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Nội dung được cung cấp bởi Andi Simon. Tất cả nội dung podcast bao gồm các tập, đồ họa và mô tả podcast đều được Andi Simon hoặc đối tác nền tảng podcast của họ tải lên và cung cấp trực tiếp. Nếu bạn cho rằng ai đó đang sử dụng tác phẩm có bản quyền của bạn mà không có sự cho phép của bạn, bạn có thể làm theo quy trình được nêu ở đây https://vi.player.fm/legal.
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Melissa Andrieux—From Litigator To DEI&B Champion: Melissa Andrieux’s Extraordinary Journey

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Nội dung được cung cấp bởi Andi Simon. Tất cả nội dung podcast bao gồm các tập, đồ họa và mô tả podcast đều được Andi Simon hoặc đối tác nền tảng podcast của họ tải lên và cung cấp trực tiếp. Nếu bạn cho rằng ai đó đang sử dụng tác phẩm có bản quyền của bạn mà không có sự cho phép của bạn, bạn có thể làm theo quy trình được nêu ở đây https://vi.player.fm/legal.
The more diverse your organization, the more successful it will be

Today I bring to you a most fascinating and consequential woman leader, Melissa Andrieux. Born and bred in Queens, New York, Melissa became a prosecutor, then Queens District Attorney, then civil litigator. She is now Chief Diversity Officer at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer. She is also Chief Client Relations Officer, and is tapping into her extensive experience in marketing, business development and recruitment to drive business growth within the firm by establishing a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. What’s more, she helps other firms bring DEI&B into their own cultures. Melissa is not only a trailblazer but a beacon for others to emulate. Do enjoy.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Key takeaways from our podcast
  • It’s never too late. Don’t let people tell you that you’re only good at one thing. Just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.
  • Yes you should have a plan, but don’t get so fixed on it that you miss the opportunities that come.
  • You need diverse perspectives within your organization, because the clients out there are so diverse. They can pick and choose who they want to work with, who they want to give their money to, and if they’re not seeing representation at your organization or at your business, they’re going to go elsewhere.
  • Diversity is a reference, a representation of different cultures, different backgrounds, different races, sexual orientations. Diversity can also be the differences in education, socioeconomic background, marital status. People often think that it’s just racial or gender, but that’s not it. There are so many different aspects to diversity. It’s what makes us different and unique.
  • Equity at its basic level is about fairness and leveling the playing field. Contrary to what some people think, it’s not about taking from one group to give to another group. It’s about making adjustments to imbalances. It’s really about fairness.
  • Inclusion is related to belonging. Inclusion is, you’re being invited to the party to play, you’re being given a seat at the table, you’re being considered. And as a decision maker, as a colleague, your voice is being heard.
  • If we do not start with the basics, the foundations, and understand why people feel a certain way, why people think that they need to gravitate towards their own groups, their own culture, then we’re never going to get to where we need to be. It’s all about knowledge, education and understanding.
  • When it comes to DEI, the leader is instrumental because nothing can be done without the leader’s buy-in.

You can connect with Melissa by LinkedIn or email: mandrieux@dorflaw.com.

More stories of women making DEI a reality, not just an idea Additional resources for you Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi I’m Andi Simon and as you know, as my frequent followers who come to watch our podcast, I’m here to be the guide and the host to take you off the brink. Our job is to help you see, feel and think in new ways. And in order to do that, you have to listen to people who have changed. Change is painful. Your brain hates me. But don’t run away. Today we’re going to have a great, great time. I have with us today Melissa Andrieux who’s an attorney whom I met at a wonderful party. And she has really given me some perspective on something that I think is important for us to share.

She’s smiling at me. Here’s a little bit about her background and then she’s going to tell you about her own journey. Melissa is an experienced litigator. She leveraged her background in law to lead Dorf Nelson & Zauderer, the law firm, in their initiatives as chief diversity officer. She’s also the firm’s chief client relations officer, and she’s tapping into her extensive experience in marketing, business development and recruitment to drive business growth within the firm.

But what’s really important is, she’s gone from being a litigator to being an expert in the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging professional space. So she’s helping the firm help other firms begin. And this is my world: see, feel and think in new ways so they can begin to understand why having a lot of diversity of all kinds, including cognitive diversity and listening to each other is important, and understand how to include people in things that you might have not thought they were part of. Melissa, thank you for joining me today.

Melissa Andrieux: Well, thank you for having me, Andi. It’s a real pleasure to be on your show.

Andi Simon: Well, it was a real pleasure to meet you when we did the book launch at Josie’s. I asked people if they wanted to share their wisdoms and Melissa had a story she wanted to tell. She’s going to tell it again today. But first, who is Melissa? Tell us about your journey, please.

Melissa Andrieux: Well, when you called me up to tell my story, I was a little shocked. I hadn’t planned on being called upon. But I love sharing my story. I was born and bred in Queens. I am a lawyer, as you said. And I came to that profession kind of, I didn’t have mentors in my life who were lawyers or judges. I learned by watching TV what was interesting. That’s why I chose my profession and what was on TV? You’re a prosecutor. You are a criminal defense lawyer. So I chose the prosecution route.

I always wanted to be a Queens District Attorney, and I became one. I loved that job. I represented the people of the State of New York, the county of Queens, and as most people in government, we move on into civil practice. And then I moved into civil litigation. I did that for a very long time. You may find that shocking, but I did it for 12 years at a firm and then I moved to Dorf Nelson & Zauderer, which was then Dorf Nelson. Now it’s Dorf Nelson & Zauderer.

