Building a Culture of Belonging: Ward and Smith Advances DEI Efforts

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People Teamwork

At Ward and Smith, we believe diversity, equity, and inclusion ("DEI") is integral to our mission of providing exceptional service to our clients.

This means creating an environment where each employee feels valued and has their talents fully recognized and utilized. By examining our policies, practices, and procedures, we've translated that goal into actionable steps firm-wide.

We recently completed two firm-wide DEI training programs, which were led by Ward and Smith attorneys Ken Gray, the firm's Labor and Employment Practice Section Leader, and Xavier Lightfoot, who recently earned a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University and is the DEI Chair for the North Carolina Society for Human Resource Management.

Of course, DEI training cannot stand alone: it, by itself, does not increase the effectiveness of creating an environment for all.

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion principles have always been at the heart of Ward and Smith's teamwork approach. Our firm's DEI framework involves a real commitment to engage our staff, attorneys, and leadership in transformative change as we continue to build a platform that is collaborative, supportive, and inclusive for all members within the Ward and Smith family" remarked Devon Williams, Ward and Smith's Co-Managing Director.

For example, the firm created a first-of-its-kind Staff Internship Program this year to increase the diverse talent pipeline. For decades, Ward and Smith has hosted internships for law students but never held a similar program for professional staff positions.

Noted in a February press release, Michael Christman, Ward and Smith's Director of Human Resources, stated that the firm "decided to be more strategic about our staff recruiting process by creating opportunities, like the Staff Internship Program, to attract a broader range of talent."

The firm is also more intentional with recruitment efforts. By working with hiring supervisors, Ward and Smith has eliminated unnecessary education requirements for staff positions to increase the candidate pool. In addition, the firm audited and updated the EEO disclaimer on all job postings to encourage a more diverse group of applicants. 

For attorney recruiting in 2021, Ward and Smith partnered again with the North Carolina State Bar Association's Minorities in the Profession 1L Summer Associate Program to open up the firm's historically 2L Summer Associate Program to a minority first-year law student. This gives the minority first-year student two summer experiences to help further their experience and education.

The firm has also hosted virtual informational panels for various diverse student groups from local law schools in the past year.

"DEI isn't just about race, gender, or sexual orientation," stated Melissa Forshey Schwind, the firm's Director of Attorney Recruiting, Professional Development, and D&I and Co-Chair of the DEI Advisory Group. "It's also about recruiting, hiring, and retaining people with a range of experience, skills, and insights. Looking to new avenues to find that talent is one way to build a meaningful, lasting, and transformative workforce."

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