Creating inclusive workplaces is crucial for any organization that wants to get the most out of its talent. This means creating an environment where everyone feels like they belong, has equal opportunities, is empowered to do their best work, and feels comfortable making requests and contributing ideas. In this series, we asked prominent HR and business leaders about the steps they take to create more inclusive workplaces.
Hi Lloyd, welcome to the series! We’d love to get to know you a bit better, how’d you get to where you are today?
When I reflect on my career trajectory and the experiences that have gotten me to where I am now, it’s clear to see how my passion for diversity and inclusion permeated throughout my journey.
My real awakening for this passion took place during my time at Howard University, a Historically Black University. It was at Howard that I was first exposed to different dimensions of blackness and the vastness of the Black diaspora. Prior to this experience, I can now see that I didn’t have a holistic view of what it meant to be Black. It was an incredibly eye-opening and formative time for me to learn more about myself and those who look like me.
Following Howard, I went on to attend Rutgers Law School, an opportunity that was only available to me due to a diversity scholarship through a local law firm. This was my first taste of the power and impact that D&I initiatives can have, and I very much owe my law degree to that scholarship.
Following graduation, I got an associate position with the firm that sponsored my scholarship, and it is where I spent the next 14 years of my career.
Given my vocal passion for D&I, I was quickly put on the firm’s diversity committee. And, because I was the youngest person and only associate on the committee, I was often given many of the tasks, and was always eager to accept them.
Soon, I was able to run that same program that had awarded my scholarship. Given my firsthand experience of what it was like to go through the program, I added elements that I knew would benefit the students.
Two of the enhancements that I made were adding a mentorship component and a corporate share program. I took on an advocacy role and was determined to help other underrepresented students get hired.
Through the corporate share program, I was able to get students in front of clients and give them an experience that broke down stigmas and allowed them the opportunity to learn directly from in-house counsel. In totality, during my time running the committee, we achieved a 72% increase in the hiring of people of color and a 65% increase in the hiring of women.
Now, how did I decide to move from being a full-time litigator to fully immersing myself in the world of D&I? It was in 2020, when we were facing a global pandemic compounded with a social justice crisis.
I had already taken on a hybrid role, splitting my time between client work and serving as my firm’s Chief Diversity Officer.
I had a moment of introspection where I really examined where I wanted to take my career, what I was most passionate about and what kind of legacy I wanted to write. I had already been the first person of color at my firm to go from a summer associate to partner, I had built a book of business and served on all of the committees – I was ready for the next chapter.
It was at this time that I transitioned my career to serving as the full-time Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer (CDIO) at Buchanan.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a funny mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
There is one mistake, that to this day, makes me laugh when I think about it. I have to caveat that this was 20 years ago and would never happen today.
When I was in law school, there was a dean that became a great mentor and sponsor to me. I was forging through the on-campus recruiting experience and, given that I was the first person in my family to go to law school, there were a few lessons I had to learn.
When this dean discovered that I was interviewing at a law firm that she was familiar with, she was eager to call the managing partner to put in a good word for me. She offered to help me prep for my interview, and when I walked into her office for our prep meeting, she looked at me and said – and I remember this line precisely, “At the risk of offending you, please tell me that you aren’t going to go into your interview with the managing partner of this law firm with earrings in.”
Today, I look at this experience and can’t help but to laugh. I really did believe that I could go into that interview, show up with my earrings in and charm my way through.
The lesson I learned was two-fold. First, you must do your research and understand the workplace environment and profession upon which you are embarking.
More importantly, though, this experience taught me the importance of giving very blunt feedback. It is because of that dean that I now have no problem sharing blunt feedback about a colleague’s work when my intention is to help make them better.
Again, the times were different and today we would never comment on someone’s appearance, but the mistake and experience have stuck with me decades later.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Absolutely. Not many people know this story, but it truly changed the trajectory of my life and career.
When I was about to graduate from Howard, I accepted a Wall Street job working in finance. A few months prior to graduation, the bank flew me out for a shadow day. During that shadow day, I very quickly realized that between my lack of Excel skills and nonexistent passion for math – a career in finance wasn’t for me.
While some may think that this was a courageous move, it was incredibly naïve. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and there I was turning down a great position. I just knew that I wanted to be the best at whatever I did, and I was not going to be the best on Wall Street.
When I returned to Howard following my trip, my business law professor was eager to hear how it went. I told him while the trip was nice, the job was terrible and that I turned down the position and had no idea what I wanted to do.
He responded by saying that he thought I should pursue a career in law. While intrigued by this, I told him that I didn’t know anything about law or the steps I would need to take to continue down that path.
Little did I realize that standing in front of me was a Harvard-educated lawyer ready to help me navigate this next chapter. Over the next few months, he held my hand throughout the entire process.
