CEO Action Pledge Gains Traction

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) identifies itself as “the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance D&I within the workplace.” The organization launched in June 2017 with 150 CEOs, and now has more than 700 CEOs and presidents of various businesses as members, with the objective of advancing D&I in the workplace. CEO Action sponsors an online pledge, in which signatories promise:

  • We will continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion
  • We will implement and expand unconscious bias education
  • We will share best—and unsuccessful—practices
  • We will create and share strategic inclusion and diversity plans with our board of directors.

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the ABA’s Law Practice Division reviewed the CEO Action initiative to research actions undertaken by professional services firms to further the objective of D&I in the workplace and want to use that knowledge to further the Division’s, and ultimately the ABA’s, D&I agenda.

The following examples highlight measurable actions that have been adopted by professional services firms to advance D&I in the workplace, as well as examples of online resources made available by signatories to the CEO Action pledge that provide useful and practical information to assist in achieving D&I goals.

In conducting this review, the focus was mainly limited to professional services firms—law firms and consulting firms—because they provide an adequate comparison in terms of the nature of work, the work environment and challenges, the composition of the workforce, etc.

Since there is overlap between the actions taken by various firms, the specific actions are grouped into broader categories. A detailed listing by firm and initiative is included at the end of this article as a sidebar.

  • Mandatory attendance at D&I focused workshops and seminars
  • Global multicultural attorney conference to bring together ethnic minorities from international offices focused on advancement, recruitment, internal networking, community engagement, etc.
  • Mandatory blind-spot/unconscious bias training for new hires and promoted personnel
  • Pitch skills/business development workshops targeted toward women and minority associates.
Affinity Groups
  • Affinity group-based mentoring panels
  • LGBT/women/affinity group-based partner advisory boards to raise the visibility of successful affinity group role models.
Leave Policies/Alternative Work Schedules
  • Gender-neutral parental leave policies and transition support plans with reduced billable hour targets during transitions
  • Flextime schedules, teleworking, compressed workweeks, or reduced hours.
Research and Publications
  • Conducting and circulating studies related to D&I to spur conversations
  • D&I focused periodic publications for firm-wide circulation, with D&I-focused messages from firm chairs and upper management, highlighting diversity initiatives, diverse attorney promotions, awards, and honors.
Student Initiatives
  • Targeted scholarships for underrepresented groups
  • Targeted internships.
Data Collection and Reporting
  • Transparency in reporting demographics.
  • Opening up equity partner status to reduced-schedule attorneys
  • Annual compensation audits by gender/ethnicity at various experience levels and providing data to management as a guide to planning for annual compensation and promotion discussions
  • Setting value for the position first, regardless of the candidate
  • Removing salary history from applications and interviews to prevent prior employer pay inequities from carrying forward
  • Considering salary expectations and market value when weighing offers
  • Building awareness regarding internal equity practices for recruiters and hiring managers
  • A comprehensive approach to succession planning, applying the lens of age, gender, and ethnicity in addition to competency criteria
  • Awards recognizing actions promoting D&I within the organization.
Recruiting initiatives
  • Setting target percentages for diverse lateral hires or for incoming classes.

The coalition has made unconscious bias training freely available on its website for anyone to make it available within their organization. It is well-known that everyone holds some kind of bias, but becoming aware of those biases is the first step to working around them in an effort to create truly diverse workplaces. The signatories, by sharing their successes and challenges on the website, effectively create a knowledge-sharing platform for all organizations interested in pursuing or furthering their D&I efforts. The coalition’s efforts are geared towards raising consciousness and promoting dialog. It has done so by not only making available a knowledge-sharing platform but also by organizing high-profile events such as gatherings bringing together hundreds of CEOs and c-suite leaders; launching a “Check Your Blind Spots” bus tour that visits corporate and educational campuses to highlight unconscious bias, and organizing events that bring together companies within their industries.

CEO Action enhances awareness of the social mandate to promote D&I efforts and provides a means of sharing ideas to implement initiatives and measure their success or failure. By joining in this movement of world corporate leaders, organizations have the opportunity to support, teach, and engage in D&I efforts spanning the globe.

