While our annual conference is going virtual this year, one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to bringing an incredible line-up of inspirational speakers to share their expertise and unique insights. Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to these dynamic and engaging leaders by sharing some of their personal and career advice.

Today, we are honored to introduce Susan Neely, President & CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). Susan is our 2020 Luminary Award honoree and she has an impressive background which includes senior positions in the George W. Bush White House and the first U.S. Homeland Security Department, advising Members of Congress, and more recently at the helm of the American Beverage Association. She has also been recognized as the Trade Association CEO of the Year by CEO Update, one of Washingtonian’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington, Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business, as well as the first woman president of the Washington Rotary Club and The University Club of Washington.

We are so excited to hear Susan’s insights and advice during her “fireside chat” with Manar Morales, and know that you’ll be inspired by Susan’s commitment to gender parity and diversity and inclusion.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: What was the most meaningful piece of leadership advice you have received? Who has had the most influence on your career?

Susan Neely: My dad always preached the benefit of taking calculated risks. From my own career experience, I can now attest that Dad was right. Usually the bigger the risk I’ve taken, the greater the success. That being said, I have never found it easy to make a decision to take a risk, particularly if the risk involved impact on my family. I’m satisfied that I have made the right choices for me, but none of them have been easy.

I am also thankful for trusted advisers who understood me and were wise about career paths. Different advisers with varied expertise have helped me at different points in the journey.

Always be on the lookout for who can be part of your own kitchen cabinet. These individuals should be champions and provocateurs who have your best interests at heart and aren’t afraid to challenge your thinking.

DFA: What have you learned during COVID that has changed your perspective?

SN: My first video-enabled speech via computer was in mid-March. I was able to share perspective with over 3,000 people without getting on an airplane or staying in a hotel. We don’t want to lose the opportunity for personal interaction, but the time savings that technology provides is powerful. How much easier would my life as a working mother have been if we had technological tools like this?

DFA: How do you recharge? Where and when are you most content?

SN: One of my favorite mantras is work hard, play hard. I’m energized by my work, but I’m also equally energized by taking time to recharge. My family is so important to me, so any time I spend with them – especially if we are experiencing new things together – I feel recharged. During the pandemic, my two young adult children have been back home for this season. We’ve been purposeful about doing things we would normally not made time to do … like bake dozens of cookies and deliver them to front doors of friends in the neighborhood. We cleaned closets and boxed up fun packages of outgrown toys, jewelry and hair bows to send to young families we know. We also did a 15 hour road trip to Iowa to pick up my 92-year old mother and bring her back with us.

DFA: What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

SN: It’s taken me a long time to learn to be kinder to myself and cut myself some slack. In my zeal for making all aspects of life perfect, I too often would beat myself up about what wasn’t going as well and not savor the many things that were. Counting your blessings does not mean you don’t aspire to learn and grow. It just means valuing what you have.

DFA: How do you pay it forward?

SN: I believe the cycle of lifting others up is contagious. If you empower someone, they will empower someone else. I’ll share one story with you. I was well into my career and I held a role at the Department of Homeland Security. I was on a strategy call with a lot of top brass leaders, including Condoleezza Rice when she was National Security Advisor. I was the new member of the group, and when I offered a point of view, another leader who was an old timer in the group brushed me off. Secretary Rice jumped in, validated my point, and lifted up my voice. She didn’t have to do that. But that small action established my right to be in the group. It also inspired me to do the same for others. Now when I’m in the room, I always listen for the voices of others and look for ways I might be able to validate their right to be there. As leaders, it costs us nothing, but it can be a powerful way to ensure a diverse set of views and ideas are heard.

DFA: What can we be doing to create more inclusive organizations?

SN: When I became a senior executive and now a CEO for 16 years, I realized it was my responsibility to set the tone at the top. I believe we bring our whole selves to work. Achieving diversity is not enough. Belonging should be our goal, and people feel like they belong when they can be their whole selves at work. That’s when we are making progress. We can have a productive work environment that encourages and supports our employees in their personal priorities. A good leader must make this a priority.

