Profile in Brief: Bonnie Mayfield

By Douglas Levy
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Diversity and inclusion in law practice is something Bonnie Mayfield says isn’t just good morally and socially — it also makes good business sense.

Mayfield, who practices labor and employment, product liability and commercial litigation at Dykema Gossett PLLC, is vice chair of Diversity Programs for the Diversity Committee of the International Association of Defense Counsel.

Recently, at the Defense Research Institute’s Insurance Coverage and Practice Symposium in New York, she gave a presentation on “Diversity & Inclusion: 7 Best Law Firm Practices.”

“A law firm is an organization, so these are not just good law firm practices, they’re really good organizational practices,” she said.

Recognizing that it all starts at “the top”

Most people think it starts with the CEO or the CFO or the executive board of whatever organization you’re in. But it really doesn’t — especially at a law firm. In a law firm, it starts not only at the top but also with individual lawyers. The question really is, what is “the top”? At a law firm, each individual lawyer has a license, so each, as far as I’m concerned, has a responsibility to enhance diversity and inclusion. In fact, the ABA recently passed a model rule [the anti-discrimination Rule 8.4(g)] about diversity and inclusion being a part of each person’s ethical duty.

The concept between mentorship vs. sponsorship

The difference is mentorship is an individual who is there sort of in the background to guide you, tell you and give you advice. That person may not necessarily step forward and may not be in the conversations happening with respect to your career or things like that. But sponsorship is different. A sponsor is an individual who takes one step further and is out there actively pursuing positive results for you. They’re in the conversation that perhaps the mentors are not in. And the sponsor also is the person going to other individuals in the organization saying, give Johnny or Mary or whoever a chance. A sponsor is more of advocate, whereas a mentor is more of a mentor.

Knowing the internal and external data

In other words, know that diversity and inclusion can increase the bottom line. There’s an article written that shows that Am Law 200 law firms that are more diverse than others get about $100,000 more profits per partner. So it’s very important to know that diversity and inclusion aren’t just a good thing socially and morally, it also has a direct impact on the bottom line at organizations. There’s data out there that shows that even where there are more women on boards of organizations, those organizations themselves are more profitable.

Understanding implicit bias

Listening with your arms folded is implicit bias, or maybe not giving rapt attention to ­someone who’s speaking with you. Or maybe a female in a boardroom or meeting who offers up one idea but is kind of passed over in terms of what she’s offering, but then a male colleague comes [after] her and says the very same thing, and his echo of her very same comment resounds louder than what she said. Of course, if you’re the CEO of any entity, you may not get those same kinds of experiences.

Client commitment in action

It’s very important when you’re pursuing anything within any organization, you need commitment from the individuals who are helping keep the organization afloat. And in a law firm, you want to make sure your clients are behind the commitment and the action toward diversity and inclusion.

There’s something I mentioned when speaking at the conference, about Harry Pearce, who was a general counsel at General Motors years back. [Pearce] sent a letter to his outside counsel about [wanting to see minorities and women handling GM’s legal matters]. When a general counsel from a major corporation like that asks that question, people listen.