What sets the CEO Action initiative apart from other D&I initiatives is its involvement at the leadership level. Having the firm leadership sign a pledge sends a potentially powerful signal not only within the firm but also across firms that the leadership wants to see progress and is willing to engage in dialog, thus encouraging dialog at all levels.

The Law Practice Division D&I Committee believes that signing the pledge has the potential to bolster the ABA’s existing efforts in support of D&I, as well as sending a powerful message to the legal community that will encourage more law firms to follow in the ABA’s footsteps. At a minimum, doing so would ensure that signatory firms incorporate unconscious bias training, which is a necessary and important educational tool that can bring awareness to all levels within an organization. Considering ABA’s membership and reach, the D&I Committee believes this simple step could mean that potentially hundreds of thousands of people within the American workforce can benefit from learning about their hidden biases, and actions that they can undertake on an individual level to foster an environment that creates opportunity and access for all Americans.

Accordingly, the LP D&I Committee respectfully recommends the ABA leadership review the CEO Action initiative, and consider joining the many high-profile law firms and corporations in signing this important pledge.

What Firms Are Doing: A Sidebar

The following sidebar is a list of professional services firms and the detailed actions that they reported undertaking in furtherance of their D&I agenda, and outcomes (where reported).

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
  • Requiring the workforce to attend the mandatory workshop: Managing Effectively Through Difference. The workshop has four components: 1) How unconscious biases impact everyday work interactions 2) Managing junior lawyers: opportunities and challenges 3) Managers’ and leaders’ roles in allocating and managing assignments, and 4) Providing feedback across difference. The workshop addresses how lawyers of diverse genders, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations experience the same environment differently, and how unconscious bias plays a significant role in that experience. Participants complete a self-assessment, reflecting on how they allocate work, manage matters and provide feedback. During the session, participants, guided by expert facilitators, share their experiences and best practices and apply research findings to “typical” firm scenarios. Participants learn effective strategies to more effectively manage lawyers and lead matters and client teams.
Paul Hastings LLP
  • Conducting an ongoing study “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women in the Boardroom,” which reviews initiatives and movements to help close the gender gap. By examining the strategies being used, and identifying the tools and best practices of those making progress, the objective is spurring more conversation around this important topic.
  • Produced General Counsel Diversity and Inclusion Report US 2017. The report features in-depth interviews with the general counsel of more than a dozen companies. According to the counsel, their efforts focus primarily on three areas: increasing the pipeline of diverse talent, supporting the advancement of more diverse candidates into leadership roles, and using the power of the client to push their law firms and other suppliers to share their commitment to D&I. Also hosted round table discussions with executives and in-house counsel to exchange ideas sparked by the report’s findings.
PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited
  • Blind Spots Training to help with common biases that all people have, e.g., confirmation bias or similarity effect. All new hires complete it and it is a criterion for promotion.
  • Making it available to companies, at
  • LGBT Partner Advisory Board to raise the visibility of successful gay role models.
  • Veteran Affinity Network—targeted mentoring and training.
Reed Smith LLP
  • A day-and-a-half diversity summit where almost 200 clients, diversity and inclusion advocates, and Reed Smith attorneys learned from leaders driving diversity in the legal profession, participated in workshops with Reed Smith attorneys and industry experts and shared their experiences as diverse professionals in a competitive field. Highlights of the Summit included:
    • Pitch and Proposal Masterclass, focusing on to effectively incorporate diversity into pitches and business development.
    • Diversity & Inclusion workshops sponsored by Reed Smith affinity groups: WINRS (Women’s Initiative Network at Reed Smith); RSVets (veterans); LEADRS (Looking for Excellence and Advancement of Disabled Attorneys at Reed Smith); Hispanic/Latino; PRISM (LGBT); Asian-American; and STAARS (African-American).
Winston & Strawn LLP
  • 2016 gender-neutral parental leave policy with 20 weeks of paid parental leave
  • Parental Leave Transition Support Program that includes a Parental Leave Liaison, reduced hours targets during “ramp-down” and “ramp-up” periods, and confidential coaching services for attorneys who are new parents.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
