One Detroit-based law firm has revamped its diversity efforts twice in less than 10 years.
While Butzel Long had a committee dedicated to diversity and retention for many years, it wasn’t until 2014 that the group began to focus on recruiting diverse law students, many of whom are later hired to fill full-time positions.
Geaneen Arends, who was in charge of the initiative and is now chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, chair of corporate and real estate practice groups, and an equity shareholder, decided in the spring of 2019 that the efforts needed to expand again.
“The DEI committee, in its current embodiment, is really working toward ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion — core values of our firm — are reflected in a broader way in our organization, touching everything that we do,” Arends says.
One initiative that sprung from the reorganization was the creation of a calendar that lists religious and secular holidays from different cultures. Employees receive emails explaining the meanings of the holidays, as a way to encourage them to be mindful of the cultures around them. For example, Arends says, it’s inappropriate to invite a Muslim co-worker to a meeting over lunch during Ramadan, when they observe a holiday fast.
As much of the firm’s other diversity, equity, and inclusion work is still in its beginning stages, Butzel Long hired an outside consultant to complete an audit of its existing policies. Everyone at the firm — about 200 employees — was asked to respond to a confidential online survey, and about 60 were selected for interviews with the consultant. Using the results, the consultant will help Butzel Long determine its next steps.
As part of its efforts outside of the firm, Butzel Long was one of nine area law firms that signed a statement last June in response to the police killings of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, Breonna Taylor in March 2020, and George Floyd in May 2020. In the statement, the firms pledged to work for equality and to increase diversity in their workplaces, offer pro bono services in underserved communities, and advocate for police reform. Arends says Butzel Long also offers pro bono services through Michigan Community Resources, an organization in Detroit that provides professional services to nonprofits.
In addition, Butzel Long is working with Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative through the Detroit Regional Chamber that works to keep high school students on track to attend college.
Through their work, Arends says, lawyers help shape policy across the country. She explains that a lack of diversity among lawyers, and therefore a lack of diverse perspectives, will result in policies that don’t benefit diverse communities.
Non-diverse firms also risk losing business. “It’s important to our clients that we have the same values they have,” Arends says.
Implementing initiatives meant to increase inclusion is challenging for any company, but the task is an even bigger undertaking for global organizations that cross cultural boundaries.
Despite the enormity of the effort, Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors Co. in Detroit, announced in June 2020 a lofty goal — the automaker would become the most inclusive company in the world. Meeting the objective falls largely on Telva McGruder, GM’s chief of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Inclusion takes the forefront when working across cultural lines, McGruder says; in each society, different groups are traditionally included and excluded. For example, while many inclusion initiatives in the U.S. focus on race, in other countries GM may instead have to make extra efforts to bridge the male-female differential or the class divide among workers in an office or plant setting. The company has teams in every country in which it operates that are working to assess local cultures and prioritize initiatives accordingly.
“It really comes down to understanding the culture, understanding how we as GM are showing up in that particular culture, and ensuring that inside of the company we’re working to create a community that’s as diverse as the community outside, but more inclusive when considering some of the cultural norms,” McGruder says. “It’s tricky, but one thing that’s absolutely true is we can’t have one solution from Detroit that’s going to work in Dubai, or that’s going to work in Brazil, or is going to work in Korea.”
GM has had diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives in place for decades. In 1972, the automaker launched a minority dealer program, and in 2001 it established a women’s dealer program. Some of the company’s employee resource groups trace their roots back 30 years, and many groups are international; the company’s employee resource group for women has chapters in countries including the U.S., China, Israel, India, South America, Canada, Egypt, Mexico, and other countries.
McGruder says the work will advance indefinitely. “This is absolutely a journey of continuous improvement,” she says.
As the auto industry evolves, McGruder says GM will make sure diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts help inform the company’s decision-making so no one is left behind as transportation technology changes.
“We want to ensure that the future of electric vehicles is there for everyone in our urban communities, in our rural communities, and in our suburbs,” McGruder says. “We’re focused on creating product that’s going to walk into that future. We’ll do it a lot more effectively as our mindset around inclusion, diversity, and equity matures.”
Equity took on a new meaning at Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System as the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the region and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups.
For many years, Henry Ford has championed programs that work to increase equity among those living in disadvantaged communities, but such programs faced new challenges and took on a new sense of urgency when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Detroit residents to stay home, making procuring necessities such as groceries and personal protective equipment more difficult.
“Henry Ford is driven, in part, by the moral imperative of this work,” says Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, senior vice president of community health and equity, and chief wellness and diversity officer for Henry Ford. “Long before it was fashionable to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, Henry Ford was doing the work proudly.”
A program called At Your Door Food and More was started in response to the pandemic and the resulting supply shortage for many families. The health system also offers free flu vaccines and COVID-19 testing at sites across the region and through its mobile unit, housed in a large bus.
“That’s part of ensuring equity among diverse communities and helping them to feel included and not forgotten,” Wisdom says.
One of the health system’s older initiatives, the Women Inspired Network, works toward equity in birth outcomes for underserved women, primarily African-Americans. Blacks experience an infant death rate that’s three to four times greater than that of their white counterparts, Wisdom says. Participants receive information and prenatal care in group and private settings from midwives and community health workers. Among women participating in the program, which has been established for 10 years, there have been no preventable infant deaths; Wisdom says that’s unheard of within the target population.
Generation Promise, another program, teaches students in elementary through high school how to establish healthy eating habits, and it promotes the importance of physical activity. Participants watch cooking demos and leave with groceries — enough to feed six people for less than $10 – so they can replicate the recipe at home.