He taught me what the LSAT was, helped me pick out books, wrote my letter of recommendation for law school and reviewed my personal statement and application.
Driven by his support, I went on to not only successfully complete my LSAT but also gain acceptance to every law school I applied to. It is because of the potential that he saw in me that I had the courage to pursue a career in law and for that I am eternally grateful.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how it’s relevant to you in your life?
“When you learn, teach, when you get, give,” by the great Maya Angelou.
This quote represents how it is incumbent upon every person who has been blessed, whether that be through your career or your finances, to give back to the generation that comes behind you.
It also showcases that learning and receiving are not singular acts – you will never stop learning and you will never stop receiving. Therefore, your responsibility to teach and give never ceases.
The greatest system that we have is communication. Communication leads to accountability, and it provides checks and balances.
Thinking back on your own career, what would you tell your younger self?
I would tell myself that your career does not need be linear and it likely won’t be. I remember when I was attending law school, and even into the early years of practicing law, I thought there was only one direction for my career to go in.
I would become a partner, build a book of business and eventually retire. I now know that you can meld your passions and education and forge a new path for where you want to grow next.
Early in my career, I always had a passion for being active in and serving my community. I would dedicate a lot of my time to nonprofits, mentoring, affinity bar associations, etc.
Many people told me that it was a waste of time, and that I should focus solely on billable work and building my clientele.
But, ultimately, the relationships I built during my time volunteering and through my leadership and board positions led to referrals and new business. This goes to show that following your instincts and passions will be fruitful.
Do not conform when others may be pressuring you to follow the traditional path.
What systems do you have to ensure your workplace is as inclusive as possible?
The greatest system that we have is communication. Communication leads to accountability, and it provides checks and balances.
To dive into that further, when talking about inclusion, it’s really hard to measure as it’s a qualitative factor—it’s about how people feel.
Unfortunately, there’s no measuring stick to calculate an employee’s happiness or how much they feel like they belong.
We’ve been fortunate at Buchanan to have created a judgment-free environment where employees are comfortable coming to leaders to communicate if they are happy. If they aren’t, we are able to create a plan together.
It’s important to note here that creating these open-door environments should not be the burden of junior-level employees to develop. Leadership needs to stand for accountability.
Another way we have fostered inclusion at Buchanan is through our Diversity Leadership Pledges, where our leaders set intentional and tangible commitments to continue to advance D&I at our firm, in our communities, and throughout the legal industry.
Given my role as CDIO, I take it upon myself to hold others accountable as well. I am not apologetic or afraid to call one of my peers and ask them how they are tracking on their pledge.
We all need to understand that change will not happen organically—that is a fallacy. To drive meaningful change, we must communicate and be intentional in our actions and words.
We must recognize and appreciate that people are intersectional and are far more complex than just race or gender.
Based on your experience and success, what are your top five tips for creating more inclusive workplaces?
- Collect the data and understand your people. You cannot create a more inclusive workplace if you don’t have a baseline of where your organization currently is. Conduct engagement surveys to measure how employees feel, what pressure points they may have, and what improvements need to be made. At Buchanan, we launched our first engagement survey at our diversity retreat. We wanted to hear directly from our underrepresented attorneys about their experiences. This was an impactful way for our employees to understand that we were seeking their feedback specifically and wanted to hear their suggestions.
- Engage everyone in your D&I initiatives. D&I is not just an activity for underrepresented individuals—it takes the support and dedication of all of us. We are fortunate to have a leadership team that fully supports our D&I commitment and is willing to engage in courageous conversations. Very early in my tenure as CDIO, we held a program where our Chairman and CEO sat down with me for a frank conversation on privilege and power and how those qualities can be used to be an effective ally, especially amongst white males.
- Explore all dimensions of diversity. Far too often, companies narrow their focus on just gender and race/ethnicity as the only statistics that matter when tracking D&I. However, those statistics stand for people. We must recognize and appreciate that people are intersectional and are far more complex than just race or gender. We have gone far beyond those two dimensions of diversity at Buchanan, ensuring we are always looking at how our firm can be more inclusive to individuals with disabilities, those that identify as LGBQT+, are neurodiverse, veterans and much more.
- Implement Affinity Groups. It is absolutely critical to be intentional and carve out space for those from underrepresented groups to connect. We must give these groups direct access to leadership and ensure that they feel comfortable and welcome to raise comments, questions, ideas and concerns. At Buchanan, we have taken this a step further by assigning each of our affinity groups an executive sponsor who is either from our board of directors or C-Suite. The executive sponsors sit in on meetings and are charged with being a voice for the group and providing them with direction and feedback.
