We believe that candid dialogue and courageous conversations are important keys to unlocking barriers, misunderstandings, lack of awareness, and unconscious biases. Therefore, our objective was to design a format that would engage not only associates and leaders who were already actively engaged in Inclusion & Diversity efforts, but to attract others whose voices may not have been heard and to gain other perspectives. The first step was to engage our management and executive committee members by inviting them to co-facilitate the session with the principal responsible for Inclusion & Diversity, and unsurprisingly they agreed. We wanted to ensure voices were shared and heard at every level of the organization in the same room as well as to expose more associates to senior leadership and vice versa for developmental purposes.
In 2016, we started our Courageous Conversations utilizing the movie "Hidden Figures" as a catalyst to start a dialogue about the experiences of women and women of color in the 1960s and challenges that still exist today. The main objective was to identify through these conversations, solutions that we might adopt to ensure history isn’t repeated and we can avoid having "hidden figures" in our organization by recognizing and valuing all of our diverse talent. Our next phase of Courageous Conversations occurred in 2017 when the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge was designed and implemented. We polled our business resource group leaders, inclusion council members and some other senior firm leaders to help us identify the right topics. Some of the topics were Men and Women in the Workplace, Being your Authentic Self, Ensuring White Men are Part of the Inclusion & Diversity Dialogue, and the Collective Power of Community and Company. These topics were all designed to identify and capture solutions to address areas of opportunity for improvement and to better understand how our associates feel about and are dealing with these everyday nuances. A discussion guide was created for each topic. We also measured who participated by role, leadership level, gender and race to be able to track the impact.
We conducted the conversations in groups of a maximum of 40 people at a time, co-facilitated with an executive or management committee member to ensure there was time for everyone to speak, and they lasted for 90 minutes each. The ongoing and primary feedback was that the sessions were excellent and that they should be longer.
Since its inception, we have conducted dozens of sessions, reaching several thousand associates in headquarters locations as well as in branch offices across the U.S. The Courageous Conversations program has allowed associates across the U.S. to engage in honest dialogue as a tool to create change. As national attention focused on race issues in early 2020, participation skyrocketed, with more than 6,000 participants over a two-week period. These conversations give associates an opportunity to share their lived experience, be heard and understood – with the aim of increasing empathy and understanding for all. In 2020, the firm is committing to extend these conversations into the communities it serves, while also promising a day of reflection for its associates in 2020 to focus on self-development, learning and listening.