And I did that for a while, and it’s kind of sad looking back on it, but I did it for such a long time when I didn’t really enjoy it, but I didn’t know what else was out there. I had no clue what to do with this law degree. So I just kept on doing litigation, and it got to the point where I started speaking with people at the firm, and I was told that this opening for marketing and business development was available. And I said, well, I’ve never done either. I’m a litigator, I’m a lawyer.

But then it got to the point where I was just candidly miserable. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to go to work. So I said, you know, let me try the position, and I’m not a failer. I don’t like to fail. So I said, I’m going to put my heart and soul into it. And I started learning about the business side of law, which I had no idea that law was a business. I thought you just went to court, the depositions, blah blah blah, but I found it very interesting. I was meeting clients, I was meeting prospective clients, I was learning about the business.

And then that developed into marketing, which opened a whole new world for me. And with the marketing, I was looking at other law firms, I was looking at businesses, and the DEI aspect clicked. I mean, as you can see, I’m a woman of color in the legal profession, which another story is really not as diverse as should be, but we’ll leave that for another time. So I started looking internally at what we could do to make the law firm better, more inclusive, more attractive to candidates. We wanted to hire people. So what do you do? So I spoke with leadership. I had to get their buy-in or else this would never work.

And the first thing that we did is, we started a Diversity and Inclusion Council. And I hand-picked the members, and we just had candid conversations about what was going on at the firm, what they wanted to see change, and I studied. It was not easy. I spoke with people in the DEI space. I found the experts, I read, and it got to the point where I was being called upon to do panels and advise people on their own DEI journeys. I mean, it wasn’t a quick thing, unfortunately. It took a lot of hard work. I had a lot of mentors and sponsors in my corner.

Luckily, I’m one of those individuals who actually found people who wanted to invest in me, and that’s kind of how I ended up here. I know that a lot of people, and I’ve heard this, think that the law firm hand-picked the Black attorney to be the DEI officer, but I assure you that it’s not the case. I wanted this role. I advocated for this role, and I believe that I’m doing a very good job with the role. It’s not done. It’s hard work. And we continue every day to do the important work.

Andi Simon: Let’s reflect for a moment, which is how I think our listeners or our viewers want to pick your brain, because there have been a number of articles that have come out about how companies, large and small, are de-emphasizing the work of DEI or the Department of DEI. I’m not quite sure, being an anthropologist, why you need a department of it and who they put there. But, it’s a very important part of transforming the way we live together. And it’s both inside and outside. It changes how people come to work, what they expect of each other, how we listen to each other.

And here, give them some of your own, both learning and experiences, because while they didn’t pick you, they were wise enough to select you and to open up a space to let you go. I’m curious about that first group that you pulled together and how you managed to get them thinking. So give us a little of how did Melissa do it and how others might as well.

Melissa Andrieux: So the how-to is: I decided to leave leadership out of these council meetings because I felt that in order for me to get a true sense of how people were feeling, I couldn’t have the partners in these meetings because then people would feel like they cannot be honest. And that was the first thing that we did.

And then I took the feedback. I took the information, and I looked at our policies. I looked at the procedures, the internal information that the firm has. And then I went to leadership and I said, this is what we can do. Let’s do X, Y, and Z. Let’s look at our policies. Are they gender neutral? Do they apply to everyone across the board?

And we started slowly but surely. And as I say to everybody, DEI is in the long run. You cannot expect to finish DEI in a week, a month or even a year. It’s an ongoing process. So that’s how I started my DEI initiatives at the firm.

Andi Simon: You spoke about having mentors and sponsors. Clearly you had teammates because as you think about it, this requires people to stop and rethink their story. And the story of the firm they’re in. Their livelihood is dependent upon it, but also their personal experiences and what’s happening. So as they were working with you, were there some key issues? I can hear your policy changes, but policies don’t do much if people don’t do much. So what kinds of things were you beginning to implement?

Melissa Andrieux: So candidly, of course, as with any new initiatives, there is a little bit of pushback. So we had to get the team members at the firm on board and explain to them why this was important, why the time was now. And, it’s not perfect. Nothing is ever perfect. But people do understand why diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is important.

I mean, the thing is, you want to attract talent. You want the firm to continue to grow. And the way that we do that is bringing diverse perspectives into the law firm, bringing different people into the law firm, because neurodiversity, everybody comes from a different place in their lives. Their thinking is not the same as, let’s say, somebody who’s been here forever. You want to bring in fresh blood. And so when they started to understand the business reason behind this, they started to really buy into what we were doing. And they embrace it and they welcome it at this point.

Andi Simon: One of the women I met recently is a Vassar professor who had a bunch of faculty go to court about equal pay for equal jobs. And of course, being a former academic, I remember well how they hired men at different salaries than the women and they came in with less experience. And that’s at a female college. Come on.

So give us a little bit of a breakdown because there’s diversity, equity, equal pay for equal work, equal position, equal opportunity, inclusion. And inclusion and belonging are a little bit different. Give us a little bit more detail. I think it would be helpful.

Melissa Andrieux: Sure. So diversity is a reference, a representation of different cultures, different backgrounds, different races, sexual orientations. Diversity can also be the differences in education, socioeconomic background, marital status is diversity. People often think that it’s just racial or gender, but that’s not it. There are so many different aspects to diversity. It’s what makes us different and unique.

Andi Simon: Somebody once said to me, we’re all diverse. And I said, that’s great. We’re all unique. Go ahead.

Melissa Andrieux: And that’s what makes the world a great place to live. Imagine living with everybody who’s like you. I mean, I think that would be pretty boring. So that’s diversity.