- Diversity Leadership Pledges. Everyone has to have something concrete that they’re doing to contribute to advancing D&I. Unless everyone is doing it, it is not inclusive. What is critical to note here is that the burden of creating a more inclusive workplace shouldn’t be put on underrepresented individuals to do. Leaders must be held accountable and play a key role in fostering a culture of inclusion. I mentioned earlier that at Buchanan, we implemented Diversity Leadership pledges where our firm leaders commit to helping to advance our mission. What I am also proud of is that we published these pledges for everyone to see. A number of them are publicly available in our 2022 Culture Report, and they are all displayed for our employees to view on our firm intranet.
Companies must put D&I into their DNA. While programming is a great way to highlight different cultures and provide education, D&I must be factored into every facet of your organization from your reporting and conversations with clients to compensation agreements and recruiting.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen businesses make while trying to become more inclusive and how they can avoid them?
A lot of companies are quick to make a pronouncement around D&I topics for the sake of good PR or marketing without being fully prepared to back up their words with the proper resources, policies and change management.
We saw this happen a lot in 2020, when many organizations brought in D&I Officers but didn’t set them up for success. When you don’t give these individuals access to leadership, funding or personnel resources, ultimately, it can lead to employees and stakeholders losing faith in your proclamations and your company as a whole.
Another pitfall that I have seen businesses fall into is when they find an individual who is successful, and they repeatedly use that individual as a model.
More times than not, this can lead to tokenism and resentment between other underrepresented employees. Furthermore, it isn’t fair or acceptable to pin one employee as the expert or spokesperson for all things black, all things female, all things LGBTQ+, etc. This weaves into what I mentioned earlier—it should not be the underrepresented employee’s responsibility to move along your D&I journey, we must each play a part.
The last mistake I will mention here is that, oftentimes, organizations see their programming as fait accompli—they believe that if they are providing great programming they’re doing their part.
What I counter here is that companies must put D&I into their DNA. While programming is a great way to highlight different cultures and provide education, D&I must be factored into every facet of your organization from your reporting and conversations with clients to compensation agreements and recruiting. This is where intentionality again becomes critical in your D&I efforts.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your DEI efforts?
Having a solid grasp of your organization’s data is critical. You should know your diversity numbers and be able to access them on a regular basis. This allows you to set benchmarks, look at numbers based on region, identify growth opportunities, and detect where improvements need to be made.
One of the most straightforward ways we can measure inclusion is by looking at whether or not employees stay at your organization and if they’re getting promoted.
Ultimately, people will stay where they feel welcome, and they will want to become a leader within an organization where they feel supported. You can measure the effectiveness of your organization’s equity by examining if your employees are compensated fairly, have a fair shot at promotions, get challenging assignments despite how they identify, and are able to show up to work each day without feeling the need to conform.
Are there other organizations you admire for their approach to DEI? Can you please explain why?
I have long admired the Pittsburgh Steelers for their commitment and innovation around D&I.
20 years ago, the Rooney family introduced the Rooney Rule, a cutting-edge standard dictating that all NFL teams must interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions.
As of 2022, the Rooney Rule required all 32 NFL clubs to employ a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority to serve as an offensive assistant coach.
Since its inception, the Rooney Rule has gone on to inspire other D&I standards across industries and revolutionize how we look at D&I. Through the Steelers and the Rooney Rule, we are reminded to be bold and daring when launching new initiatives to catapult D&I advancements even further.
What do you do to address proximity bias and ensure remote workers are treated the same as onsite workers and have equal access to opportunities?
At Buchanan, we’re currently operating on a hybrid schedule where employees are required to be in the office three days out of the workweek.
With that said, given our national footprint, for many years our employees have had to navigate working together across offices.
We have seen great success in this largely due to our investment in technology, whether that be in the form of video calls, virtual whiteboard features or webinars.
At the end of the day, I believe that while we can be effective in collaborating at a distance, nothing can truly replace in-person collaboration and the value it has on building relationships with colleagues and clients.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
I would love to have a private lunch with Ken Chenault, former CEO and Chairman of American Express.
For anyone unfamiliar, Ken was shattering glass ceilings before many of us even knew what that term meant.
Despite being a Black man with odds stacked against him, he rose through the ranks to become a global business executive, an achievement rare for someone who looks like him.
If I had the opportunity to speak to Ken, I would ask about his leadership style, how he navigated being the first and only in so many circumstances, what he would do differently—the list goes on and on!
Thank you Lloyd, some great insights in there! How can our readers further follow your work?
We offer many great resources for individuals looking to learn more about D&I topics and trends. I host a podcast Dimensions of Diversity, available wherever you listen to podcasts, where I feature other thought leaders to discuss diversity in the workplace and broader society.
Additionally, Buchanan’s Diversity & Inclusion Council hosts regular webinars where we hold long-form discussions on everything from social justice in healthcare to code-switching while Black.
I frequently share our latest podcast episodes and upcoming events on my LinkedIn and would be open to connecting with any readers who are interested in starting a conversation on something they read here.
More interviews from the series