters with female or racially diverse lawyers in a lead role. Over the five years since we launched the equity project, we've committed about 100 and $68 million in legal finance capital to back matters led by female and racially diverse lawyers. That's still a tiny portion of even the matters that Burford funds, but it's a practical solution. And since 2021 we've also made the commitment to share a portion of our profits from the matters that we fund with organizations that are focused on advancing diversity in the business of law. So, what I feel great about, because of that, is that it gives our clients a couple of business reasons to at least have a conversation with their law firms about appointing diverse counsel and it's helping to address the problem and make real change over the long term. My colleague, Aviva Will’s, focus on a practical solution to really a perennial problem in the business of law is one that I find tremendously inspiring.

Charlie Our next group of guests impart their insights on the responsibility of individuals in taking positive action to remove biases and cultivate an inclusive environment. 

Marianne: I am Marianne Merritt Talbot. I am the Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer of Bailey & Glasser, LLP.  In my experience from professional services marketing and also as a former civil rights lawyer, I think the most important thing that firms can do to inspire inclusion and drive equality is to have a very strong culture from the very top, from leadership that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The word embrace is super important because that encourages people to approach each other with love, joy, and curiosity. And as part of the same community where we're all working together rather than have it be something that people feel or get the energy that it's something they should do rather than they want to do. This allows us to learn from each other and to have those challenging conversations that we all need to have in a joyful, loving and supportive way. So on that note, I encourage everybody to actually continue to learn on their own time, and to pick up a copy of Essence magazine, which is a wonderful magazine for African American Women. I am the mother of a young 13-year-old black woman. And it's important that I as her mother and as a human being, learn about the experience and the viewpoints of black women in this world. So Essence magazine is so full of wonderful articles about culture, fashion, relationships, career, and family. And I challenge anybody who is listening to this to not pick up a copy of it and not be completely inspired by what they read in its pages. The person in my career who has successfully inspired inclusion is Philip Hirschkop, who is one of the legendary lawyers who won the case of Loving versus Virginia in the Supreme Court in the 1960s. Loving versus Virginia is the famous case that got rid of laws that banned interracial marriage. And Phil hired me out of law school and trained me to be a trial lawyer and I worked with him for over a decade. So in addition to opening the door to my career, I credit Phil for opening the door to my family, because Loving versus Virginia got rid of those laws that banned interracial marriage. It also opened the door for me to be the mother in a transracial family and allowed me to have the honor of adopting my beautiful daughter who inspires me to be better and do better as her mother and as a human being every day and to make this world a better place as much as I can.

Gina: Hi, my name is Gina Connell. I am Chief Marketing Officer at the law firm BP Collins. From my experience in the industry, it's really important to be aware of unconscious bias, try not to judge and that inspires inclusivity. It drives equality and it means that people feel safe in a space to contribute one person in my career that currently inspires inclusion is my boss. I work for the senior partner. We have a very open relationship in terms of our ability to speak candidly and he actively as part of his development and wanting to be a good manager and mentor in the business, has asked for feedback if there is something that is not, you know, quite inclusive, not diverse, should be done a slightly different way. And that's really inspiring for someone at, you know, the pinnacle of their career and running a business to be so open and, you know, have the self-belief and trust in themselves to ask um their employees for that feedback. So it's really inspiring.

Diana: Diana Corson, Chief Marketing Officer at Wiley. So I think in professional services, our commodity is really our people. Our clients benefit tremendously and our firms benefit as a whole when we focus on bringing diverse perspectives and experiences to the table and while there are certainly things that our firms can do. I think it's really important for us to remember that we each have a responsibility and inclusion no matter what level you're at or where you are in your career. We all play a part of ensuring our people and our teammates feel a part of the process that they feel welcome and that they have the opportunity to add value wherever possible. Having worked in professional services marketing, and specifically legal marketing almost my entire career. I've been very fortunate to have worked for firms that have made diversity and inclusion a priority. I've had a lot of wonderful role models and I've been surrounded by amazing professionals, many of which are women. And I know you asked me for one. But I'd really like to highlight a group of women I worked with at my first firm. Many of them I worked with for 10 years or more. These women comprised the leadership team within my department and my peers and other departments across the firm. Each one is talented, not only for the skills they brought to the table, but really for the atmosphere they created for their teams to thrive. They were great role models for me and inspired me along the way. And they were also an incredible support network for me. And each other, even to this day, we though we all work at different places, you know, we have our group tech going and where we meet on a regular basis. You know, my experience with this group of amazing ladies, you know, really underscored for me that when you're looking for a new role that the team you are joining is just or even more important than the job description or the salary. It was the leadership team here at Wiley that sealed the deal for me when I accepted the position here. These jobs are hard and having a talented and supportive team around you is invaluable.

Charlie: Our final group of guests join the series to discuss the role of communications and storytelling to promote diversity and inclusion both internally across the firm and externally with clients.

Nicole: Hi, I'm Nicole Miles, the Chief Clients and Markets Officer at Dentons Canada. I think one of the most impactful things firms can do to inspire inclusion and equity is really through the leadership commitment and what I mean by that is it really goes to communication, keeping the conversation alive, keeping the expectations at the forefront of everything the firm does. Professional services firms typically have numerous leadership roles. And if the people within those roles visibly support and actively participate, paid in inclusion and equity initiatives, it can make a real difference to the attitudes and behaviors found within the firm. I think fostering an inclusive and equal workplace is an ongoing process. And so we have to constantly be looking at it and reminding all of us all of the people within our firm and our leaders, what that looks like and what they should be doing. I've been fortunate enough to work alongside many wonderful women and men who have actually demonstrated a strong commitment to inclusion. When I think about one person to highlight, I would have to say Kim Grange, she's our current Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity here at Dentons, Canada. Kim has kept the conversation and the importance of inclusion and diversity at the forefront of everything we do. She recently launched a wonderful program called Belonging at Dentons and actually probably shouldn't call it a program because it's really more about embedding the core values that make an inclusive environment into the very fabric of who Dentons is. So we're increasing accountability, we're in equity and opportunities and experiences and much more Kim along with our CEO and leadership team is really driving our vision to embrace the power of different experiences and backgrounds and to create a community where our people's experiences are rooted in the sense of belonging and through that, that's how we know will best serve them. So all of our people, but also our clients, Kim is one of those special people where when we're around the table, she always makes sure everyone, everyone's voice is heard, everyone has the opportunity to speak. She's constantly thinking about others and making sure that that sense of belonging is coming through. I think she's really remarkable in this. And I think that at Dentons, we're really lucky to have her leading our inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility initiatives.

Despina: I'm Despina Kartson and I'm the Chief Marketing Officer of Baker Hostetler from my experience in professional services marketing. I think that one of the things that firms can do to really inspire inclusion and drive equality is to promote the benefits of including a range of different voices and perspectives into the work that firms do for clients by really showcasing the successes and the positive of feedback that's received from clients. The saying goes, success begets success. And when clients are thrilled with excellent work product that was created by a team that brought those diverse perspectives to it or to the project, acknowledging the team and sharing the feedback across the firm is really a terrific thing to do there was one person in my career who to me really successfully inspired inclusion. And that was when I worked with a Chief HR Officer of a global organization who was really focused on inclusion and diversity. They inspired me and others at the organization to be sensitive to inclusiveness. They brought in consultants to conduct global cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias training. It it was really highly effective and memorable. They also reminded us that diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.

Charlie: A huge thanks to all of our exceptional guests for sharing their wisdom on this special episode of CMO Series REPRESENTS. Happy International Women's Day from all of us here at Passle. Thanks for listening.


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