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A Chat With Norton Rose Diversity Director Nina Godiwalla

In this monthly series, legal recruiting expert Amanda K. Brady from Major, Lindsey & Africa interviews law firm management from Am Law 100 and 200 firms about how they navigate an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.

Next in this series is a conversation with Nina Godiwalla, U.S. director of diversity and inclusion at Norton Rose Fulbright. Godiwalla started her career as an investment banker before becoming a speaker and writing her book, "Suits: A Woman on Wall Street." She has trained leaders on creating more inclusive cultures and workplaces and now shares those best practices in her role at Norton Rose Fulbright.

Q: How has increased public attention on diversity in the workplace impacted your work?
 
A: It's raised awareness and helped remind people about the relevance of diversity. People used to say, “Well, we have to make the business case. We need to show people why this is important.” That conversation has waned, and that's because you see it in the media now, which has helped elevate what we’re doing and show the importance of diversity.
 
Clients have also started to come to us and challenge us with higher standards. It’s important for us to be close to our clients and learn from them. So having them push us to help them creates a reciprocal relationship, and the more we challenge each other, the more we'll be able to move the needle for the legal industry as a whole.
 
Q: How can a law firm’s diversity differentiate it in a meaningful and actionable way?
 
A: Firms can differentiate themselves by setting goals. Once you set goals, there becomes this tireless effort to develop programs to reach those goals. For example, we have set a target for our female leadership percentages, so we've developed a variety of initiatives to support that goal. We started a women's leadership program for women who are senior associates and close to the partnership window designed to help set themselves up to be successful, including coaching on leadership skills and finding sponsors. Since we're a global firm, the program brings people together across countries. So they're also building their own network and support system.
 
Firms can also differentiate themselves by engaging with clients. A lot of people in law spend their time with other people in the legal industry, but it's just as important to spend time with those outside of law. For us, it's an opportunity to learn from our clients and have them learn from us as well.
 
Q: Are there material differences in how diversity and inclusion is viewed in the U.S. versus Norton Rose Fulbright’s non-U.S. operations?
 
A: One difference that stands out to me is that the focus areas for diversity are different in and outside of the U.S. In the U.S., we focus on women, minorities and LGBT issues as the core. In some other regions, however, we have to work to understand who is a minority. Other regions tend to focus on different areas, such as disabilities. The definition of diversity is different in each region.
 
Q: In your TED Talk, you described inequities on Wall Street. How did that experience inform your work for Norton Rose Fulbright?
 
A: My passion for diversity came from my time on Wall Street. I remember being in college and someone asking me if I wanted to join the women's business fraternity. I didn’t understand why I would join the women's group instead of the one that included everyone, but that's because I hadn't yet experienced a male-dominated environment.
 
It wasn't until I was on Wall Street that I experienced being the only female on my team and gained an understanding of what it was like to feel different because I was a woman. That experience gave me my passion for making a difference. I saw a lot of my friends go to Wall Street and leave disenchanted. I thought it was important to start a conversation to educate people about the challenges that we faced — and I thought that if we all worked together, we could figure out how to make a difference.
 
That experience was also the genesis of my book. I was on Wall Street over 20 years ago and so much has changed, but the experience helped me integrate into the legal industry quite easily. It gave me the empathy that I needed to understand everyone’s situation, whether it’s a first-year associate or a partner.
 
Q: Describe one of your greatest accomplishments in your current role.
 
A: One of our main accomplishments was getting our diversity committee to be key stakeholders and leaders. At first, the committee was a mix of people in different offices. Now we've set it up to be rotating roles depending on your leadership positions. As a result, our diversity committee is made up of a wide-ranging group of committee chairs and firm leaders alongside the chairs of our diversity networks, such as the women's and LGBT network chairs. The committee is chaired by a partner, Denise Glass.
 
The structure of the committee has allowed us to have strategic conversations, and when something comes up around diversity, having all those people in the room has allowed us to work through some very complicated issues.
 
Q: What attracted you to the legal industry?
 
A: About five years ago, I read that the legal industry was the least diverse of all industries. Around the same time, I was going to be a keynote speaker at the National Association of Legal Professionals. I saw it as an opportunity: I wanted to shift from advising about diversity to implementing. As I interviewed with Norton Rose Fulbright, I saw that this was going to be an intriguing opportunity. My role allows me to leverage both my past business and diversity expertise, and the firm has set-up the position as a chance to innovate.
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