By Anabella Berti
In 2020, as people took to the streets to protest racism and violence, Charles Aris was at a tipping point, asking: “how can our organization take a strong stance against injustice?”
Amid nationwide grievances and social reckoning, the firm took its first steps to create a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee. Rebecca Conway, associate practice leader and DEI manager, led the charge as the committee’s head. She spoke with marketing associate, Anabella Berti, to share her experience leading the DEI committee and its impact firmwide.
“We knew that as an organization, we had to have a loud stance,” Rebecca reflected, thinking back on the first steps that led to the committee’s formation.
Rebecca, alongside the rest of the committee members, set out on a multifaceted mission to create a more inclusive culture within Charles Aris. The mission outlines the firm’s progress, the challenges it currently faces and its commitment to becoming more diverse and equitable by 2025.
Throughout this journey, there are three key aspects that propelled the DEI committee forward:
Rebecca recognized accountability as one of the main drivers for change. “We don’t want diversity, equity and inclusion to be just words on a page; we want to hold ourselves accountable,” she said.
The DEI committee took an extensive look at the makeup of the team, specifically leadership, and acknowledged the need to recruit more diverse talent.
“We had to take a hard look at ourselves and say: ‘how are we being authentic in our push for diversity, equity and inclusion if it’s not reflected in our own community?’” To counteract this challenge, Charles Aris’s current goal is to reach 30% ethnic / racial diversity firmwide and 15% in leadership by 2025.
One of the first steps that Charles Aris took as an organization was to open the floor to difficult conversations. Rebecca acknowledged that being vulnerable in a professional environment is challenging but praised her coworkers for the willingness to speak up.
“It was really rewarding to learn that our team wanted to talk and have meaningful conversations about what was going on in the country.” She added that it was important for the committee to create a judgment-free zone at Charles Aris in order to hear people’s needs and set tangible goals.
Actionable items that came from these conversations include quarterly training sessions, a continuing education series, DEI community building experiences and a resource library.
- Changing the narrative
“Changing our narrative has been part of our ongoing, intentional journey to achieve real change at Charles Aris,” Conway said.
She added that every action the committee takes is a small drip that will accumulate over time to evolve the culture, eventually ingraining DEI into every aspect of Charles Aris and its employees. Throughout this journey, Rebecca realized she herself had a passion for this work.
“As a biracial woman of color, there’s been so much about myself that I’m realizing as I think about what it means to be diverse, inclusive and equitable.”
She says the experience has changed the way she’s thought about her environment and given her an opportunity to speak out.
“What I appreciate about our team is that we didn't hold back as to where we were lacking.” Rebecca applauds Charles Aris' leadership team and the Oakley family for championing the DEI committee, as it has been an integral part in pursuing firmwide initiatives.
In recent years, Charles Aris recognized the need for more gender diversity in leadership. As a result, the firm transformed its team of vice presidents from having no women in 2010 to having six in 2021.
Looking forward, the committee expects to thread more inclusive policies into the fabric of our organization and to foster an environment where everyone can feel comfortable being their most authentic selves.