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February 12, 2019 Articles

Discover’s Law Department Takes a Unique Approach to Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Diversity and inclusion have been pillars of modern legal practice for years. Discover Financial Services’ Law Department is building on those pillars with a unique approach, while also achieving meaningful results.

By Jennifer Rubin, Brandon Blazo, and David Curcio

Diversity and inclusion have been pillars of modern legal practice for years. Discover Financial Services’ Law Department is building on those pillars with a unique approach, while also achieving meaningful results.

Discover’s executive vice president and general counsel, Kelly McNamara Corley, established a diversity and inclusion committee in the Law Department to further enhance the department’s focus on diversity and inclusion. The Law Diversity and Inclusion Committee is cochaired by Kareem Dale, director and senior counsel, and Raina Jones, director and senior counsel. The goal of the committee is to develop and implement effective diversity initiatives. Some of the ways in which the committee achieves its goal is by staffing diverse attorneys and minority- or women-owned law firms on Discover legal matters; supporting the company’s use of diverse suppliers; increasing the Law Department’s, as well as the company’s, diversity profile in the industry; and increasing diversity awareness in the company. The committee’s approach to diversity and inclusion has resulted in a multifaceted program that promotes and encourages diversity and inclusion in the Law Department, the company, and the community.

Scorecard Success

Discover’s Law Department believes it is in a unique position to hold law firms accountable for enhancing their diversity and ultimately affect the diversity of the legal profession as a whole. This belief led to creating a scorecard to assess law firm diversity programs, including the hiring, promotion, and retention of diverse attorneys. The scorecard data are used as part of the Law Department’s process for selecting outside counsel and to guide staffing on Discover matters. The committee tracks law firms’ progress and works with the firms to improve their diversity programs. The committee’s development of the scorecard was even adapted by other internal departments, with Discover’s Finance Department incorporating parts of it into its supplier diversity checklist. In addition, in September 2018, for the first time, the committee recognized Sidley Austin LLP for its work on improving diversity and inclusion, honoring the firm with the Discover Financial Services Law Department Diversity & Inclusion Committee Excellence in Diversity Award for driving best outcomes in diversity and inclusion. The winner was selected based on responses to the scorecard.

Supporting Recruitment and Retention

Recruiting and hiring diverse candidates can be a challenge, but the Law Department has made this one of its top priorities. For example, the committee developed a formal recruiting strategy that has resulted in constant success. First, the committee compiled a list of diverse bar associations and legal organizations to bolster the identification of a diverse pool of candidates. It then required both interview panels and slates of candidates to be diverse, and it designed interview questions to probe for inclusive qualities in job applicants.

“We have a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we believe that commitment benefits our customers, our employees, and our shareholders, allowing us to become a leader in the financial services industry,” said Corley. “Part of that commitment is to attract and retain diverse talent, work with inclusive suppliers, and support diversity efforts at Discover and in the community.”

Building Awareness among Diverse Youth

To expand awareness of diversity and inclusion, the committee collaborates with law schools, law firms, bar associations, and legal organizations. This has led to hosting career panels for students at historically black colleges and universities, providing financial literacy training for organizations serving diverse populations, and participation in panels to discuss key diversity and inclusion topics in the legal arena. The Law Department also supports high school students of underrepresented populations, providing them with jobs that assist with paying for their high school tuition, mentoring, and career development opportunities.

Setting the Foundation for Others to Follow

Another key aspect of promoting diversity and inclusion is encouraging an ongoing dialogue about how diversity affects the business, professional relationships, and individuals’ perceptions of others. With this in mind, the committee partnered with a Discover Employee Resource Group to host a company-wide panel discussion with female African American members of Discover’s boards of directors on the importance of diversity in business. Through this panel discussion, Discover employees were empowered to help promote diversity and inclusion through various initiatives in their own line of business.

Several departments at Discover have collaborated with the committee to sponsor discussions about race relations with community leaders. For example, Discover’s Business Technology Department partnered with the committee to host Lori E. Lightfoot, the chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force at the time. In a company-wide forum, Lightfoot spoke to employees about race, community relations with the police, diversity, and the issues facing our hometown communities. In addition to educating employees on this vital issue, her presentation led several employees to start a group to meet regularly on how they can improve community outreach.

Joseph West, partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Duane Morris, hosted two training sessions for the Law Department on unconscious bias. The sessions encouraged participants to learn about their unconscious biases on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and physical and mental capabilities. Participants were amazed to learn about biases they did not realize they harbored. Many began work on dismantling buried stereotypes, and some described it as “life-changing.” Based on this success, other Discover departments have worked with West to conduct unconscious bias training for employees.

Success Through Results

Discover’s Law Department has been recognized by many organizations. In 2016, it was the recipient of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Matthew J. Whitehead, II Diversity Award. In 2017, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association selected Discover as a national finalist for the 2017 Employer of Choice Award based on the committee’s tangible efforts and the Law Department’s overall commitment to diversity. Discover looks forward to finding innovative approaches to ensure that it continues to promote an environment that values diversity and inclusion.

Jennifer Rubin, Brandon Blazo, and David Curcio are directors and senior counsel with Discover Financial Services.

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).