Even Diversity and Inclusion Professionals Need Professional Development!

With just days into the new year, are you embracing the new year as an opportunity for your own personal and professional growth and development? Or, are you already dreading what the new year will bring and counting the days until you can take some more time off from work for the next holiday?

In my mind, the difference between approaching a new year with curiosity and openness versus dread and defeat boils down to getting clear about your priorities and values, both personal and professional.

The Professional Development and Inclusion (PD&I) team at Ogletree Deakins and I feel motivated, inspired, and ready as we embrace the challenges that our work in the professional development and diversity and inclusion arena brings. Right after New Year’s Day, during the first week in January, we dedicated a full day to strategic planning, goal-mapping, and visioning. It was a day where we clarified our own personal and professional goals, our departmental goals, the action steps needed to accomplish the goals, and the support we could expect from each other as we work toward those goals in 2013.

This year, I asked the PD&I team to complete some pre-work prior to the scheduled staff development day. We began with a “values exercise,” which we borrowed from certified life coach, Phyllis M. Levinson. The exercise allows one to gain clarity around the most important values in one’s life. It asks five questions:

  1. List the five most important values in your life.
  2. List the six most important people in your life.
  3. List the three most important events in your life.
  4. List the five biggest problems/concerns in your local, regional, or national community that you want to impact.
  5. List the five people you most admire in the world.

Asking the PD&I team to answer those questions with regard to their personal lives, allowed us also to answer a series of pre-work questions about our professional lives and goals. In this regard, I utilized “A Personal Brand Exercise,” which I borrowed from legal marketing expert and coach, Jane McBride. The personal brand exercise required each of us to outline our professional goals, the relevant audiences needed to accomplish those goals, five to ten professional values needed to realize the goals, a list of our current personal brand characteristics, as well as those brand characteristics we would like to develop.

Upon conclusion of these two exercises, we moved into a discussion of goals for the PD&I Department and how we could leverage the skills and talents that we individually possess, our individual personal and professional goals, and our personal and professional brand characteristics to accomplish our department’s mission.

After a candid and fruitful dialogue, we agreed upon the following departmental mission statement:

“We want to be a catalyst for positive change. We want to use our intellectual abilities, emotional intelligence, and social savvy to create and promote an inclusive and productive work environment that offers professional growth opportunities for all lawyers.”

We then determined what an inclusive and productive work environment for the lawyers would look like. We discussed our firm-wide demographics for women and minorities and agreed on aspirational goals for increasing those numbers. We also discussed our current firm-wide attrition numbers and how to keep the attrition rates for women and minorities congruent or less than the overall rate.

Next, we discussed what an inclusive environment feels like. We devised the following two aspirational goals:

  • The lawyers are meeting or exceeding firm and client expectations and are active on firm committees and in the civic community.
  • Women and minority lawyers feel included—not marginalized—and valued for their contributions. They are given good assignments, work with key firm clients, and participate regularly in firm pitches to get new business. They want to stay at the firm and are successful in moving into leadership positions.

Finally, we discussed strategies for improving the current firm-wide demographics and for creating and promoting an inclusive environment. This robust discussion focused on many of the action steps that emanated from our firm-wide Climate Survey conducted in 2012 including, among others:

  • developing a robust set of competencies and benchmarks that are directly correlated to our hiring, recruiting, evaluation, and development structures in order to have greater transparency around what it takes to be successful at Ogletree Deakins;
  • supporting the development of minority and women leaders;
  • demonstrating and communicating the link between our diversity and professional development efforts to the firm’s bottom line; and
  • implementing a strong professional development training program to support lawyer growth and development.

To ensure that the above-described personal and professional strategies and goals are top of mind throughout 2013, I have provided each PD&I team member with a personal journal and have asked each person to take the time to record, at least monthly, how they have consciously worked toward accomplishing their own personal goals. Then, we have set aside time during the last weekly staff meeting of every month to discuss each person’s individual progress.

For accomplishment of our professional goals, we focus our weekly staff meetings on the systematic tracking of action items outlined in our three-year strategic plan with a discussion as to which team member will take the lead on a particular item and the resources needed to accomplish the goal.

Moreover, the annual January full-day staff strategic planning session is supplemented throughout the year with monthly half-day staff development days when we attend local or regional diversity and inclusion events or engage in other team-building exercises.

It is my expectation that this level of investment in both my own personal and professional development as well as that of the PD&I team will continue to keep us all engaged, motivated, and inspired to make a difference in our own lives as well as the lives of the lawyers with whom we work.

Michelle P. Wimes is the Director of Professional Development and Inclusion at Ogletree Deakins.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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