Equity at its basic level, equity is about fairness and leveling the playing field. Contrary to what some people think, it’s not about taking from one group to give to another group. It’s about making adjustments to imbalances. It’s really about fairness.

Inclusion is kind of related to belonging. But I look at them as two different concepts. So to me, inclusion is, you’re being invited to the party to play, you’re being given a seat at the table, you’re being considered. And as a decision maker, as a colleague, your voice is being heard.

Andi Simon: You mean you can say something in a meeting and people can hear you?

Melissa Andrieux: Exactly, exactly. They listen to you. They might not buy what you say, but they give you the opportunity to be seen and to be heard. And to me, belonging is an individual’s feeling that you feel that you are connected to the community that you belong to, that you can be yourself with the people that you’re around you.

Andi Simon: You find that you know humans. I’m an anthropologist. Humans are very tribal. Yes, they look at the world that they’re moving into, such as a workplace. Do I belong here? And it is everything from the tangible: Am I dressed right? Do I look right? Will people look me in the eye and trust that I make good decisions? Plus all of the intangibles that are there that often I don’t hear people talking about, which disturbs me because inclusion without belonging isn’t cool.

I did work for a university once and all the students at a conference we were holding sat at tables with others where they belonged, but none of them were diverse. And then they literally stood up and said to the administration, you think you’ve built diversity, but we are really in enclaves with our tribes. And yes, the whole place may have diversity, but we don’t feel like we’re diverse. We feel like we have a tribe to belong to, and that’s comfortable for us. But it may be uncomfortable for you. It was a very profound conversation about what these words mean.

Melissa Andrieux: It is. So I do some consulting, DEI consulting as part of my duties. And one of the things that I always start my programs with is defining what diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility mean. Because if we don’t understand these core concepts, we’re not going to understand anything.

So I truly think that if people do not start with the basics, the foundations, and understand why people feel a certain way, why people think that they need to gravitate towards their own, their own groups, their own culture, then we’re never going to get to where we need to be. It’s all about knowledge, education and understanding.

Andi Simon: And an openness to want to know more about the other.

Melissa Andrieux: Seriously.

Andi Simon: Ask questions and be happy when you can sit together at lunch and share. How’s life? Humans are human and nobody likes to be the whistleblower or the soloist. They want an orchestra where they can all play their instruments, but play them together with a good conductor. How important is the conductor? The leader?

Melissa Andrieux: Oh, wow. When it comes to DEI, the leader is instrumental because nothing can be done without the leader’s buy-in. And I truly believe that. If so, Jon Dorf, Jonathan Nelson, and Mark Zauderer, they are the leaders of the firm, if they did not embrace the concepts of DEI, what I am doing at the firm would never succeed. It would just be some box that you’re checking. You know, your documents. But because it’s something that they truly believe in, it’s in the fabric of the firm. Long before I got here, it just wasn’t apparent until I got here, I suppose. If you don’t have the leaders who have your back, we’re going to fail.

Andi Simon: Well, do they do intentional things in order to broaden their own comfort with a diverse workforce and with diverse clients? I mean, do they live the promise?

Melissa Andrieux: Absolutely, absolutely. One of the things that we do is: we started a scholarship at Pace University. It’s called the Beth S. Nelson Memorial Scholarship, and we wanted it to go to a woman embarking on a second career in law. And it’s in honor of Jonathan Nelson’s mom, who was a teacher and then she went into law. So that is something that the firm does in order to show its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We want to bring up the next generation. We want to give these women who are embarking on these second careers the opportunity to get in the law and graduate on time, and that’s one of the ways that we do it.

Another way that we show our commitment, that the partners show their commitment, is: they embrace every single client, regardless if you’re black, white, LGBTQ. You know you deserve equal treatment when you come into Dorf Nelson & Zauderer LLP and you need representation, never turned away.

Andi Simon: I think that it’s really a model for others to both hear about and to learn about. You also work with clients and how do you bring the purpose and mission out to them as a consultant or as an attorney or a little of both?

Melissa Andrieux: I wear many hats, Andi, I gotta tell you. So, being that I am a lawyer and working at a law firm doing business development, that has helped me tremendously when I go out there and I network because I understand the language. I know what clients want from their attorneys and what they don’t want. So I’m able to talk to them as they need to be spoken to.

And I also do consulting, which kind of develops organically as well. I go out and I do these panels. I go to these networking events and people ask me what I do. Somebody said, Will you do consulting for us? And obviously I said yes, because I love to do that. I love to teach and help other organizations grow and start their DEI journeys with the foundations, and then we move on from there as their needs become apparent, as whatever they need.

Andi Simon: So as you’re looking out there, you’re seeing some trends that are both interesting or disturbing to you.

Melissa Andrieux: Some interesting trends are that a lot of the firms that have started their DEI, they’re continuing it, which I’m so happy about, even post- the Supreme Court decision. They are doubling down on their DEI initiatives, which I’m so happy to see because we cannot go backwards. We absolutely cannot go backwards. It takes the courage of these leaders to say we are going to forge forward. We’re not going to let anything stop us, because it’s also good business. Having a diverse workforce is good business.

I always say, if you want to attract more clients, you need to have your organization reflect those clients that are coming to you for help. And one of the disturbing trends is, people who are using the Supreme Court decision as an excuse to not continue their DEIB initiatives, or those that say, we’ve reached the endgame, we can stop now. Unfortunately, that is not how you look at the DEI. I wish that were the case where we no longer needed these initiatives, but unfortunately they must continue and we are not done. We are never done. So to those organizations that think that it’s okay to stop, I caution you.

