Q&A with Barnes & Thornburg’s Dawn Rosemond: Driving Diversity and Inclusion at All Levels

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In 2005, Dawn Rosemond was named an equity partner at law firm Barnes & Thornburg, becoming the first black woman at the firm to do so. A dozen years later, she’s become Barnes & Thornburg’s Director of Diversity, Professional Development and Inclusion, using her experience to help those coming up the ladder behind her. Rosemond talked with Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law about law firms’ commitments to diversity and inclusion, and her own metrics for success.

Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: Why did you accept this position?

Dawn Rosemond: I had been practicing for 21 years. I loved my clients, and I still do, but there were things that were just pulling me. I wanted to use my experience to help those coming behind me.

TWLL: Did you have any conditions for taking the job?

Dawn Rosemond: The position needed to be at the executive level, and someone had to be able to give it the time and attention it deserves. It had to report directly to the managing partner.

There’s an easier way to do this. Management could get someone who didn’t know the firm, make it a lower-level position, and then do business as usual. But I know what it’s like to be a partner here, an associate here, a person of color here, a woman. It’s very difficult for management to say to me, “Dawn, that doesn’t happen here.”

When clients tell us to field a diverse legal team, it shouldn’t make us shudder. Our reaction should be, “How do we roll up our sleeves and collaborate?”

TWLL: How can you tell when a firm is committed to diversity and inclusion?

Dawn Rosemond: You want to see that resources are devoted to it. We have budget support for diversity and inclusion in each of our markets.

TWLL: Where is the impetus for change coming from at Barnes & Thornburg?

Dawn Rosemond: Our clients are requiring more diversity, and the market more generally is pushing for it. But really, for us, it’s, “Who do we want to be?” That’s what we’re driving toward.

When clients tell us to field a diverse legal team, it shouldn’t make us shudder. Our reaction should be, “How do we roll up our sleeves and collaborate?”


Barnes & Thornburg’s Dawn Rosemond

I want every hire who comes through our doors to be able to find themselves in the system of success that has been established here. I want people to come in and say, I can see myself leading a practice team, being on the compensation committee. Because I see people like me in these roles.

TWLL: How are you making the partnership more diverse?

Dawn Rosemond: For me there are three parts: sponsorship, integration and culture.

I was sponsored before it was a popular term. Someone took my success personally, and I benefitted from that greatly. I can bring that to the table in a more formalized way for the folks coming up.

We are deliberately working on enhancing our culture. We have a leadership that is committed to advancing our talent, and I want to make sure we’re thinking about it in all respects, at every stage. That means we’re thinking about diverse talent when it comes to succession planning, and with our third-party service providers.

By integration, I mean that diversity and inclusion have to be driven down to the practice group level, because that’s where we experience it. If we’re all on the same page about diversity and inclusion at the management level, but that never trickles down and is not carried out at the department level, you end up having retention problems.

I’m asking that we think about this deliberately, rather than just hope that it happens. For me it’s all positive, because we’re having the conversation.