DFA: How has flexibility impacted your life?

SN: Motherhood will always be the greatest privilege of my life and thus the role that is the most important to me. I have certainly made career decisions based on how it would affect my family and time with my children. At the same time I have done meaningful professional work and earned an impactful leadership platform that allows me to make a difference in the ways that are important to me. This has required calibration of my time more than sacrifice of opportunities. (Unless you count reduction in sleep as a sacrifice.)

Getting the work-life balance right has also required me to find employers that allow me the ability to calibrate. I never missed doing something that I thought was important for my children. Nor have I shirked professional responsibilities. Sometimes this means that I am answering emails early or late or catching a red eye flight from a meeting to get home in time. Flexibility allows people to include what matters most in their lives.

DFA: What book is on your nightstand?

SN: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. I love beautiful writing and think we learn from stories like Gyasi’s about race in America. Gyasi is the award-winning author of Homegoing and was a student in the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Don’t miss your opportunity to hear more from Susan Neely and all of our dynamic and inspirational speakers on November 5.

While our annual conference is going virtual this year, one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to bringing an incredible line-up of inspirational speakers to share their expertise and unique insights. Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to these dynamic and engaging leaders by sharing some of their personal and career advice.

Today, we are honored to introduce Barri Rafferty, Executive Vice President & Head of Communications for Wells Fargo. Barri is the former Global CEO at Ketchum Public Relations and was one of the first women to lead a global public relations firm.  We can’t wait to hear how Barri was able to completely engrain flexibility into the culture at Ketchum and how she is always looking for ways to help to advance women and flexible work.


Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: What was the most meaningful piece of leadership advice you have received? Who has had the most influence on your career?
Barri RaffertyBeing a woman from the south it took me years as a leader to understand that “it is better to be trusted than to be liked.” People follow who they trust even if they don’t like every decision you make.
I don’t think one person most influenced my career but so many wonderful bosses, leaders I interacted with, and people who gave me feedback along the way had an impact on the leader I became.  I also think sometimes you learn from seeing behaviors you don’t want to emulate.  The key is to be authentic to who you are.  
DFA: What have you learned during COVID that has changed your perspective?
BR: Nancy Koehn from Harvard Business School studied courageous leaders in crisis and spoke of courage, brutal honesty, providing direction and getting used to ambiguity.  She also discussed the concept of “point to point” leadership where leaders must make decisions with the information they have on hand at a point in time and continue to adapt and be agile as new information becomes available.  This agility and ambiguity with resilience mixed in became my COVID mantra. 
DFA: How do you recharge? Where and when are you most content?
BR: I love to get outdoors and walk with my husband, sisters or close friends.   I have walked in the woods, near the water and in my neighborhood throughout COVID to unwind.  Put me in front of a body of water or mountain and I am most content.
DFA: What do you know now that you wish you knew then?  
BR: Not to take things so seriously.  So many things that were upsetting in my past I don’t even remember now. 
DFA: How do you pay it forward? 

BR: I volunteer with organizations that mentor female leaders and young girls to help them reach their full potential. I also use my corporate positions to help foster equity and inclusion.

DFA: What can we be doing to create more inclusive organizations?
BR: Be self aware of our own bias and be allies for others. We can each have an impact in small ways and big ones by being advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion.

DFA: How has flexibility impacted your life? How has your experience been with COVID-related remote work?

BR: When leading a large global agency, I leaned into flexibility to make it available to our employees worldwide.  I have always felt that if we trust people to do their jobs it doesn’t matter where they work or what time of day. Flexibility allows women and men to be successful in the workplace, as parents, as friends and helps with better self care.  We all win.  
Starting a new job during COVID has been a challenge, but thank goodness for technology.  I miss the energy of interacting with people and breaking bread together, but video has become the next best thing. We are all adapting and making the best of it.

DFA: What book is on your nightstand?

BR: I just finished “American Dirt” and always have my journal close by. Despite 2020 being a year full of obstacles there is much to be grateful for.  

