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Varnum Welcomes New Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council

April 3, 2013

Varnum is pleased to introduce its third Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council, designed to advance awareness, understanding and appreciation of diversity and inclusion at all levels.

The Council consists of business and community leaders who reflect the various racial, ethnic, age, gender and sexual orientations that make up the West Michigan Community.   Its purpose is to provide insight and perspective to Varnum in the firm's continuing effort to address issues of diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally.

The 13 new members of the Council are:

  • George Aquino – Vice President/Managing Director, Amway Hotel Corporation
  • Chris Arnold - Director, Grand Rapids Community College - Woodrick Diversity Learning Center
  • Ben Bufford - Lead Engineer/Technologist, GE Aviation
  • Valeda Collins - VP of Philanthropy, Grand Rapids Public Museum
  • Paul T. Doyle – Consultant, Paul T. Doyle & Associates
  • Dana Friis-Hansen - Director/CEO - Grand Rapids Art Museum
  • Dwight Hamilton - Assistant VP for Affirmative Action, Grand Valley State College
  • Cheryl Kern – Principal, Global Diversity, Inclusion & Engagement, Amway
  • Stephanie Leonardos – President and CEO, Amerikam
  • David Luna – VP Multicultural Affairs, Saint Mary's Health Care
  • Kim McLaughlin – Director of Inclusion and Community Leadership, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce
  • Bonnie Nawara – CEO, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW)
  • Mindy Ysasi-Castanon – HR Consultant, Herman Miller

Council members serve for a period of two years, during which they convene for quarterly business meetings as well as attending other firm meetings, receptions, and community events throughout the year.

The Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council at Varnum was originally established in 2009. The idea for the Council grew out growing concern that women and minority law professionals tended to leave West Michigan law firms to move to larger markets. Illustrating this trend was a 2010 National Association of Law Professionals survey in which Grand Rapids ranked poorly in retaining women and minority lawyers as compared to 43 similar metropolitan areas.

"When the council was first established, we weren't sure where the path would lead us, but we anticipated revelations of import as we brought people together and heard other perspectives," said Joy Fossel, Varnum's Diversity & Inclusion Counsel. "As we began sharing information about firm programs and policies, the Council became comfortable providing feedback on things like our summer associate program, and on recruiting and retention issues. That kind of feedback on our programs and policies has been invaluable as we work to become a more inclusive firm."

Fossel said that over the years, the influence of the Council has grown beyond the walls of Varnum and is now reaching into the broader community as well – and that's a good thing.

"We began this effort because diversifying our work force and fostering inclusion was the right thing to do. Today we know that research has clearly shown a connection between sustained regional growth and inclusion," she said. "Consequently there is an economic case for building and supporting a diverse and inclusive community, not only at Varnum, but in West Michigan overall."

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