It can be easy to pay lip service to the idea of diversity and inclusion, but Ann Jenrette-Thomas makes it a personal and professional mission.
“The legal system comes with high stakes and high stress,” said Jenrette-Thomas, chief diversity and inclusion officer for Stinson in Minneapolis since 2016. “You can’t always default to your good intentions. You have to be focused on systemic changes.”
Holder of a law degree from Georgetown University, Jenrette-Thomas understands law firm culture — including its need to create a welcoming culture for legal professionals of all backgrounds.
In that sense, Jenrette-Thomas looks at both individuals and the system that contains them.
“I ensure that both internally and in terms of career-enhancing opportunities externally, that we’re advancing an equitable workplace,” she said.
Under her leadership, Stinson has seen a number of milestones when it comes to diversity and inclusion:
•A 120% increase in attorneys of color.
•The creation of eight employee resource groups to foster greater inclusion, professional development, and business development among women, people of color, LGBT individuals and veterans.
•The launch of a Minority Fellowship for 1L students that provides up to $30,000 in tuition help, as well as a 1L summer associate position with the possibility of a second summer associate gig the following year.
Jenrette-Thomas cites a good relationship with firm management as part of the reason some of these initiatives have been allowed to thrive. She has the freedom to not only flag potential problems, but to also craft the right solutions.
“We see the differences in people for the purpose of finding opportunities in inclusion, retention, and allowing people to advance in their careers,” she said. “It helps them, and it ultimately helps the firm.”
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