Andi Simon: But, you know, it’s an interesting philosophical question because it’s a gig to them. It isn’t fundamental. It isn’t transformative. It is a way of thinking about people or business. It’s something that seemed to be cool to do, like ESG [environmental, social and governance], you know, pay a little attention to the environment.

We’re social creatures. We live in a very complex society and don’t shortchange yourself by letting others put you into some box. Take the initiative and see why it’s so important. I mean, women who lead lead companies in very good ROI, their returns are there and the people stay and they become places one wants to work. And that’s not inconsequential, is it?

Melissa Andrieux: It’s not. People gravitate to people who are like them. So I always use this as an example. I will attract a different type of client than, let’s say, a John Dorf or a Jonathan Nelson. I will attract the women. I will attract the people of color. I mean, not to say that they won’t, but we’re just going about business development and recruitment differently. That’s why you need diverse perspectives within your organization, because the clients out there are so diverse. They can pick and choose who they want to work with, who they want to give their money to, and if they’re not seeing representation at your organization or at your business, they’re going to go elsewhere. So I think it’s a really good practice to have so many different perspectives within your firm going out there representing your organization.

Andi Simon: Often when I do workshops, I remind the CEOs in the group that 13 million companies are owned by women. And there’s a tremendous amount of effort to get women, women of color or people with diverse backgrounds into the supply chain, right into businesses so they can be in the supply chain. They’re looking for gender and gender fair. Johanna Zeilstra‘s company Gender Fair is trying to establish it as a standard, not as an afterthought, and this is sort of a very important time for us not to let us go backwards. And not make it hard. I mean, I don’t think this is hard work. It’s important work.

But I am just thrilled that you’re on this podcast because I think that many people aren’t really aware of the challenge and the opportunities that are before them. Is it easy? No. Should you do it? Absolutely. And will it help you and your purpose, your meaning, your business, your happiness grow. Aha! Oh, God. Melissa, it should be easier. Tell the listener as we’re just about ready to wrap up, give them 1 or 2 things that they should focus on.

I always like Oprah’s small wins. If you’re going to get somewhere and don’t try to move the battleship a little at a time, but know where you’re going. And let’s assume that what you want to build is a really exciting organization that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging intentionally and intelligently. And that’s going to help your business grow. Now, if they’re going to start and they can see that 1 or 2 things you think should be important for them to do in a small win style.

Melissa Andrieux: So before I answer that question, Andi, you reminded me the firm, the law firm, is Gender Fair certified, and we’re actually one of the first law firms to be gender fair certified. So that’s another way that we show to the world that the partners are putting their money where their mouth is. So I wanted to put that out there before I forget.

Andi Simon: Little push for Gender Fair, because it’s a great way for you to demonstrate that you care about the right things in the right way. So that’s one of the 2 or 3 things you want them to small win by. But learn more. And we can certainly introduce you to Gender Fair and its leadership. That’s terrific Melissa. Please, some other things.

Melissa Andrieux: So from my personal journey, I want to share with your audience that it’s never too late, as I know it’s a little cliché, but for me, I always thought that I could never leave. I thought it was too late for me to unlearn being an attorney. Unlearn being a litigator. But then when I opened up my mind and decided finally that I was ready to make the move, I said, you’re going to do it. You’re going to be great at it. And it was a long process, but I did it.

So one of my things, one of the things that I always say to myself and to the young attorneys or folks that I meet in the world, is that it’s never too late. Don’t ever be pigeonholed. Don’t let people tell you that you’re only good at one thing. And I had a lot of naysayers in my life, not to be a Debbie Downer, but a lot of people thought that I had lost it when I made the career change, and because I was so good at what I was doing. Well, just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. So never too late. Ever.

Andi Simon: You know, it’s so interesting. I met you at a book event for our new book, Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success. And I’ve been doing podcasts with a number of the women who are in the book. There are 102 women, 500 wisdoms, and they all are sharing a good deal about their own life’s journey. Now, Lorraine Hariton we did the other day and she said no, there was no straight line. I was dyslexic, and I managed to realize I was really good at math. And from there I got into computers early, and then I was in Silicon Valley, and then I went to raise money for Hillary and I said, um, no straight line, is there, no straight line, no straight line.

And in some ways, that’s the exciting part about being a smart person, I’ll say a smart woman, but a smart person, right?, where you can see the opportunities. One of the wisdoms I love there is: sure you should have a plan, but don’t get so fixed on it that you miss the opportunities that come.

I’m a big serendipity person, so it’s just listen. And here Melissa stood up at an event and said something and I introduced her and I said, please come and speak on our podcast. And I’m just thrilled that you were here today. If people want to reach you and talk to you more, put you on a panel or help you help them, where’s the best place? We will have it on the blog, of course, but sometimes they hear you and it sticks. Where should they reach you?

Melissa Andrieux: Well, I’m at Dorf, Nelson and Zauderer. My email is mandrieux@dorflaw.com and the website is DorfLaw.com. You’ll find me there.

Andi Simon: Good. This has been a great, great conversation. Every time I do these, I learn more and more about wonderful women who are really transforming our society and themselves. You, the company you work for, the people you work with, and I’m happy too. So let me wrap up for those of you who come and send me your emails and push out all of our podcasts. Last I looked, we’re in the top 5% of global podcasts, and in some places like South Africa, we’re really high. And it’s sort of like, really? So you never know where you are.