  • Launched a campaign called “Upstander” that expands the concept of an ally within the LGBT community to other groups e.g., people of color, women. Diversity training workshop, action guide with specific behaviors and online resources were developed to raise awareness and showcase concrete behaviors. Give out awards in recognition of actions promoting diversity
  • Mandatory two-hour diversity training—how to boldly talk about race.
  • Global multicultural attorney conference, bringing together Asian American, Black/African American, and Latino attorneys from across the US and London offices. The conference focused on recruiting, retention, advancement, internal networking, community engagement, and strategic planning.
Weaver (Accounting firm)
  • Launched a program “Inspire” in 2005 as a career development initiative designed not only to enhance recruitment and retention efforts but also to advance the careers of female professionals. Hosted annual women’s summit, sent quarterly firm-wide messages, and organized various team-building activities.
  • Alternative work arrangement requests including flextime schedules, teleworking, compressed workweeks, or reduced hours.
Katen Muchin Rosenman LLP
  • Women Leadership Forum National Mentoring Panel was launched to ensure that all women attorneys have access to good female role models who are willing to provide guidance on professional development, work-life balance and other issues of concern. Hosts quarterly panel discussions with members of the National Mentoring Panel that focus on a common mentoring theme. A recent panel featured mentors who shared their experiences with being a working mother while continuing their growth and success at the firm.
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
  • To develop and expand pitch skills among women and minority associates and counsel, leveraged the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s (MCCA) Blueprint Program—a program built on interactive hypotheticals designed to help teach skills for winning new work from clients. Women and minority senior associates and counsel were invited to a half-day session where they received pitch training and then were divided into four teams for a mock pitch competition. Four in-house counsel from various firm clients served as judges of the pitches and also provided participants with real-time, substantive feedback.
  • Unconscious Bias Awareness program for attorneys and staff in 2014 to expose participants to the concepts of cognitive neuroscience, implicit bias, and organizational transformation. The concepts covered in the mandatory training offered in two different formats collectively illustrated the positive effects of bias awareness on organizational behavior with the goal of creating an inclusive work environment that attracts and retains the best attorney and professional talent available. Every new hire must complete the Understanding Bias program within their first 30 days at the firm.
Nixon Peabody LLP
  • Diversity Recruiting Initiative: requirement for 20% of candidates for lateral associate roles to be diverse.
  • Mandatory firm-wide unconscious bias training and workshop for all attorneys across the firm. Hired an outside consultant to educate attorneys on the basics of the concept along with tools for interrupting unconscious bias. As a follow up to the training, created a “Tip Sheet” for interrupting unconscious bias in performance evaluations. This document was presented to all attorneys across the firm prior to the commencement of “evaluation season,” and re-circulated the following year to provide a reminder on the tips.
  • Launched NP Diversity Dialogues series, a series of events and programs designed to facilitate a conversation on matters related to diversity and inclusion. This series is an opportunity for each office to engage in a meaningful discussion on issues related to race, gender, sexual orientation or inclusion in an open, judgment-free setting.
  • Reduced billable hour expectation while receiving full-time pay for the first six months following leave. At the end of this six-month period, associates and counsel may choose to seek a reduced schedule in accordance with the firm’s flexible work policies or return to full-time obligations and expectations. This gender-neutral policy is designed to help all primary caregiver associates and counsel transition back to full-time work.
Jackson Lewis P.C.
  • Publishes a quarterly Diversity & Inclusion Committee Newsletter that is distributed to the entire firm and is published on the website. It includes personal, diversity-focused messages from the firm chairman, board of directors liaison, Diversity & Inclusion Committee chair, and Diversity Committee advisors, and highlights diverse attorney promotions, diversity-related activities, sponsorships and events the firm has hosted, as well as awards and honors bestowed upon the firm and its diverse attorneys.
  • “Jackson Lewis Scholarship Program” provides scholarships to 40 students annually who are traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession. This is a substantial investment for the firm and underscores the firm’s commitment to attracting diverse students to the practice of law generally, and to labor and employment law specifically.