Don’t miss your opportunity to hear more from Barri Rafferty and all of our dynamic and inspirational speakers on November 5.

Washington, DC – July 10, 2020 – Today the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance released highlights from its Pulse Poll: COVID-19 and Re-Entry that emphasized the need for continued focus on inclusion for all employees in office re-entry practices.

The poll was developed to uncover important data and trends related to the approach law firms and corporations are taking during this initial office re-opening phase and to provide advice on best practices. The poll’s questions were related to office re-opening task forces, guidelines regarding which employees could continue to work remotely once states re-open, and the types of resources and training provided to employees.

“While many firms and corporations have pledged their commitment to diversity and inclusion in recent years, their actions as they re-open their offices during the COVID-19 crisis will demonstrate their sincerity and have a meaningful impact on all employees,” said Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance. “While I am pleased to see that a significant number of firms and corporations are focusing on inclusion during office re-openings, I hope that more organizations will follow suit. It’s critical that firms and corporations incorporate D&I professionals in their Office Reopening Task Force, allow requests to continue to work remotely to be “reason-neutral,” and provide necessary virtual trainings,” she added.

The Pulse Poll revealed several noteworthy highlights, including:

  • The vast majority of participants (85.3%) have a task force focused on re-entry and nearly two-thirds of these task forces include a Diversity & Inclusion professional.
  • A significant share of participant organizations will allow all of their employees to work remotely (35.3%) and will use a “reason-neutral” process to determine who can work remotely  (44.1%). However, too many organizations are still limiting which employees can work remotely based upon their function and/or their risk level.
  • A significant share are planning on launching the following trainings: Best Practices for Working Remotely (38.2%, or 13 of 34), Best Practices for Leading Remote Teams (32.4%, or 11 of 34), and Unconscious Bias (23.5%, or 8 of 34).  Only a small number (3 of 34, or 8.8%) indicated they will have no trainings to support re-entry.

The Pulse Poll: COVID-19 AND Re-Entry consisted of responses from 34 law firms and corporations between May 14 and June 5, 2020. The complete report will be available exclusively to members of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance as well as poll participants.

The Diversity and Flexibility Alliance is a think tank that collaborates with organizations to develop non-stigmatized flexible work policies that promote inclusive work cultures and help to advance more women into leadership positions. The Alliance provides practical research-based solutions, training workshops, and strategic advisory services that increase organizational effectiveness through diversity and flexibility.

Contact Manar Morales at for information on membership in the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance or for guidance on fostering flexibility and inclusion in your organization during this crisis and beyond.


Contact: Manar Morales


The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center.

If you Google the term “Bright Spots,” you’ll find the heart-warming story of a Save the Children Fund missionary named Jerry Sternin who helped save an entire community of malnourished children in Vietnam. Rather than focus on what the families of the children were doing wrong, Jerry chose to focus on the few children in the community who were healthy and thriving – the “Bright Spots.” His theory was if all the families could replicate what the Bright Spot mothers were doing, then the entire community could benefit and change for the better.

Sternin called his approach “positive deviance” – focusing on what individuals are doing right, rather than what others are doing wrong.

While most of us are not in the position of saving lives, this Bright Spots theory is also effective in business. In fact, change experts and authors, Dan and Chip Heath, often advise organizations to “find a Bright Spot and clone it.” They recommend focusing on what’s working instead of emphasizing what isn’t and what needs to be fixed.

We couldn’t agree more…

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Happy New Year! This year, why not make it your new year’s resolution to celebrate your Bright Spots?

In 2019, we at the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance will be sharing diversity and flexibility Bright Spots – those small or large successes that impact your organization in a positive way. We believe that important diversity and flexibility initiatives can truly impact your organization’s bottom line, recruitment and retention capabilities and employee satisfaction. We also believe that you should celebrate these accomplishments!

We’re hoping that by sharing our members’ and non-members’ Bright Spots, we’ll help to build momentum and encourage a “Ripple Effect” so that organizations will see positive results elsewhere and implement the same strategies at home.

