e006. Modeling Transparency with Iveliz Crespo

Iveliz Crespo (they/them) is a Senior Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisor at Reed Smith LLP. Reed Smith is an international law firm dedicated to helping clients navigate their businesses through complex disputes, transactions, and regulatory matters. The firm spans 30 offices with 3,000 people, including 1,700 lawyers.

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In this episode, Iveliz explains how the firm is modeling transparency around its DEI goals to further inclusion in the legal industry globally.


“Modeling Transparency” Full Episode

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[00:00:11] Announcer: This is including you the new series from lead at any level. Including you features stories from chief diversity officers and other executives who are creating inclusive cultures in their organizations. Our goal is to show what’s working in companies just like yours to give you the tools you need to keep pushing for progress in your own workplace.

We want to create belonging and opportunity for everyone, including you, and now here’s your host, Amy C Waninger.

Amy: Welcome to including you. My name is Amy C. Waninger. I’m the host of including you and the CEO of lead at any level. My guest today is Iveliz Crespo. They’re a senior global diversity equity and inclusion advisor at Reed Smith.

[00:01:00] LLP. Reed Smith is an international law firm dedicated to helping clients navigate their businesses through complex disputes, transactions and regulatory matters.

The firm spends 30 offices with 3000 people, including 1700 lawyers Iveliz, welcome to the show.

[00:01:18] Iveliz: Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.

[00:01:21] Amy: I am thrilled to have you. When I was doing the research for the show, I found something really interesting on the Reed Smith website that I want to talk to you about.

But before we get to that, I want to ask you, why is diversity equity and inclusion, such an important initiative for Reed Smith. They’re obviously putting a lot of energy and a lot of investment behind it.

[00:01:41] Iveliz: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that I think is important to start off with is that, this isn’t something new for us.

We’ve had a DEI program for over 20 years. So, the commitment is something that is deeply ingrained within our organization. It’s ingrained in our core values and throughout every single department at the firm, We know

[00:02:00] that diversity equity and inclusion makes us a better law firm. We also know that it strengthens our services that we provide to clients and then advances our relationship, these clients, and also our stakeholders, and I think lastly, it really sets us apart from other law firms.

[00:02:17] Amy: So, you really looking at a long-term sustainable competitive advantage with your DEI programs internally and externally, right? I think that’s fantastic, and this is a drum that I keep trying to beat for people who say, I don’t know why we need to invest in this, I don’t know why we need to do this, now, now it’s too late. 20 years ago was probably the right time to start it. I alluded to this on your website, on the regional website, you have like many companies would publish an annual report. Reed Smith publishes a DEI annual report, and I wanted to ask you a little bit about how long have you been doing that?

Where does it come from and what kind of results have you seen from doing that?

[00:02:59] Iveliz: Yeah, I know that it predates me. I’m not exactly sure how long we’ve been doing it, but definitely for several years. And part of why we do that is that, we’re doing all of these amazing things. They’re great, they’re innovative, they’re thought-leading but what we want to do is not just create change within our own law firm. We want to change the industry, and in order to do that, we need to model transparency, and so part of why we share that information is, as an incentive to other law firms, to people across our industry to really challenge them right.

To improve their practices and create a better profession for us all.

[00:03:38] Amy: And so, are you seeing that you’re moving the needle with that? are you seeing other law firms get on board with this level of transparency or is it more of a, is it more of a I’m imagining like a middle school dance, right? Where one person goes out and dance and then all the other people are going to in the back going well, we’ll wait and see if they fall.

[00:03:55] Iveliz: I think we’ve seen, certainly seen success, right? We’ve done things, we’re

[00:04:00] one of the law firms to do several things first and we’re seeing more and more law firms really adopt these kinds of initiatives. So, I definitely do think that we are all moving into the direction where people are caring more and more about these things, and one, yes, I want to say Reed Smith is certainly taking a lead, but a lot of that also has to do with the industry overall, we’re seeing this big push from clients, from the bar associations. We’re seeing this big push from, academia and law schools, and so I think all of that is culminating into a really area to innovate, to do things that we haven’t done before. Because as we’ve seen, despite all of these efforts, our numbers, as an industry, haven’t really improved over the last 20 years, and so I do think that, modeling transparency is key. We want people to know what we’re doing and how we’re attacking these issues.

