Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council
Varnum is committed to enhancing the firm's culture with an awareness, understanding and appreciation of diversity at all levels. To strengthen our commitment and gain insight to diversity issues, we established the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council in 2007. The council provides a broader perspective and awareness to our strategic planning efforts.
Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, 2018
Dr. Jesse Bernal
Opportunities for Students
Varnum Endowed Scholarship Fund at Davenport University
This scholarship, established in 1998, honors students of color who embody a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, both within the legal profession and the community, a strong tradition at Varnum LLP and a shared value with Davenport. The scholarship is awarded annually to students of color from Michigan with a 3.0 grade point average on a 4-point scale and with a preference for those interested in pursuing a law-related career such as attorney, paralegal, legal assistant, legal secretary, or law librarian in the State of Michigan.
Varnum in the Community
Within local minority communities, Varnum supports numerous organizations with volunteer efforts, monetary contributions and sponsorships. Among the entities that have received Varnum’s support are the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Latin American Services, the Women’s Resource Center, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Minority Business Committee, the Grand Rapids Urban League, the Grand Rapids Branch NAACP, and United Way Project Blueprint.
We have partnered with and supported the Woodrick Institute in their Healing Racism programs, the Asian Professional Organization, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Minority Business Celebration and the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s Diversity Committee. The firm helped establish the Multiracial Association of Professionals (MAP) by providing seed money and donating legal services including drafting and filing articles of incorporation, preparing corporate bylaws, and working with the IRS to secure tax exempt status. The firm continues to be involved in MAP, which is now under the auspices of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. We are also proud to support Business Leaders Linked to Encourage New Directions (BLEND), which serves as an outlet for young professionals of color to learn, network, grow and become engaged in the Grand Rapids community.
Varnum attorneys are personally involved in many community organizations with the express purpose of supporting women and minorities. In addition to firm support of such organization as the Kent and Ottawa Summits on Racism, Women’s Resource Center events, and the Grand Rapids Branch NAACP, Varnum attorneys have played leadership roles in the ACLU, Grand Rapids Urban League, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, and the YWCA.
Our commitment to diversity is solid and the ways in which we grow and support a diverse workforce are ongoing. We recognize that as we support the minority community, we as a firm benefit as well, and we are committed to the continued exploration of diversity initiatives.
Awards & Recognition
Luis Avila was named to Lawyers of Color's Second Annual Hot List in 2014, which recognizes early to mid-career minority attorneys excelling in the legal profession. Varnum was also honored as the top Michigan-based Diversity Focused Company by Corp! Magazine in 2014.
In 2013, attorney Nina Thekdi was named to Lawyers of Color's inaugural Hot List and Corp! Magazine named Joy Fossel a Diversity Business Leader in their Salute to Diversity. Also in 2013, Luis Avila was presented with a Diversity Award by Wedgwood Christian Services.
The Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative was honored as a Diversity Champion in 2012 by Corp! Magazine. Carroll Velie, the firm's former Human Resources Director, was honored as an advocate for the Hispanic business community and received the Building Bridges award from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Michigan. Also in 2012, Grand Rapids Business Journal included Velie and Fossel on their list of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.
Varnum was the recipient of The Pillar Award given by the Women's Resource Center in 2010, in recognition of the firm's efforts to support women.
In 2008, Varnum was named Law Firm of the Year by Michigan State University College of Law Diversity Services Office & the Wolverine Student Bar Association/NBLSA. Varnum received the award for "making extraordinary strides to diversify the legal profession and support MSU College of Law diversity initiatives by providing financial assistance and career opportunities for its diverse students." The firm was also named 21st Century Innovator of the Year by The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and Michigan Lawyers Weekly in recognition of Varnum's "outstanding efforts in recruiting and retention."
In 2008, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and Michigan Lawyers Weekly named Varnum the 21st Century Innovator of the Year in recognition of the firm’s outstanding efforts in recruiting and retention. Varnum took the top award out of 21 finalists across the state.
In recognition of Varnum’s efforts to support the minority business community on many fronts, Varnum was named Advocate of the Year in 2004 by the Minority Business Council of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes that the firm not only represents women- and minority-owned businesses but also supports many community organizations dedicated to improving the business climate for minorities. Varnum also received the 2004 Employer Recognition Award given by the Grand Rapids Women’s Resource Center. This prestigious award recognizes that we have created an environment in which women and minorities can grow, contribute and succeed.
Our Recruiting and Retention Efforts
Recognizing the advantages of a diverse environment, Varnum has made a determined effort to recruit women and minorities at all levels of the firm. Recruiting and retaining women and minorities is a firm-wide commitment exemplified in our hiring program.
The majority of our new associates are hired from our Summer Associate Program. In addition to recruiting from law schools with diverse student populations, Varnum attempts to further reach minority students for this program by participating in the following:
- The Wolverine Bar Association’s 1L summer clerkship program, designed to increase the number of minority attorneys employed within the legal community. The SCP places students in law firms and corporations in the metro Detroit community.
- The Grand Rapids Bar Association Minority Clerkship Program, in conjunction with the Floyd Skinner Bar Association. Varnum has participated in this program since its inception in 1990.
- University of Michigan Black Law Students Association (BLSA) Alden J. "Butch" Carpenter Memorial Scholarship Gala, which raises money to award scholarships to three outstanding first-year BLSA member law students interested in business law and who demonstrate a commitment to community development.
- University of Michigan Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) Juan Tienda Scholarship Banquet, which recognizes Michigan law students and alum who have made significant contributions to the Latino community and raises money to award up to $10,000 in scholarships to exceptional first-year law students.
- University of Michigan Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) Origins Banquet, which raises money for public interest fellowships.
- University of Michigan Student Funded Fellowship Auction, which raises money to fund Michigan law students who serve their communities by taking low-paying or unpaid public interest positions during their 1L summer.
Varnum recognizes that each person is an individual with unique needs. Those might include raising children, caring for aging parents, participating in community activities, coping with illness, and more. Varnum makes it possible for all its employees to address those issues while also being valued and successful employees in their chosen fields by offering flexible work arrangements, including part-time employment and the ability to work from home.
We believe this contributes to increased job satisfaction which results in a high level of retention. Associate attorneys are able to accrue hours toward partnership status even while working part time.
Varnum’s commitment to work/life balance is reflected in the strong showing of women employees at the firm. In addition to 46 women attorneys (about 25 percent of the firm’s total attorney population), women play a strong role in other key positions at the firm. Of Varnum’s 30 support professional positions, 23 are filled by women. Of the firm’s six administrative positions, four are filled by women.
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