For our inaugural 2019 Bright Spots, we’re celebrating these 42 law firms who had 50% or greater women in their 2018 New Partner Class. (Check out our 2018 New Partner Report Executive Summary for more details.)

  1. Arent Fox
  2. Arnold & Porter
  3. Baker Donelson
  4. Boies Schiller & Flexner
  5. Brown Rudnick
  6. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
  7. Cahill Gordon & Reindel
  8. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
  9. Cozen O’Connor
  10. Debevoise & Plimpton
  11. Dechert
  12. Dentons
  13. Epstein Becker & Green
  14. Farella Braun + Martel
  15. Foley Hoag
  16. Fox Rothschild
  17. Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy
  18. Gibbons
  19. Goldberg Kohn
  20. Holland & Hart
  21. Jenner & Block
  22. Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
  23. LeClairRyan
  24. Littler Mendelson
  25. McDermott Will & Emery
  26. Miles & Stockbridge
  27. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
  28. Morrison & Foerster
  29. Norton Rose Fulbright
  30. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
  31. O’Melveny & Myers
  32. Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein
  33. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
  34. Saul Ewing
  35. Schiff Hardin
  36. Shutts & Bowen
  37. Sidley Austin
  38. Squire Patton Boggs
  39. Steptoe & Johnson
  40. Thompson Hine
  41. Wiley Rein
  42. Zuckerman Spaeder

Kudos to these firms for their commitment to the advancement of women!

We encourage you to take a moment now to reflect on your diversity and flexibility successes and celebrate your Bright Spots. Please share your Diversity & Flexibility Bright Spots with us by emailing We’ll be sharing them on our website, in this blog,  and via social media throughout the year.


Washington, DC – December 19, 2018 – Today, the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance released its seventh-annual New Partner Report, which revealed a slight increase in the percentage of women among new partners in 2018 in the U.S. Offices of the nation’s largest and top-grossing law firms. While the results showed a seven-year high of 38.9 percent, it was a mere 0.8 percent increase from last year. An Executive Summary of the report is available here. The complete report is available to Alliance members in the Member Resource Center.

“These results highlight the fact that while many recruiting classes of law school graduates may have 50% women, the percentages drop off dramatically as women advance to Partnership levels,“ said Manar Morales, President and CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance. “This underscores the need for firms to commit to a more intentional and proactive strategy to retain and advance women. It is essential that firms pay more attention to the diversity of the pipeline of talent at least three years in advance of the partnership track, as well as implement more programs to support the advancement of women along the way,” she added.

The Alliance specifically suggests that firms and other organizations:

– Identify and track gaps in gender diversity at all levels;

– Carefully consider ways to balance the pipeline of talent, at senior levels in particular;

– Implement policies and programs that support the retention and advancement of women;

– Commit to a more intentional strategy for gender diversity throughout the firm;

– Address any weaknesses in their flexibility and parental leave initiatives.

The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance’s New Partner Report is a yearly compilation of data from more than 100 (134 this year) of the nation’s largest and top-grossing law firms examining the gender breakdown of attorneys promoted to partnership in their U.S. offices. The data is based upon publicly available firm announcements and other self-reported sources on new partner classes with an effective date of promotion between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018. While these are the most favorable results in seven years, with an increase of almost six percentage points since 2012, the percentage of women among new partners in the U.S. has remained relatively stable.

Alliance member firms included in this report averaged 40.5 percent women in their new partner classes, outpacing the national average by over 1.5 percentage points. Alliance members have access to the entire New Partner Report, as well as opportunities for individualized strategic planning sessions focused on improving their gender diversity outcomes.

The Diversity and Flexibility Alliance is dedicated to helping organizations create inclusive cultures that support the advancement of women, promote diversity and embrace flexible work. The Alliance provides practical research-based solutions that increase organizational effectiveness and create high performance cultures while through diversity and flexibility.


Contact Manar Morales at for more information on the report or for guidance on how your firm can advance and retain more women.