So the message today is: take your heart and follow it a bit. You never know what’s in it for you. My books, of course, are on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your local bookseller. Women Mean Business is a fascinating book. I’ll turn around and I will bring it over here because as you look at a book, you begin to realize, it’s my third book, and the other two were all Amazon best sellers and award winners, but each book has a different insight. And so as you open it, I mean, I love Kay Koplovitz, not by chance, I opened it by chance. They teach you something, and I often say that a book has a fingerprint, and the fingerprint gives it a uniqueness, but its power is inside. And so as the book is opened at all of our events, and if you’d like an event, please let me know. What happens is something magical.

Kay Koplovitz said at one event, think fast and act fast. And she said: if I had time to analyze all the things I had to make decisions about, I’d never make a decision. And I said to myself, you know, as an entrepreneur, I thought fast and acted fast and that’s how we learn from others. We get inspired by them. And it does spark our success with new ideas that we know aren’t so crazy. It’s fun. So thank you again for coming. It’s been a pleasure. And we’ll see you next week as we post all of our great podcasts. Enjoy the journey. Thanks, Melissa. I’ll say goodbye now.

Melissa Andrieux: Thank you, Andi, for having me.

Andi Simon: It’s a pleasure.

WOMEN MEAN BUSINESS® is a registered trademark of the National Association of Women Business Owners® (NAWBO)

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iconChia sẻ
 
Manage episode 403085077 series 1462457
Nội dung được cung cấp bởi Andi Simon. Tất cả nội dung podcast bao gồm các tập, đồ họa và mô tả podcast đều được Andi Simon hoặc đối tác nền tảng podcast của họ tải lên và cung cấp trực tiếp. Nếu bạn cho rằng ai đó đang sử dụng tác phẩm có bản quyền của bạn mà không có sự cho phép của bạn, bạn có thể làm theo quy trình được nêu ở đây https://vi.player.fm/legal.
The more diverse your organization, the more successful it will be

Today I bring to you a most fascinating and consequential woman leader, Melissa Andrieux. Born and bred in Queens, New York, Melissa became a prosecutor, then Queens District Attorney, then civil litigator. She is now Chief Diversity Officer at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer. She is also Chief Client Relations Officer, and is tapping into her extensive experience in marketing, business development and recruitment to drive business growth within the firm by establishing a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. What’s more, she helps other firms bring DEI&B into their own cultures. Melissa is not only a trailblazer but a beacon for others to emulate. Do enjoy.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Key takeaways from our podcast
  • It’s never too late. Don’t let people tell you that you’re only good at one thing. Just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.
  • Yes you should have a plan, but don’t get so fixed on it that you miss the opportunities that come.
  • You need diverse perspectives within your organization, because the clients out there are so diverse. They can pick and choose who they want to work with, who they want to give their money to, and if they’re not seeing representation at your organization or at your business, they’re going to go elsewhere.
  • Diversity is a reference, a representation of different cultures, different backgrounds, different races, sexual orientations. Diversity can also be the differences in education, socioeconomic background, marital status. People often think that it’s just racial or gender, but that’s not it. There are so many different aspects to diversity. It’s what makes us different and unique.
  • Equity at its basic level is about fairness and leveling the playing field. Contrary to what some people think, it’s not about taking from one group to give to another group. It’s about making adjustments to imbalances. It’s really about fairness.
  • Inclusion is related to belonging. Inclusion is, you’re being invited to the party to play, you’re being given a seat at the table, you’re being considered. And as a decision maker, as a colleague, your voice is being heard.
  • If we do not start with the basics, the foundations, and understand why people feel a certain way, why people think that they need to gravitate towards their own groups, their own culture, then we’re never going to get to where we need to be. It’s all about knowledge, education and understanding.
  • When it comes to DEI, the leader is instrumental because nothing can be done without the leader’s buy-in.

You can connect with Melissa by LinkedIn or email: mandrieux@dorflaw.com.

More stories of women making DEI a reality, not just an idea Additional resources for you Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi I’m Andi Simon and as you know, as my frequent followers who come to watch our podcast, I’m here to be the guide and the host to take you off the brink. Our job is to help you see, feel and think in new ways. And in order to do that, you have to listen to people who have changed. Change is painful. Your brain hates me. But don’t run away. Today we’re going to have a great, great time. I have with us today Melissa Andrieux who’s an attorney whom I met at a wonderful party. And she has really given me some perspective on something that I think is important for us to share.

She’s smiling at me. Here’s a little bit about her background and then she’s going to tell you about her own journey. Melissa is an experienced litigator. She leveraged her background in law to lead Dorf Nelson & Zauderer, the law firm, in their initiatives as chief diversity officer. She’s also the firm’s chief client relations officer, and she’s tapping into her extensive experience in marketing, business development and recruitment to drive business growth within the firm.

But what’s really important is, she’s gone from being a litigator to being an expert in the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging professional space. So she’s helping the firm help other firms begin. And this is my world: see, feel and think in new ways so they can begin to understand why having a lot of diversity of all kinds, including cognitive diversity and listening to each other is important, and understand how to include people in things that you might have not thought they were part of. Melissa, thank you for joining me today.

Melissa Andrieux: Well, thank you for having me, Andi. It’s a real pleasure to be on your show.

Andi Simon: Well, it was a real pleasure to meet you when we did the book launch at Josie’s. I asked people if they wanted to share their wisdoms and Melissa had a story she wanted to tell. She’s going to tell it again today. But first, who is Melissa? Tell us about your journey, please.

Melissa Andrieux: Well, when you called me up to tell my story, I was a little shocked. I hadn’t planned on being called upon. But I love sharing my story. I was born and bred in Queens. I am a lawyer, as you said. And I came to that profession kind of, I didn’t have mentors in my life who were lawyers or judges. I learned by watching TV what was interesting. That’s why I chose my profession and what was on TV? You’re a prosecutor. You are a criminal defense lawyer. So I chose the prosecution route.

