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Ann Jenrette-Thomas
Ann Jenrette-Thomas ran a diversity-and-inclusion-focused coaching and consulting business for several years. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Diversity officer seeks individual, systemic change

Name: Ann Jenrette-Thomas

Title: Chief diversity and inclusion officer, Stinson

Education: B.A., political science and women’s studies, University of Albany at SUNY; J.D., Western New England School of Law; LL.M., tax, Georgetown University Law Center

Ann Jenrette-Thomas tries to make individuals aware of unconscious biases while also seeking systemic change as chief diversity and inclusion officer at Stinson.

One aim is for individuals to be more conscious and thoughtful in how they assign work or give feedback to avoid negatively affecting the success of underrepresented groups, Jenrette-Thomas said.

Beyond that, improving policies, practices and norms is important because, according to research, people more likely resort to unconscious biases when stressed, tired or facing deadlines — “and our profession is riddled with all of those pressures,” Jenrette-Thomas said. Stinson, for example, now monitors distribution of “career-enhancing assignments” to expand opportunities and counter unconscious bias.

The number of attorneys of color has increased 120 percent and the number of LGBTQ associates has doubled since 2016, according to Jenrette-Thomas, who joined the firm that November.

Jenrette-Thomas ran a diversity-and-inclusion-focused coaching and consulting business for several years after leaving a previous firm, where, though facing no overt discrimination, she never felt she belonged despite her efforts to fit in.

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Ask any question but take a genuine interest, really listen.

Q: Why did you study law and pursue it as a career?

A: I grew up in New York City. In fifth grade the person who later became my best friend (she is South Asian like me) lived in a house one door apart from where I lived. I don’t know if it was actually the KKK, but that’s what was spray painted all over her house: “KKK,” “Get out of here,” “Go back where you came from.” From that moment on I had a passion for dealing with injustice or trying to address some social injustice. I wanted to make the world a better place.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: “The Perfect Corporate Board,” by Adam Epstein. Diversity, equity and inclusion issues, a lot of corporations are dealing with as well. At some point I would like to get on a corporate board and want to be ready for it.

Q: What’s a pet peeve of yours?

A: Keeping the light on when you’re not in the room and throwing cans in the trash instead of recycling.

Q: What do you like best about your work?

A: Making an impact: Hearing people not feel invisible or alone or that there’s some difference happening. That makes my day because it’s a hard job.

Q: What do you like least about it?

A: Progress is slow and there are always ebbs. Even the little bit of progress we’ve made, the process of getting there is that whole “two steps forward, one step back.”

Q: What do you like to do away from work?

A: I love to dance. I’m a dancer. I’m also addicted to TV.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do there?

A: Everyone wants to see Paisley Park. Whoever comes to visit from the East Coast, they want to see where Prince was.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you most admire? Why?

A: Sonia Sotomayor. I was privileged to be able to work with her when I was at the (U.S. Court of Appeals for the) Second Circuit. Not only is she a kind and very caring person but I see that in her jurisprudence as well, how she had managed to take the realities of current day life and circumstances and apply the law to that with passion.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about your work as an attorney?

A: A lot of people think that all I do is training or that this is just learning and development, but I’m trying to create systemic change so that we can get good results. To do this well you have to have insight and the ability to hold people accountable.

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