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center

In Part I of this Action Step, we explored why debunking the notion that most organizations are meritocracies is essential to the success of diversity and inclusion efforts. To support this link, we discussed how evaluative processes such as promotion decisions are often less about objective, merit-based criteria and more influenced by in-group favoritism and other cognitive biases that tend to provide greater access to people in majority groups and less to others. With that background, we offer the following three steps to tackle the notion of meritocracy and open the channels for greater diversity and inclusion among those who advance in your workplace.

First, have a discussion about the factors other than merit that may help or hinder promotion in your organization. This can be an emotionally-charged topic, and could cause some people to feel that their achievements are being attacked. For this reason, it may be best for the discussion to be led from the highest levels of your organization, or to have a more generalized discussion of meritocracy in your industry. Questions that can help stimulate discussion include: What do we mean by “merit”? In determining who gets ahead, what should we prioritize: intelligence or hard-work; book smarts or experience; business development or results; people skills or revenue generation? What, if any, role should where a person was educated or personal connections play in who gets promoted? What is our explanation for why people at the top of our organization/industry are not more diverse? What makes it easier or harder for people to advance in our organization/industry?

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With the New Year just six weeks away, you’re undoubtedly beginning to make your plans for 2018 and developing a strategy for the advancement of your diversity and flexibility initiatives. As you begin to map out your plans, we hope you’ll remember that you have the Alliance to turn to for support. Consider us part of your team. Whether you’re a Diversity & Inclusion professional with increased responsibilities and a decreasing budget, or a human resources executive tasked with bias training, we can help. We can serve as your trusted advisor and, if you’re a member, we encourage you to schedule your Strategic Planning Session soon.

Maybe you’d like to see more women in leadership or you’re wondering why so few professionals are using your flex policy. Our Policy Reviews are one of our most popular Member Benefits and we can help you to identify what’s working and what’s not. If you’ve participated in our Law Firm Benchmarking Study in the past, make sure you make some time to review where your firm stands in comparison to your competitors and where you can improve.

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The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center

All of us like to believe that we work in a meritocracy where strong performers are catapulted to the top. What could be more fair? People who do good work and put in long hours are rewarded. People who don’t, well, they end up where they probably should be. It’s the American way; it’s the immigrant way; it’s survival of the fittest. It’s an idea that is fundamental to business itself. Except that it isn’t true…

Most of us do not work in a meritocracy. Our misguided belief that we do, however, prevents us from taking the necessary steps to ensure the best performers get ahead and undermines diversity and inclusion efforts.

Why aren’t our workplaces meritocracies? Ability, hard work, and a good character are key ingredients for success in any organization, and the people at the top most likely excelled at all three. But for most, these alone did not get them there, particularly if they’re part of the dominant and/or majority group(s) in an organization. The people who have reached the top likely were assisted by in-group favoritism which causes us to perceive achievements of people in our own group as the result of superior innate qualities. On the flip side, the achievements of people outside of our group are viewed as the result of luck or external circumstances, and they likely benefited from not having the same obstacles others have faced…

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The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center


Before launching any initiative to promote or improve diversity or flexibility within an organization, it’s important to ensure you’re solving for the right problem. That is, rather than rushing to apply the latest industry best practice, the initiative should be tailored to address the particular needs of your organization with input from those who will be impacted. In addition to tracking a variety of workforce metrics, the Alliance recommends seeking that input in a systematic and meaningful way by engaging in one or more of the following three information gathering processes.

Surveys: Conducting engagement or climate surveys can provide a rich set of data points to understand the perception of a variety of diversity, flexibility, and/or other cultural issues within an organization, including what’s going well. These surveys typically take the form of an online questionnaire featuring a series of multiple choice questions for quantitative analysis, as well as a few open-ended questions to allow participants to comment about a specific topic or a range of topics covered by the survey. When developing the questionnaire, the organization should limit inquiry to areas it is prepared to address. Surveying without follow-up action can contribute to low participation in future surveys and even increased frustration among employees due to skepticism about the organization’s commitment to addressing the issues about which it asks…

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