Latham & Watkins LLP
  • Diversity Leadership Academy is a multi-day, in-person professional development program for law students and mid-level Latham associates who have a strong interest in diversity, making it a powerful recruitment and retention initiative.
  • For two days, attendees participate in training sessions and networking events, with the goal of inspiring the next generation of diverse leaders in the legal industry. Training sessions for law students cover such topics as transitioning from law student to summer associate, resume writing, and interview skills. In addition, all first-year law student attendees are paired with a Latham associate, who is committed to serving as a mentor throughout the student’s law school career. Latham associates attend sessions on leadership, executive presence, communications skills, and other strategies for advancement and success. Our firm leaders and partners also attend the academy, serving as presenters and mentors to the associates and law students.
  • Accelerating Your Career Potential (AYCP) program was developed in 2015 for KPMG’s women managers. Its main objective is to enhance confidence and influencing skills, build relationships and networks and optimize personal and professional alignment. Participants work collaboratively through simulations, role-plays, and group discussions to cultivate and practice skills that support the advancement of their careers at KPMG. Small cohorts are formed at the conclusion of the program to continue connectivity, networking, and learning objectives.
  • The next-generation women leaders that attend the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit participate in subsequent yearlong programming, coming together in smaller groups for additional networking and skill-building.
  • The Future Diversity Leaders program aims to recruit high-potential, ethnically diverse freshmen and sophomores, who are planning to major in business. The program provides these students an opportunity to consider KPMG as their employer of choice through leadership skills training, ongoing coaching and mentoring as well as internships.
Bain & Company, Inc.
  • Conducts primary research to understand why fewer women are making it to top positions.
Baker Tilly
  • Compiling a data set from several sources, including demographics, talent management, talent development, employee surveys, business results, research and thought leadership. HR conducts an annual compensation audit by gender and ethnicity at various levels of experience, job type, geographic market, and performance. HR provides this information to managers and above as a helpful guide to plan promotions, merit increases, and bonuses by gender and ethnicity.
  • The reporting provided to managers is increasing awareness of potential bias, and challenges leaders to use a broader lens of gender, age, and ethnicity when making compensation and promotion decisions. Conducted an extensive data review to analyze pay equity by gender and used the findings to bolster the recruiting process with four fundamental improvements: 1) setting value for position first, regardless of candidate; 2) removing salary history from applications and interviews to prevent prior employer pay equities from carrying forward; 3) considering salary expectations and market value when weighing offers; and 4) building awareness regarding internal equity practices for recruiters and hiring managers.
  • Developing a more comprehensive approach to succession planning by pinpointing talent development intersections and applying a lens of age, gender, and ethnicity along with competency criteria. These intersections include 1) learning & development programs at different career stages; 2) selection for special projects; 3) inclusion on client engagement teams, and d) firm governance.
  • Launching a revamped mentoring program in Q3 2018 initially geared toward women, with the goal of expanding to non-majority male team members. The mentoring program has four objectives: 1) increase diverse leadership; 2) improve retention; 3) learn and lead differently with empathy; 4) reach one’s full potential with the whole self.
  • GROW (Growth and Retention of Women) and SOAR (Supporting Opportunity, Advancement, and Recognition) are existing signature initiatives that align to gender and ethnicity; NexGen is a new focus area that considers generational differences. These areas provide a framework for affinity groups e.g., LGQBT or Asian-American network, or new moms or dads returning from family leave.
Fisher & Phillips LLP
  • In 2013, launched the Women’s Initiative and Leadership Council (WILC), charging it to propose policy and practice advances. At WILC’s request, implemented the WILCWelcome Program, WILC Forum, WILCAmbassadors, WILC Resource Network, and Leave Liaisons for all attorneys approaching, experiencing or returning from extended leaves. FP has since opened equity partner status to reduced-scheduled attorneys and expanded its paid parental leave for primary caregivers from 12 to the flexible equivalent of 16 weeks.
Deloitte LLP
  • Extended family leave policy that is gender- and generation-neutral i.e. can be used to take care of a seriously sick child/parent/sibling.
