Prizm News / July 8, 2019 / By Ilona Westfall

Karim Ali, corporate attorney and Partner in Charge of Diversity and Inclusion at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP

How one Columbus lawyer is on a mission to diversify leadership

Law firms aren’t usually known for their diversity. But Karim Ali, a corporate attorney and Partner in Charge of Diversity and Inclusion at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP in Columbus, is on a mission to change just that. As a Partner in Charge of Professional Personnel, he’s in a prime position to move the needle: developing strategies that aim to recruit, hire and retain more minorities, including those identifying as LGBTQ+, women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities. We talked to Ali about his work towards creating greater inclusion at Porter Wright and how his own identity plays into the mix. 

What is your strategy for fostering greater intersectional diversity in the legal industry?

Our diversity and inclusion strategy focuses on data-driven decision making. Recently we adopted what’s called the Mansfield Rule, an initiative to increase representation of historically underrepresented lawyers. The idea is for every senior and management position, we want those considered to be at least 30% from underrepresented groups. The focus is on expanding the mindset as to who could be a leader because there’s a lot of implicit bias involved in decision making.Traditionally, many large law firms looked at certain law schools. But are we going to conferences or to schools where you might find more LGBTQ+ or ethnically diverse candidates? Do we have relationships with women leadership law groups? It forces us to be more creative in hiring.

Why is this work so important?

As recently as a year ago, I would be told we don’t report certain things in Porter Wright’s diversity statistics, like LGBTQ+, because we don’t want to ask. And my thought was, well, why not? Here’s a way of allowing people to self-select and identify. I think it’s important to be able to identify because no one knows you have a safe, welcoming space until you have people there. You can talk all day about diversity and inclusion, but if you don’t have any brown people, you don’t have any women, then the talk is really irrelevant. You can march in as many Pride parades as you want, but if you don’t have the people, that speaks volumes to me.

How does your identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community inform your work?

I don’t think it informs my work as a lawyer but I think it informs my work as a leader. It helps me understand the challenges that underrepresented attorneys might face. Therefore I think I’m a little more in tune about developing strategies and partnering with my other non-diverse partners and other leaders to embrace approaches that they might not have otherwise considered. We can’t have an office full of one-dimensional people from one background. You need that diversity of thought. It helps to provide value to our business as we serve our clients. Being a diverse person has helped me develop an appreciation for how to deal with, encourage, and motivate both our diverse and non-diverse talent.

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Cleveland Magazine and FreshWater Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter at @IlonaWestfall.