WDC Wins the 2023 DRI State and Local Defense Organization Diversity Award!

WDC is honored to announce that it is the recipient of this year’s DRI State and Local Defense Organization Diversity Award! DRI is the largest international membership organization of attorneys defending the interests of business and individuals in civil litigation. DRI’s Annual Professional Achievement and Service Awards celebrate and honor outstanding performance by state, local, and national defense organizations (SLDOs/NDOs), DRI law firms, and individual members. The SLDO Diversity Award recognizes organizations which have achieved significant success in demonstrating a commitment to diversity within and outside of their organization and demonstrated a commitment to diversity as evidenced by a formal diversity plan committed to achievement, sensitivity, and receptivity to diversity issues, including promotion of its minority and women lawyers or volunteers.

Members of the WDC Executive Committee accepted the 2023 SLDO Diversity Award at the DRI Annual Conference in San Antonio in October. Below is an excerpt from the nomination material submitted on behalf of WDC for the award.

In 2021, the WDC Board of Directors underwent an intensive strategic planning process. The resultant Strategic Plan includes both a specific emphasis and goal of increased diversity, equity and inclusivity, as well as a mandate that all of our organization goals and decisions be examined through a DE&I lens.

I. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee
The most visible achievement was the formation of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Despite being only two years old, the Committee has seventeen active members and continues to grow in numbers and commitment. As the Committee’s first order of business, it adopted the following Mission Statement:

The WDC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee is dedicated to promoting a culture that welcomes differences, promotes equality, and engenders respect. We continue to recruit, mentor, and promote talented lawyers and business people with diverse backgrounds and experiences because we recognize that a diverse team makes us stronger and more effective in providing Wisconsin with proper representation and an equitable civil justice system. Our members do not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, and are instead dedicated to helping and educating all who inhabit the communities we have the privilege of serving.

Since its establishment, the Committee has held consistent meetings (approximately once every eight weeks) to discuss DE&I matters affecting the legal profession and our organization. The purpose of each meeting is to educate and share information with one another, create a safe space to foster open discussions about sensitive topics, and leave with action items that members can implement within their practices and workplaces. We have had education and discussion on such topics as Indigenous Peoples, Black History, Jewish History and Anti-Semitism, and LGBTQ+ History. The Committee’s Founding Chair, Charles Polk, has provided thought-provoking educational materials that WDC has used to create social media content that is shared with its broader membership and beyond.

The Committee has also been active and visible in WDC’s programming. At the 2022 WDC Spring Conference, the Committee organized and moderated a DE&I panel that was well-received and given positive feedback by those in attendance. Currently, the Committee is working on articles for publication in The Wisconsin Civil Trial Journal, as well as a standing update in the publication to educate our entire membership regarding the Committee’s activities. The Committee has engaged Judge Derek Mosley to present on unconscious bias at the 2023 WDC Summer Conference. We hope this presentation will serve as a stepping stone and pave the way for deeper conversations about DE&I topics at future WDC conferences. These activities recognize that our Committee members are self-selected as embracing the importance of DE&I, and that we must work to incorporate our efforts into our entire membership.

The Committee has also instituted an award program to recognize members who demonstrate outstanding effort, participation, and engagement in committee activities. The award has been presented twice to very deserving recipients.

II. Women in the Law Committee
WDC has long had a very robust Women in the Law Committee. The Committee has implemented an annual award to recognize outstanding members and has organized large charitable efforts. The Committee further works to ensure that women are appropriately represented in our leadership and in our programming. An example is bringing in a national speaker for a separate workshop focusing on networking strategies for women. Our Committee has also fostered incredible business relationships and ongoing referrals. WDC’s Board of Directors is over 55% women.

III. Organizational Commitment
We are proud that our organization’s efforts to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive are not relegated to a single committee. In our strategic planning process, it was important to the Board that we incorporate DE&I principles in all aspects of our organization. For example:

  1. We developed WDC speaker guidelines to remind presenters to use language that is as inclusive as possible, in as many respects as possible;
  2. We review our slate of presenters for each conference from a DE&I perspective to attempt to provide as many different individuals and viewpoints as possible;
  3. Our strategic plan includes goals to specifically target diverse populations as potential members;
  4. Our plan also includes an action item to provide an organization-wide program on implicit bias; and
  5. Our leadership succession plan focuses on recruiting and welcoming diverse leaders for our organization.