  • After extensive statistical analysis, developed a clear, research-based definition of an inclusive culture and the specific 28 activities that surveyed organizations engage in to create it. Given these insights, the designated team produced a research report and is finalizing an associated diagnostic that helps organizations understand how to create an inclusive culture.
  • Further, given the research findings, the designated team engaged in an additional study of unconscious bias and produced a primer that summarizes the effects of unconscious bias on decision-making in the workplace. This primer offers guidance on how organizations can address the challenge of unconscious bias in the context of talent management practices such as talent acquisition, learning, and development, performance management, compensation, promotion and succession management. The report serves as a starting point for executives who want to address the issue of unconscious bias in their organizations, but may not know where to start or where they can make the most impact. By focusing on primary and secondary research, the report provides concrete evidence that executives can leverage to support any change initiatives that may be undertaken and offers tangible ideas for mitigating unconscious bias in specific talent practices. Leveraging this knowledge to evaluate and adapt Deloitte internal practices and also making this research readily available to other organizations in collaboration with this CEO Pledge. (Further information on Deloitte research:
Ernst & Young Global Limited
  • Gender Study showed having more female leaders in business can significantly increase profitability. The extraordinary survey of 21,980 publicly traded companies in 91 countries demonstrates that the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies.
  • Each year, newly promoted managers and senior managers participate in a plenary session with a Harvard University professor, on the pervasive role that implicit cognition and unconscious biases can play in everyday actions and behaviors.
Dentons US LLP
  • Formed the Asian American Professional Network, the Black Professional Network, the Latin American Professional Network, the LGBTQ Professional Network, the Parent Professional Network, and WomenLEAD. Identified senior managing associates and/or partners as co-chairs of each group. The effort now is to grow the membership and initiate substantive programming that enhances business and personal development.
T. Kearney
  • Sponsorship of strong contributors to firm partners led to a measurable increase in advancement of program participant women and minorities.
  • Transparency in reporting demographics for gender, ethnicity, veteran, disability.
  • Circulated a letter from CEO and established an online forum for employees to exchange ideas and explore practical ways to enhance D&I.
  • Setting targets to hire 40% women.
ACT, Inc.
  • Cohort-based leadership academy with leaders from diverse backgrounds. Learning constructs include business acumen, D&I, and leadership development.
  • Digital Academy formed to offer underrepresented minority candidates the education and, the experience they need to launch successful careers in web development. While still in the pilot phase, Adobe has awarded 40+ scholarships, and 16 students have moved on to accept immersive internships at Adobe. Eight of those students have accepted full-time positions.
  • 26 weeks of fully paid maternity leave (99% return rate of employees).
  • Advancing diverse talent in leadership: A combination of strategies were deployed including diverse slates for executive openings; reporting on diversity metrics monthly to executive committee; expanding the role and number of employee resource groups to include business outcomes; implementing “the business case for diversity” in executive and leadership programs; expanding unconscious bias training for leaders; establishing three-year diversity goals for women and minorities in executive leadership and introducing accountability scorecards by business area. One of the programs, “Cultivate Your Career” was focused on advancing women of color. The company became the title sponsor for the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit and sponsored approximately 45 high potential women of color across multiple disciplines. Also sponsored quarterly development programs targeting high potential women, covering topics like executive presence and business acumen. Another program, Multicultural Leadership Development, offers high potential men and women of color a one-year leadership seminar focused on leading self, leading others and leading the business.

About the Author

Shireen Meer is an economic damages expert providing expert witness and consulting services. She is an associate director at the Berkeley Research Group and can be contacted at

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author and do not represent the opinions of BRG or its other employees and affiliates. This article was submitted and is supported by the ABA Law Practice Division’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The opinions do not presume to represent the opinion of the American Bar Association or Law Practice Today.

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