[00:04:51] Amy: And when you talk about the transparency, you have your numbers, your representation, numbers, your participation numbers, how the

[00:05:00] demographics are distributed throughout the company, and what your benchmarks and your targets are for those numbers, and you’re reporting annually to all of your stakeholders that you mentioned, your clients, your employees your industry partners, all of that.

What those numbers look like for you as a company? What kind of response have you gotten internally, externally from posting those numbers?

[00:05:23] Iveliz: I think by and large, our clients are always impressed with how transparent. I’ve heard a number of our main clients are, or a number of our clients, opine and talk about how, our report really sets us apart.

that’s, it’s one of the most comprehensive reports they’ve seen come out of a law firm. So, I do think that it’s been well received, at least on the client end. I think internally, we use that as a marketing, and so I know that many different departments use that to send to their clients, their contacts, recruits people that we’re trying to hire whether they’re in like entry-level or lateral or even at the partner

[00:06:00] level, and so I do think that it’s been well-received, it does a great job of kind of outlining all of the amazing things that, and really, I think in my opinion helps us set ourselves apart.

[00:06:12] Amy: so in your report, you highlight a women’s network that seems to have real prominence in this work. Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:06:21] Iveliz: Absolutely, our winners network is actually unique. The women’s network, sorry called winners. It’s actually unique because it’s separate from our DEI program and there are several reasons for that, predominantly historically, we know that the issues that have impacted women across the globe look very different so we have a separate program that’s really designed. To look at that issue, not just within the U S but also globally, which our DEI program does as well. But we knew that because of the issues that women face in the legal industry that we needed to put renewed and extra focus on that.

So, they are two separate programs who work very closely together, obviously because we’re all championing for the same issues. But we do

[00:07:00] know that the issues that are impacting women look a little bit different and so they need a different approach.

[00:07:07] Amy: And that’s just one of several ERDs or networks that you have, right?

[00:07:13] Iveliz: Yes. That’s a group that specifically focused on women. We also have, in addition to that program, we have a set of business inclusion groups and those are groups that really target specific populations to help improve our policies, practices, our recruiting efforts and help drive inclusion and create a space where people can feel like they belong.

[00:07:35] Amy: So similar to, women’s issues are a little bit different in different places in the world.

Culturally speaking, I know that you have your global organization with a network for LGBTQ employees, LGBTQIA plus employees, and culturally, that can be a little tricky globally, right? Because in some places, just the identities themselves are not only marginalized, but in some cases, criminalized, how are you addressing

[00:08:00] that as a global organization?

[00:08:02] Iveliz: Absolutely, I think, we take the firm position that we are one law firm, and there are cultural nuances in every single office, but one of our priorities is making sure that, inclusion exists in all of our offices, and so we, we make sure that we know that LGBTQ folks have a firm understanding that they are included.

When we have instances where someone may be traveling to an office that maybe not as accepting, we have a process and a practice in place just to make sure that person feels supported and knows that irrespective of where they are, they’re still a part of a Reed Smith family and inclusion to us is paramount.

And so it’s something that we highly prioritize. And again, those approaches look different across our offices, like any approach for any given group across our offices. But it’s something that I’m proud to say that, inclusion at the heart of it is what we prioritize.

[00:08:54] Amy: I’ve heard it said that diversity is different everywhere, but inclusion is the same around the world.

[00:09:00] Iveliz: I really liked that quote. I’ve actually don’t think I’ve actually heard that yet, but I really do like that quote.

[00:09:07] Amy: I like that you have a feedback loop into policies and practices from your networks, because I think a lot of times companies miss that step, they want to have these sorts of grassroots efforts, but they don’t really take the initiative to create advisory responsibilities for those networks or to listen to the feedback from their networks.

Can you talk to us a little bit about policies that have changed because of that engagement because of that advisor?