Finally, all patients have access to information in their preferred language, and interpreters are available to help out either in person or via video.
There’s also a business angle. Hospitals face fines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services if patients are readmitted with the same condition within 30 days. “We can prevent readmissions by understanding who we’re serving and some of the challenges that certain demographics may experience,” Wisdom says.
Work is also underway to benefit the health system’s employees. In 2020, Henry Ford raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour, which affected about 3,000 workers. There are also 10 employee resource groups that have at least 2,000 members combined, and employees participate in unconscious bias education and training.
“There are steady efforts to look at how to create a culture where people feel valued and included, and there’s a level of equity,” Wisdom says.
While corporate-level inclusion efforts are designed to encompass all backgrounds and create a variety of initiatives, one Detroit program’s main goal is to help women start and grow small businesses.
LaunchDETROIT was founded in 2012 by the 48 rotary clubs in district 6400, which covers southeast Michigan and Ontario. Classes take place over five to 10 weeks and focus on business education, mentorship, networking, and microloans for entrepreneurs living in disadvantaged communities. Each class trains and supports up to 14 entrepreneurs.
While men can and have participated in the program, it focuses on female entrepreneurs because, historically, they have access to fewer resources than their male counterparts, according to Margaret Williamson, chair of LaunchDETROIT and a past president of the Rotary Club of Detroit. “We don’t turn away great ideas from men, but we found most of our applicants are women,” Williamson says.
The program has had more female participants than male; Williamson says that of 68 graduates, 13 are men.
According to an article published by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than 11.6 million U.S. firms were owned by women in August 2019. They employed nearly 9 million people and generated $1.7 trillion in sales. JPMorgan Chase and Co. reported in February 2019 that women comprise 36 percent of business owners.
In the chamber’s report, the inability to obtain capital was cited as the biggest entrepreneurial challenge. It’s harder for women to get loans than men — just 2.2 percent of venture capital across the country went to female-founded startups in 2018.
Latricia Wright, founder and principal practitioner of Olive Seed in Detroit, participated in LaunchDETROIT in 2013. Her company offers wellness classes; nutritional counseling; ear acupuncture; cooking classes; virtual and in-person tea-tastings; products such as tea, honey, soap, and dietary supplements; and wellness equipment including massage chairs.
“No matter the stage you were in with your business, there was something for everyone,” Wright says of LaunchDETROIT. Williamson adds that most participants begin the program with some part of their business established.
A loan from LaunchDETROIT helped Wright bring Olive Seed’s infused honey to market. After she paid off the initial amount, she was able to take out another loan through the program to further grow her product line.
Wright says the program has given her the confidence to complete other programs, sometimes alongside C-suite executives through Goldman Sachs, Kellogg, and others.
“(LaunchDETROIT) was definitely a springboard for my business development track,” Wright says.
Meanwhile, Wright is still learning from her experiences. She had planned to open a wellness center to host events, along with retail space, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but her business has done well online during the pandemic, so she decided not to open the center.
The virus brought changes to LaunchDETROIT, as well — participants took business education courses online through Learn@Forbes. For participants and graduates, relationships with mentors and program organizers as well as funding opportunities are ongoing.
“The door doesn’t shut,” Williamson says. “It’s up to them. We want to support their dream.”
Along with economic development, Rotary International focuses on promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water and education, and protecting the environment.
A line of acquisitions isn’t getting in the way of a local banking giant’s offering of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Detroit-based TCF National Bank completed its integration with Chemical Bank in August 2020. The companies announced their merger of equals in January 2019 and decided to use TCF’s branding across locations in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Colorado, and Wisconsin.
With the acquisition came a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion, along with new initiatives that seek to break new ground.
“We look at our diversity and inclusion initiatives as a movement, not a moment,” says Donnell R. White, chief diversity officer and director of strategic partnerships at TCF. “Our goal is to create a culture of inclusion.” White says such a culture promotes engagement and satisfaction among employees.
In December, the company inked another major deal when TCF signed a definitive agreement under which it will enter into an all-stock merger with Columbus, Ohio’s, Huntington Bancshares Inc. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter of this year, were not disclosed. The company will have headquarters in Detroit and Columbus.
“Huntington has a robust diversity, equity, and inclusion commitment, and our cultures are well-aligned,” White says. “We’re looking forward to continuing on our D and I journey with them once the merger is finalized, and we believe we’ll be even stronger together.”
Initiatives for employees include cultural awareness events and educational programming surrounding holidays such as International Women’s Day (March 8) and Veterans Day (Nov. 11), as well as Pride Month (June) and Black History Month (February).
Starting in 2020, TCF implemented its first mandatory employee training, which centered on unconscious bias. The training is a commitment to racial equality and is a result of the civil unrest that has occurred in the U.S. since the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.
Employees also have access to 24 employee resource groups across three regions, which work to promote professional development and engagement among members. The groups were launched last September.
Starting with a pilot phase in 2020, TCF team members are matched with mentors early in their tenure to create a welcoming environment.
Many initiatives were launched during the pandemic. Programming is virtual, which allows more people to “attend.” The Color Line, a Juneteenth TCF event that takes place June 19 and commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., attracted more than 2,000 team members across the bank system.
The initiatives branch out to the community, as well. TCF opened a banking center in December 2020 in partnership with the Arab American and Chaldean Council. The center is in the council’s building at 7 Mile and John R streets and is meant to serve low- to moderate-income residents in the community.
TCF also started a five-year, $1 billion commitment to female and minority business owners in 2020. The program features low monthly payments, interest rates, and down payments on equipment financing, and there are no bank origination or assessment fees.