I always wanted to be a Queens District Attorney, and I became one. I loved that job. I represented the people of the State of New York, the county of Queens, and as most people in government, we move on into civil practice. And then I moved into civil litigation. I did that for a very long time. You may find that shocking, but I did it for 12 years at a firm and then I moved to Dorf Nelson & Zauderer, which was then Dorf Nelson. Now it’s Dorf Nelson & Zauderer.

And I did that for a while, and it’s kind of sad looking back on it, but I did it for such a long time when I didn’t really enjoy it, but I didn’t know what else was out there. I had no clue what to do with this law degree. So I just kept on doing litigation, and it got to the point where I started speaking with people at the firm, and I was told that this opening for marketing and business development was available. And I said, well, I’ve never done either. I’m a litigator, I’m a lawyer.

But then it got to the point where I was just candidly miserable. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to go to work. So I said, you know, let me try the position, and I’m not a failer. I don’t like to fail. So I said, I’m going to put my heart and soul into it. And I started learning about the business side of law, which I had no idea that law was a business. I thought you just went to court, the depositions, blah blah blah, but I found it very interesting. I was meeting clients, I was meeting prospective clients, I was learning about the business.

And then that developed into marketing, which opened a whole new world for me. And with the marketing, I was looking at other law firms, I was looking at businesses, and the DEI aspect clicked. I mean, as you can see, I’m a woman of color in the legal profession, which another story is really not as diverse as should be, but we’ll leave that for another time. So I started looking internally at what we could do to make the law firm better, more inclusive, more attractive to candidates. We wanted to hire people. So what do you do? So I spoke with leadership. I had to get their buy-in or else this would never work.

And the first thing that we did is, we started a Diversity and Inclusion Council. And I hand-picked the members, and we just had candid conversations about what was going on at the firm, what they wanted to see change, and I studied. It was not easy. I spoke with people in the DEI space. I found the experts, I read, and it got to the point where I was being called upon to do panels and advise people on their own DEI journeys. I mean, it wasn’t a quick thing, unfortunately. It took a lot of hard work. I had a lot of mentors and sponsors in my corner.

Luckily, I’m one of those individuals who actually found people who wanted to invest in me, and that’s kind of how I ended up here. I know that a lot of people, and I’ve heard this, think that the law firm hand-picked the Black attorney to be the DEI officer, but I assure you that it’s not the case. I wanted this role. I advocated for this role, and I believe that I’m doing a very good job with the role. It’s not done. It’s hard work. And we continue every day to do the important work.

Andi Simon: Let’s reflect for a moment, which is how I think our listeners or our viewers want to pick your brain, because there have been a number of articles that have come out about how companies, large and small, are de-emphasizing the work of DEI or the Department of DEI. I’m not quite sure, being an anthropologist, why you need a department of it and who they put there. But, it’s a very important part of transforming the way we live together. And it’s both inside and outside. It changes how people come to work, what they expect of each other, how we listen to each other.

And here, give them some of your own, both learning and experiences, because while they didn’t pick you, they were wise enough to select you and to open up a space to let you go. I’m curious about that first group that you pulled together and how you managed to get them thinking. So give us a little of how did Melissa do it and how others might as well.

Melissa Andrieux: So the how-to is: I decided to leave leadership out of these council meetings because I felt that in order for me to get a true sense of how people were feeling, I couldn’t have the partners in these meetings because then people would feel like they cannot be honest. And that was the first thing that we did.

And then I took the feedback. I took the information, and I looked at our policies. I looked at the procedures, the internal information that the firm has. And then I went to leadership and I said, this is what we can do. Let’s do X, Y, and Z. Let’s look at our policies. Are they gender neutral? Do they apply to everyone across the board?

And we started slowly but surely. And as I say to everybody, DEI is in the long run. You cannot expect to finish DEI in a week, a month or even a year. It’s an ongoing process. So that’s how I started my DEI initiatives at the firm.

Andi Simon: You spoke about having mentors and sponsors. Clearly you had teammates because as you think about it, this requires people to stop and rethink their story. And the story of the firm they’re in. Their livelihood is dependent upon it, but also their personal experiences and what’s happening. So as they were working with you, were there some key issues? I can hear your policy changes, but policies don’t do much if people don’t do much. So what kinds of things were you beginning to implement?

Melissa Andrieux: So candidly, of course, as with any new initiatives, there is a little bit of pushback. So we had to get the team members at the firm on board and explain to them why this was important, why the time was now. And, it’s not perfect. Nothing is ever perfect. But people do understand why diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is important.

I mean, the thing is, you want to attract talent. You want the firm to continue to grow. And the way that we do that is bringing diverse perspectives into the law firm, bringing different people into the law firm, because neurodiversity, everybody comes from a different place in their lives. Their thinking is not the same as, let’s say, somebody who’s been here forever. You want to bring in fresh blood. And so when they started to understand the business reason behind this, they started to really buy into what we were doing. And they embrace it and they welcome it at this point.

Andi Simon: One of the women I met recently is a Vassar professor who had a bunch of faculty go to court about equal pay for equal jobs. And of course, being a former academic, I remember well how they hired men at different salaries than the women and they came in with less experience. And that’s at a female college. Come on.

So give us a little bit of a breakdown because there’s diversity, equity, equal pay for equal work, equal position, equal opportunity, inclusion. And inclusion and belonging are a little bit different. Give us a little bit more detail. I think it would be helpful.