[00:09:29] Iveliz: Yeah, absolutely. I will touch on that, but I also want to highlight that it’s something unique that we do is that for every single business inclusion group, we have a member of our senior management team pointed to each group. So, their goal really is to take all of that information, and enact it into policies practices, share that with senior leaders at the firm, and we’ve seen that be successful in a number of ways. Think most recently our pronoun policy that we recently rolled out and that was an initiative really led by our LGBT business inclusion group called prism.

[00:10:00] and they really worked hard along with members in HR to really create that policy and implement that policy firm wide, and so I think that’s one of the areas where, I’ve seen that relationship really work really well. Selfishly it’s something that I benefit from right. As somebody who is non-binary and uses they, them pronouns, and it’s it, to me it’s made a very big difference in the lives of not just LGBT folks, but also. Working in a global law firm, ideally being able to identify pronouns is something that we’ve seen a lot of people benefiting from not just people of the LGBT community.

[00:10:36] Amy: this is one of those policies or one of these initiatives that I think people overlook or they discount because they say it’s too niche, and it’s a lot like when you have disability inclusion or accessibility, it’s not just the people that are targeted by those policies or that are most vocally advocating for those policies that benefit from them, and so I remember working on global teams where

[00:11:00] I didn’t know who I was talking to or who was going to be in a meeting because I wasn’t familiar with, the naming convention. So, the gender conventions of naming in different cultures in different countries, or for people who don’t have, the luxury of the visual cues, right?

Maybe they use screen readers to network with people or, they’re using screen readers on LinkedIn. They may not know who they’re talking to, or, you know what the person’s pronouns are just by sight, and then of course we don’t know just by sight, what someone’s pronounced might be anyway.

and so it’s just a good reminder that, these policies or these initiatives, don’t just benefit the strongest advocates. They really benefit everyone and make it a lot easier to do business with anyone.

[00:11:43] Iveliz: Absolutely, and I think that’s, that’s why I like to use that example, because the benefit has been felt across the firm across different demographics.

[00:11:53] Amy: And I’m sure it helps too for you, for other members of the LGBTQ community to feel seen and valued right?

[00:12:00] by your firm. It’s not that you’ve just been swept aside. It’s not that you’re, I hate the word tolerance or tolerated.

You’re not tolerated. We don’t just let you be here out of the goodness of our hearts. We really value your contributions and really value who you are as a whole person. Can you talk a little bit about that? What that means?

[00:12:17] Iveliz: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s very true is that, at Reed Smith, it’s certainly for me, I hold many different identities that, in one way or another are marginalized and have been historically excluded from various spaces, and I certainly feel valued, seen, heard and like I have a chance to be successful right at Reed Smith. But that’s really a Testament to how we value diversity.

We recognize that within every single person, there are multiple identities going on, and all of those identities converge, to create the people that we’re working with impacts values, impacts how we approach issues, how we tackle client matters, and so I think we have really

[00:13:00] learned the value of it and it’s something that shows in all of our practices, from how we prioritize staffing client matters to how we prioritize the allocation of work which is something that we’re working on now and I’m very proud of that because I think, it’s something that really does set us apart.

[00:13:18] Amy: You mentioned that you are working on this allocation of work and how you assign that. Can you talk a little bit more about that? About what’s next and what you’re still what’s still left to d for Reed Smith?

[00:13:29] Iveliz: Yeah, absolutely,  we’re hiring new people. So, I think that’s the first step, is recognizing that we need to really put some resources to this.

and the reason we’re doing that, it’s not like Reed Smith is alone in this work allocation journey. This is an issue that is impacting many law firms and many legal departments. And we know from research in the industry that this is one of the barriers that prevents people of color people with disabilities, LGBTQ folks, women from really

[00:14:00] advancing within the profession, and so it’s something that I think many different pockets within the industry are really working hard to address, and we’re no different, right? We realized that, internally we need some expertise here. So, we’re bringing in some new folks we’re designing a new program. We’re revamping our policy and practices around how that’s done.

All with an eye to make the process more inclusive, to remove those barriers that we know exist and to make that process more equitable and fair, right? For everyone involved. Because we know right when we start making those changes to make the process more fair, inevitably, every single person benefits.

[00:14:36] Amy: And when you talk about work allocation within the law firm, are you talking about who gets the high profile projects? Who gets the client-facing work versus the back office stuff. Is that the kind of work allocation you’re talking about?

