When it comes to the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space, good intentions are not enough. Organizations are increasingly under pressure—from employees, customers, investors and regulators—to show impact, not just effort.
Understanding these demands and helping our clients respond to them is what we do at Ropes & Gray. Our offerings take many forms: conducting proactive DEI assessments and culture reviews, advising on culture change initiatives, drafting and reviewing DEI policies, leading sensitive internal investigations—and everything in between.
- Our Unique Perspective – Our approach to DEI draws from deep knowledge of the evolving legal, regulatory and reputational risks and realities facing our clients. Our lawyers work alongside a team of creative consultants, behavioral scientists and data experts from R&G Insights Lab, the firm’s innovative legal consulting group, to take a data-driven and human-centered approach to DEI. We use data to measure performance and track progress; behavioral science to understand culture and more effectively respond to the realities (and complexities) of human bias; and the principles of human-centered design to develop DEI strategies that more effectively address stakeholder needs.
- Interdisciplinary Approach – Our interdisciplinary team is comprised of specialists in the areas of employment, executive compensation and employee benefits, government enforcement (including former federal prosecutors), civil litigation, independent investigations, data privacy and cybersecurity, and ESG, CSR, and business and human rights, as well as creative consultants, behavioral scientists and data experts from R&G Insights Lab. Our experts work together to seamlessly assist clients in promptly and effectively addressing the full spectrum of DEI-related issues.
- Global Coverage – Our one-firm philosophy ensures that our clients receive seamless service across our 13-office network. Firmwide, our attorneys are fluent in more than 50 languages and possess an in-depth understanding of our clients’ businesses and industries, as well as the cultural environments in which they operate.
- View to the Future – Our attorneys and other specialists work on the cutting edge of DEI to develop new strategies for risk and impact assessments as well as risk mitigation and crisis management.
- Crisis Management – We have decades of experience counseling clients on crisis management, including with respect to issues that have the potential for significant reputational harm and that call for fast action. Our support includes providing guidance on internal communications and public statements, interactions with law enforcement, and interactions with the company’s board of directors and C-suite executives.
- Investigations – Our team, which includes several former federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s offices, has the investigative experience and know-how to conduct thorough, sensitive, and privileged inquiries. Our deep prosecutorial background in gathering evidence enables us to navigate complex investigations with efficiency and tact.
- Proactive DEI Assessments and Culture Reviews – These reviews, sometimes called “equity” or “civil rights audits,” involve a data-driven deep dive into an organization’s DEI efforts. A typical review assesses program maturity (what you are doing to advance DEI objectives), impact (whether it is working), culture (how your people are faring) and other intangible risk drivers, such as legal, situational and reputational factors.
- Designing DEI Strategies – Our team can help you enhance or design a fit-for-purpose and forward-looking DEI strategy. Our design process pulls from several sources: our deep knowledge of industry practices, academic and organizational research, the ideas and inspiration offered by your employees during the assessment, and our in-depth analysis of your organization and its people.
- DEI Advisory Services – Our team also offers adjacent legal support and other, more targeted advisory services. For example, we advise on the risks and requirements of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, as well as potential restrictions involving the collection and management of employee demographic data in support of DEI initiatives. In addition, we have extensive experience and a deep record of success in litigating pay and gender discrimination claims in addition to assessing and mitigating the risks for potential claims. We also help organizations craft more effective DEI-related policies, procedures and practices, and advise on culture change initiatives designed to promote inclusion and employee well-being.
- Integration of DEI Impact Metrics in Employee Incentive Programs – Our team has developed expertise in advising companies across a variety of industries, including private equity-backed and public companies, with the design, implementation and integration of “impact metrics,” such as DEI factors, into their employee incentive programs. A growing market trend is the desire to incentivize workforces to advance DEI by rewarding them with compensation for achievements in this area. We work with clients to define their DEI objectives with sufficient specificity to avoid introducing tax risk to the structuring and issuance of incentive equity awards, and to reduce the likelihood of potential employment discrimination claims.
- Trainings – We help clients create and implement evidence-based DEI training programs for their employees. Research suggests that implicit bias trainings do not always work as intended, at times even backfiring. Our team helps ensure that trainings are not check-the-box exercises, but rather meaningful and effective tools in developing more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforces. We also evaluate the effectiveness of training programs, including through employee testing.
- Conducted a comprehensive review of a high-profile non-profit association of journalists and photographers, including its policies, membership processes, operations and governance, while reviewing the organization’s alignment with industry best practices in various areas, including racial inclusion. Ultimately, our review informed the organization’s efforts to implement a comprehensive, multiyear DEI strategy.
- Partnered with a prominent private equity firm to conduct a maturity and impact assessment of DEI activities across its portfolio. Work included developing a repeatable process for systematically measuring DEI-related programming and practices across the firm’s global portfolio; collecting, analyzing and visualizing employee demographic data; and providing continuous legal advice affecting—or arising from—those efforts (relating to overall risk management, ESG disclosures, data privacy, etc.).
- Conducted an independent risk assessment of the anti-discrimination and DEI policies and practices, including the internal complaint investigation and resolution procedures, of a major national news media company, following multiple allegations of racially hostile statements and actions. The work included significant document review and witness interviews, as well as a complete read-out to the board of directors regarding factual findings and going-forward recommendations.
- Advised multiple scholarship funds/foundations in connection with their collection and use of demographic information in efforts to expand the diversity of candidates and awardees.
- Conducted pay equity audits for a large economic research organization and a large public insurance company, including analysis of compensation, hiring, advancement/promotion, retention and representation of racial minorities, women and older workers throughout the management ranks of the organization. The review process involved managing and working with a team of statisticians performing statistical analysis of significant amounts of employee-related data, analysis of potential influencing factors, and any necessary remediation.
- Represented a non-profit medical research organization in two separate class actions involving allegations of disability, race and sex discrimination.
- Represented a youth sports enterprise in connection with the investigation of internal complaints of sexual misconduct and harassment and retaliation, and in defense of charges of sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation charges before the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights.
- Conducted an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct and bullying by senior executives at a prominent healthcare organization with 16,000+ employees. Work included providing advice on legal risk assessments, employee disciplinary matters and employee morale initiatives.
- Represented a public school committee in an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights into alleged racial bullying at a high school.
- Represented a non-profit organization in an internal investigation into highly publicized workplace concerns, including working with the institution to manage its legal and other risks associated with the investigation, and advised on establishing new policies to prevent future situations.
- Advised a large public technology company on its response to a diversity disclosure proposal.
- Advised a private equity sponsor on incorporating DEI metrics into its incentive equity programs across its entire portfolio, as part of our broader work advising public companies and private equity portfolio companies in this area.
- Regularly conduct anti-discrimination and anti-harassment employee training sessions, tailored for applicable state law.