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September 21, 2016
Covington recently hosted a panel event in our Washington office in which members and friends of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) discussed the role and impact of diversity in corporate America. The panel was moderated by Covington associate Alex Sarria, who serves as pro bono general counsel to CHLI, and featured speakers Ray Dempsey (Vice President & Head of External Affairs, BP America, and President, BP Foundation), Emilio Gonzalez (Executive Director for Strategic Alliances, Verizon Communications), and Raquel Tamez (Chief Legal Officer, SourceAmerica).
At the beginning of the program, each panelist offered several examples of how working on diverse teams has translated into real-world business success. One of the panelists recalled an instance in which he was asked to opine on the depiction of a minority employee in a company advertisement. He explained that, as a minority, his initial reaction to the image was not positive, which surprised several members of his team. This prompted an open and frank discussion about gender and racial stereotypes, as well as the intended audience’s potential biases. Based on that discussion, the team selected an image for the advertisement that took those issues into consideration and, ultimately, the advertisement was well received by the public.
“We frequently take for granted that individuals from diverse backgrounds can bring unique perspectives to solving complex and often nuanced problems,” Alex said. “The examples that the panelists shared were a reminder that, as lawyers, building diverse teams can add significant value for our clients,” he added.
The panelists also described how recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce has become essential to maintaining a competitive commercial advantage, particularly in markets with rapidly growing minority populations.
“Ray, Emilio, and Raquel explained how corporate America has, in many ways, moved past the question of ‘Is a diverse workforce good for business?’—many businesses decided long ago that the answer to that question is ‘Yes,’ said Alex. The panelists also described an emerging environment in which companies are proactively recruiting a diverse workforce that mirrors their evolving customer base. “I think that’s an interesting perspective and one that the legal profession should be drawing on,” he added.
CHLI is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, DC that focuses on fostering diversity and diversity of thought in government and the private sector. To learn more about CHLI, please visit its website at www.chli.org.