July 29, 2019

Creating Inclusive and Representative Workplaces – What We Have Learned from LGBTQ Pioneers

2 min

Venable's Summer Diversity and Inclusion Reception, sponsored by LGBTQ@Venable, was held in the Washington, DC office on July 15 and featured Elizabeth Birch, human rights pioneer and celebrated workplace diversity consultant.

Elizabeth offered her reflections on and key pieces of advice for creating inclusive and representative workplaces, based on her 10-year tenure as president and executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), advisor to the Clinton and Obama administrations, and a working mother.

Laughter erupted from the full room of attendees when Elizabeth introduced her talk as "From Gutter to Glory: How the Gays Did It." She elaborated on the topic by examining the journey of LGBTQ pioneers and the evolution of diversity and inclusion in the American workplace, or "what the legal industry can learn from the very bright gay people." From her time as worldwide head of litigation for Apple Computer, lessons like paying attention to detail and pursuing excellence became ingrained. In making the leap to the HRC, Elizabeth asked, "What can we do to modernize and professionalize the LGBTQ community?" During her tenure at HRC, the organization developed tools like the Corporate Equality Index. This index removed ambiguity from workplace inclusion ratings by using raw data, leveling the field for employers working to adopt more inclusive practices, or revealed those companies that did not.

Looking at the state of the legal industry, Elizabeth had some key takeaways to offer:

  1. Highly specialized areas of law are growing, while more generalized legal services are increasingly being offered in-house at large companies.
  2. Clients want to see a legal team that looks like them. And their companies are also embracing diversity at all levels, so keeping up with their change is paramount.
  3. The most important way to provide growth opportunities for current or prospective employees is through supply chain diversity. Spreading out opportunities and fostering honest competition will feed the success of a firm.

Colin Vandell, partner and co-chair of LGBTQ@Venable, commented that "the reception, including Elizabeth's presentation, was an excellent way to celebrate and build upon the firm's diversity efforts while learning about the remarkable history of the LGBTQ rights movement."

To learn more about Venable's diversity and inclusion initiatives, including Women Attorneys at Venable (WAVe), LGBTQ@Venable, and the Venable Success Network (VSN), visit Venable.com/diversity.