Faber Daeufer & Itrato recently announced the establishment of the firm’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (“EDIC”) and EDIC Council. With the support and participation of senior management of the firm, the EDIC’s mission is to develop, issue and implement meaningful and sustainable equity, diversity and inclusion policies and business practices within the firm.
The EDIC Council consists of the EDIC chairperson, Principal Lily Vakili, Managing Principal Joe Faber, and Principal Ken Itrato, along with the chairs of three subcommittees: the Black Civil Rights Employee Education Subcommittee, Women’s Initiative Subcommittee, and Educational and Cultural Events Programming Subcommittee.
Vakili spoke on the importance of the EDIC and the firm’s commitment to starting it. “Many predominantly white organizations are going through this process right now,” she said. “Some had various inclusion initiatives in place, but the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 awakened (or re-awakened) the need for meaningful action. Our firm has a strong commitment to philanthropy and community giving, but institutional change is a different sort of challenge. We are microcosms of a larger societal reality, but I firmly believe that when we work together, we can affect positive change.” Vakili said that reaching the goals of the committee will be an ongoing commitment. “This is a mission. Not a one time test. “
Haritha Ambros serves as Chairperson for the Women’s Initiative Subcommittee. She explained that the committee’s overarching goal is the increase of female representation at the principal level of the firm, as well as supporting women throughout all levels of the practice. Subcommittee members hope to further these goals by focusing on business development, networking and leadership skills. Efforts will include workshops conducted by experts in these areas along with additional outside resources. “We are working to establish and maintain corporate relationships with women-owned companies and organizations like the WBA and Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology,” explained Ambros. “We are also looking at organizations that our clients and peers work with currently. Our hope is that people will bring their ideas to us as well.”
The Women’s Initiative Subcommittee has brought in various speakers from the legal and life sciences community to present to the group, including presentations from diverse women who are senior in their professions and who speak about their personal experiences. “These open discussions and networking opportunities focus on where we are now as professional women and how we got here. Presenters also speak about what has worked for them and what they are doing to help other women advance.”
Kori Kaufman serves as Chairperson for the Black Civil Rights Employee Education Subcommittee. She explained that, while the firm had planned on providing firm members with a firm-funded, face-to-face opportunity to learn about the historical and current experiences of African Americans, the pandemic forced them to shift paths.
The original plan was to fund a trip to Montgomery, Alabama for firm members and their families for the purpose of visiting the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (also known as the Lynching Memorial) along with options to visit other key sites in the Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham areas. Established in 2018, the Legacy Museum was founded by Montgomery's Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending mass incarceration, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable members of society. It was built as a counterpart to the National Memorial to Peace and Justice, which stands as a memorial to the thousands of African American victims of lynching.
Vakili explained that the proposed trip was the idea of EDIC Council member and firm Managing Principal, Joe Faber, who wanted to provide firm members and their families with the opportunity to better understand the origins of racial inequality and structural racism in the U.S. “It was driven by the idea that experiences matter and being present matters. Personal experiences have a positive impact on people’s willingness to be active in seeking change.”
“Due to COVID restrictions, we had to shift our focus,” explained Subcommittee Chair Kaufman, “so instead we’ve been furthering the dialogue until we can travel and experience these important sites.”
She said that the subcommittee is working to put issues in front of their colleagues that keep dialogue going, including a detailed discussion about John Lewis and the impact he had on civil rights over his lifetime. They also brought in Mass Design, the Boston-based architects behind the Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial, to provide some background on these historic ventures.
“We’ve also been researching modern topics like the Curtis Flowers case, how racial bias impacts our justice system, and recent changes to the Mississippi flag. We want to put issues in front of people to help them think about where we are today as we consider history.”
Kaufman hopes to have 100% firm participation in the subcommittee’s future events. “I am really excited about what we are being tasked to do in terms of looking backwards to consider where you are and where you are going. I’ve even started looking at the world around me with an understanding on my own bias.”
Heather Centauro serves as Chairperson for the Educational and Cultural Events Programming Subcommittee, which coordinates the firm’s monthly EDIC talk time. One of the first talks dealt with the important issue of implicit and unconscious bias. Members are invited to suggest topics for these casual conversations and, so far, those suggestions have ranged from music to documentaries to books. “We will be offering educational programs in the areas of race, LGBTQ and disability,” explained Centauro. “However, these are pretty big umbrellas with many different topics underneath.”
Another of the subcommittee’s current projects involves working with the Black Civil Rights Employee Education Subcommittee to provide every firm member with a copy of the book "Just Mercy", a memoir by Bryan Stevenson. To further their commitment to community and culture, the committees purposefully purchased all of the books from minority owned bookstores. They plan to hold a firm-wide book group to discuss the various racial, legal and social justice issues presented in the book.
“I have always been proud to work at this firm because of the great work with philanthropy and their charitable mission,” Centauro said. “I am so happy with the direction this is taking internally to help us understand people’s differences, whether that is race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or abilities. It really does make me proud to be here and I wanted to be a part of this initiative because I think it is so important.”
Vakili said that her experience with the EDI Committee has been rewarding. “It’s very exciting. So many colleagues have great ideas and the energy to commit to them,” she said. “Our goals are to advocate for and support a law firm that is more reflective of our broader community. Let’s confront head on the consequences of systematic racism and other societal inequities. We are willing to learn, to listen and to contribute to meaningful change.”