Melissa Andrieux: Sure. So diversity is a reference, a representation of different cultures, different backgrounds, different races, sexual orientations. Diversity can also be the differences in education, socioeconomic background, marital status is diversity. People often think that it’s just racial or gender, but that’s not it. There are so many different aspects to diversity. It’s what makes us different and unique.

Andi Simon: Somebody once said to me, we’re all diverse. And I said, that’s great. We’re all unique. Go ahead.

Melissa Andrieux: And that’s what makes the world a great place to live. Imagine living with everybody who’s like you. I mean, I think that would be pretty boring. So that’s diversity.

Equity at its basic level, equity is about fairness and leveling the playing field. Contrary to what some people think, it’s not about taking from one group to give to another group. It’s about making adjustments to imbalances. It’s really about fairness.

Inclusion is kind of related to belonging. But I look at them as two different concepts. So to me, inclusion is, you’re being invited to the party to play, you’re being given a seat at the table, you’re being considered. And as a decision maker, as a colleague, your voice is being heard.

Andi Simon: You mean you can say something in a meeting and people can hear you?

Melissa Andrieux: Exactly, exactly. They listen to you. They might not buy what you say, but they give you the opportunity to be seen and to be heard. And to me, belonging is an individual’s feeling that you feel that you are connected to the community that you belong to, that you can be yourself with the people that you’re around you.

Andi Simon: You find that you know humans. I’m an anthropologist. Humans are very tribal. Yes, they look at the world that they’re moving into, such as a workplace. Do I belong here? And it is everything from the tangible: Am I dressed right? Do I look right? Will people look me in the eye and trust that I make good decisions? Plus all of the intangibles that are there that often I don’t hear people talking about, which disturbs me because inclusion without belonging isn’t cool.

I did work for a university once and all the students at a conference we were holding sat at tables with others where they belonged, but none of them were diverse. And then they literally stood up and said to the administration, you think you’ve built diversity, but we are really in enclaves with our tribes. And yes, the whole place may have diversity, but we don’t feel like we’re diverse. We feel like we have a tribe to belong to, and that’s comfortable for us. But it may be uncomfortable for you. It was a very profound conversation about what these words mean.

Melissa Andrieux: It is. So I do some consulting, DEI consulting as part of my duties. And one of the things that I always start my programs with is defining what diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility mean. Because if we don’t understand these core concepts, we’re not going to understand anything.

So I truly think that if people do not start with the basics, the foundations, and understand why people feel a certain way, why people think that they need to gravitate towards their own, their own groups, their own culture, then we’re never going to get to where we need to be. It’s all about knowledge, education and understanding.

Andi Simon: And an openness to want to know more about the other.

Melissa Andrieux: Seriously.

Andi Simon: Ask questions and be happy when you can sit together at lunch and share. How’s life? Humans are human and nobody likes to be the whistleblower or the soloist. They want an orchestra where they can all play their instruments, but play them together with a good conductor. How important is the conductor? The leader?

Melissa Andrieux: Oh, wow. When it comes to DEI, the leader is instrumental because nothing can be done without the leader’s buy-in. And I truly believe that. If so, Jon Dorf, Jonathan Nelson, and Mark Zauderer, they are the leaders of the firm, if they did not embrace the concepts of DEI, what I am doing at the firm would never succeed. It would just be some box that you’re checking. You know, your documents. But because it’s something that they truly believe in, it’s in the fabric of the firm. Long before I got here, it just wasn’t apparent until I got here, I suppose. If you don’t have the leaders who have your back, we’re going to fail.

Andi Simon: Well, do they do intentional things in order to broaden their own comfort with a diverse workforce and with diverse clients? I mean, do they live the promise?

Melissa Andrieux: Absolutely, absolutely. One of the things that we do is: we started a scholarship at Pace University. It’s called the Beth S. Nelson Memorial Scholarship, and we wanted it to go to a woman embarking on a second career in law. And it’s in honor of Jonathan Nelson’s mom, who was a teacher and then she went into law. So that is something that the firm does in order to show its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We want to bring up the next generation. We want to give these women who are embarking on these second careers the opportunity to get in the law and graduate on time, and that’s one of the ways that we do it.

Another way that we show our commitment, that the partners show their commitment, is: they embrace every single client, regardless if you’re black, white, LGBTQ. You know you deserve equal treatment when you come into Dorf Nelson & Zauderer LLP and you need representation, never turned away.

Andi Simon: I think that it’s really a model for others to both hear about and to learn about. You also work with clients and how do you bring the purpose and mission out to them as a consultant or as an attorney or a little of both?

Melissa Andrieux: I wear many hats, Andi, I gotta tell you. So, being that I am a lawyer and working at a law firm doing business development, that has helped me tremendously when I go out there and I network because I understand the language. I know what clients want from their attorneys and what they don’t want. So I’m able to talk to them as they need to be spoken to.

And I also do consulting, which kind of develops organically as well. I go out and I do these panels. I go to these networking events and people ask me what I do. Somebody said, Will you do consulting for us? And obviously I said yes, because I love to do that. I love to teach and help other organizations grow and start their DEI journeys with the foundations, and then we move on from there as their needs become apparent, as whatever they need.

Andi Simon: So as you’re looking out there, you’re seeing some trends that are both interesting or disturbing to you.

Melissa Andrieux: Some interesting trends are that a lot of the firms that have started their DEI, they’re continuing it, which I’m so happy about, even post- the Supreme Court decision. They are doubling down on their DEI initiatives, which I’m so happy to see because we cannot go backwards. We absolutely cannot go backwards. It takes the courage of these leaders to say we are going to forge forward. We’re not going to let anything stop us, because it’s also good business. Having a diverse workforce is good business.

