Since 2010, Microsoft donated more than 100 million to women and minority-owned legal firms, also referred to as WMBE (Women Minority Business Enterprise) firms. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President, and Chief Legal Officer wanted to share this significant Microsoft donation milestone and talk about Microsoft’s commitment to helping WMBE law firms.
Despite an increase in law school enrollment among women and minorities, some of the most senior positions at some law firms do not include women or minorities. Smith cites Law360's 2015 Minority Report when indicating how the legal profession is not keeping the same pace when it comes to diversity in the workplace.
According to Law360’s 2015 Minority Report, more than 20 percent of U.S. law school enrollees have been minorities over the past decade, yet only 7 percent of equity partners at U.S. law firms are minorities. And less than 1 percent of those partners are African-American. The picture is not much brighter for women. While 33.5 percent of U.S. law firm attorneys are female, women comprise only 21.7 percent of law firm partners, according to Law 360’s 2015 Glass Ceiling Report.
This stubborn progress is one reason Microsoft helped establish the Inclusion Initiative, a collaborative effort of 30 U.S. companies spearheaded by the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) to increase the retention of women and minority owned law firms. Our hope is that building strong ties with WMBE firms will enrich our business, but help these small firms grow and offer broader leadership opportunities for diverse talent.
Kari Annand is a WMBE lawyer and a principal partner at Snodgrass Annand PLLC. Being both a minority and a woman, Annand credits Microsoft for the growth of her small practice when her firm found it difficult to compete with larger corporate firms. Microsoft's Smith indicates that by working with firms like Snodgrass Annand has brought a better perspective for Microsoft's legal team, providing a better understanding of how to better connect with Microsoft customers.
While spending over 100 million on WMBE law firms is a significant milestone, Microsoft hopes that other companies join Microsoft in promoting diversity in the legal profession and other employment areas. Microsoft has other programs that help promote diversity in the legal profession with the Law Firm Diversity Program and the Gregoire Fellows Program.
Microsoft hopes that its efforts will not only promote diversity but also to ensure that more women and minority lawyers gain leadership positions in the courtroom and the boardroom.