[00:14:48] Iveliz: Yeah, we’re talking about access to those quality assignments, access to assignments that are going to give people, client FaceTime. Those are things that are incredibly important, right? As well as like work

[00:15:00] allocation and credit allocation. Who’s getting credit for those matters that we’re bringing in, and those are also things that we’re looking at. Because we know there’s a lot of bias that goes into that as well, and so in addition to, the types of work people are working on, we’re looking at the types of credit people get for the work that they’re working with.

[00:15:16] Amy: That’s the important point because I don’t know what the cases at Reed Smith and I’ve heard from other law firms that unless you’re a partner, you don’t necessarily get credit for bringing in revenue generating work, and that exacerbates the pay disparities that exist for historically excluded and historically marginalized people, but it also drives away people that might otherwise be, eligible for promotion or  eligible for career pathing within a company or within a firm because it takes so long to recoup, the expense of your education or to, feel like you’re really being valued by the firm. So I’m wondering, is that part of it as well?

[00:15:58] Iveliz: Absolutely, and I also think a

[00:16:00] lot of it has to do with bias, affinity bias. So, it’s not just, differences in tenure it’s also counteracting what we know happens in every organization. Which is that people tend to give work and credit differently depending on who the people that they’re giving that work in credit to are.

So, some people have more access to opportunities simply because of things like affinity bias, which makes sense. We tend to gravitate and trust people who are like us. And that impacts a lot of opportunities in the workplace, and so thinking about a more equitable way to give out those assignments is also something that is incredibly important. Because we know that if we leave it up to even the best intention to folks, we might still be susceptible to bias. So, creating a more equitable process, one that mitigates bias is something that is a top priority for us.

[00:16:50] Amy: Yeah. And it does two things, it makes it equitable for the people that need getting those opportunities, it I guess three things, it gives guidance to the people who want to do the right thing, but don’t know how

[00:17:00] but good policies also don’t leave bad actors, a place to hide, and it’s really easy to find people who have malicious intent or who are trying to skirt the responsibility of doing the right thing.

[00:17:12] Iveliz: It’s also an efficiency thing, in addition to all of those things where yes, it’s good for business. Yes, it’s good for morale. Yes. It’s good for us because we fully believe in these things. It’s also a matter of efficiency, right? It helps streamline the delegation of work in a more efficient way rather than just relying on, giving out this work to continuously giving the same work to one person, it helps expand people’s ability to work on different matters. And it creates a more efficient process for us.

[00:17:42] Amy: And I would imagine it also helps with succession planning because then you’ve got people who are cross trained and who have, had higher stakes projects and higher stakes work over their careers built up to that point.

[00:17:52] Iveliz: Yeah,

[00:17:53] Amy: so it’s winning all around. Is there anything else you want to share with our listeners, with our viewers about what you

[00:18:00] think is the secret sauce at Reed Smith? That’s really moving the needle for you.

[00:18:03] Iveliz: Yeah, I think for me, one of the things that I really appreciate is one, our program is pretty expensive.

But what I like most is that we recognize that it’s not a one size fits all approach. We’re not afraid to innovate, and while diversity, equity and inclusion are often lumped together. We are Reed Smith very much know that those are distinct concepts, and so we need to approach each differently, and so we have different metrics.

We have different ways and different programs really to address each one of those things, and I think that is what makes us successful, right? Because we’re not solely focused on diversity. We’re not solely focused on inclusion. We’re looking at equity and we’re asking those hard questions. And I think that is what really makes us successful is that we know it’s not a one size fits all approach and we’re not as scared to innovate and try to fix these issues.

[00:18:57] Amy: I think it’s fantastic that you’re doing this so

[00:19:00] systemically, but also in ways that impact each industry at the intersections of all of their identities. I think that’s so important.

Iveliz: Absolutely.

Amy: Iveliz, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate you, and I look forward to seeing more great work and next year’s annual report from Reed Smith.

[00:19:16] Iveliz: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:19:21] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of including you join me next week when my guests will be Jorge Quezada from Granite Construction.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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