I always say, if you want to attract more clients, you need to have your organization reflect those clients that are coming to you for help. And one of the disturbing trends is, people who are using the Supreme Court decision as an excuse to not continue their DEIB initiatives, or those that say, we’ve reached the endgame, we can stop now. Unfortunately, that is not how you look at the DEI. I wish that were the case where we no longer needed these initiatives, but unfortunately they must continue and we are not done. We are never done. So to those organizations that think that it’s okay to stop, I caution you.

Andi Simon: But, you know, it’s an interesting philosophical question because it’s a gig to them. It isn’t fundamental. It isn’t transformative. It is a way of thinking about people or business. It’s something that seemed to be cool to do, like ESG [environmental, social and governance], you know, pay a little attention to the environment.

We’re social creatures. We live in a very complex society and don’t shortchange yourself by letting others put you into some box. Take the initiative and see why it’s so important. I mean, women who lead lead companies in very good ROI, their returns are there and the people stay and they become places one wants to work. And that’s not inconsequential, is it?

Melissa Andrieux: It’s not. People gravitate to people who are like them. So I always use this as an example. I will attract a different type of client than, let’s say, a John Dorf or a Jonathan Nelson. I will attract the women. I will attract the people of color. I mean, not to say that they won’t, but we’re just going about business development and recruitment differently. That’s why you need diverse perspectives within your organization, because the clients out there are so diverse. They can pick and choose who they want to work with, who they want to give their money to, and if they’re not seeing representation at your organization or at your business, they’re going to go elsewhere. So I think it’s a really good practice to have so many different perspectives within your firm going out there representing your organization.

Andi Simon: Often when I do workshops, I remind the CEOs in the group that 13 million companies are owned by women. And there’s a tremendous amount of effort to get women, women of color or people with diverse backgrounds into the supply chain, right into businesses so they can be in the supply chain. They’re looking for gender and gender fair. Johanna Zeilstra‘s company Gender Fair is trying to establish it as a standard, not as an afterthought, and this is sort of a very important time for us not to let us go backwards. And not make it hard. I mean, I don’t think this is hard work. It’s important work.

But I am just thrilled that you’re on this podcast because I think that many people aren’t really aware of the challenge and the opportunities that are before them. Is it easy? No. Should you do it? Absolutely. And will it help you and your purpose, your meaning, your business, your happiness grow. Aha! Oh, God. Melissa, it should be easier. Tell the listener as we’re just about ready to wrap up, give them 1 or 2 things that they should focus on.

I always like Oprah’s small wins. If you’re going to get somewhere and don’t try to move the battleship a little at a time, but know where you’re going. And let’s assume that what you want to build is a really exciting organization that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging intentionally and intelligently. And that’s going to help your business grow. Now, if they’re going to start and they can see that 1 or 2 things you think should be important for them to do in a small win style.

Melissa Andrieux: So before I answer that question, Andi, you reminded me the firm, the law firm, is Gender Fair certified, and we’re actually one of the first law firms to be gender fair certified. So that’s another way that we show to the world that the partners are putting their money where their mouth is. So I wanted to put that out there before I forget.

Andi Simon: Little push for Gender Fair, because it’s a great way for you to demonstrate that you care about the right things in the right way. So that’s one of the 2 or 3 things you want them to small win by. But learn more. And we can certainly introduce you to Gender Fair and its leadership. That’s terrific Melissa. Please, some other things.

Melissa Andrieux: So from my personal journey, I want to share with your audience that it’s never too late, as I know it’s a little cliché, but for me, I always thought that I could never leave. I thought it was too late for me to unlearn being an attorney. Unlearn being a litigator. But then when I opened up my mind and decided finally that I was ready to make the move, I said, you’re going to do it. You’re going to be great at it. And it was a long process, but I did it.

So one of my things, one of the things that I always say to myself and to the young attorneys or folks that I meet in the world, is that it’s never too late. Don’t ever be pigeonholed. Don’t let people tell you that you’re only good at one thing. And I had a lot of naysayers in my life, not to be a Debbie Downer, but a lot of people thought that I had lost it when I made the career change, and because I was so good at what I was doing. Well, just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. So never too late. Ever.

Andi Simon: You know, it’s so interesting. I met you at a book event for our new book, Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success. And I’ve been doing podcasts with a number of the women who are in the book. There are 102 women, 500 wisdoms, and they all are sharing a good deal about their own life’s journey. Now, Lorraine Hariton we did the other day and she said no, there was no straight line. I was dyslexic, and I managed to realize I was really good at math. And from there I got into computers early, and then I was in Silicon Valley, and then I went to raise money for Hillary and I said, um, no straight line, is there, no straight line, no straight line.

And in some ways, that’s the exciting part about being a smart person, I’ll say a smart woman, but a smart person, right?, where you can see the opportunities. One of the wisdoms I love there is: sure you should have a plan, but don’t get so fixed on it that you miss the opportunities that come.

I’m a big serendipity person, so it’s just listen. And here Melissa stood up at an event and said something and I introduced her and I said, please come and speak on our podcast. And I’m just thrilled that you were here today. If people want to reach you and talk to you more, put you on a panel or help you help them, where’s the best place? We will have it on the blog, of course, but sometimes they hear you and it sticks. Where should they reach you?

Melissa Andrieux: Well, I’m at Dorf, Nelson and Zauderer. My email is mandrieux@dorflaw.com and the website is DorfLaw.com. You’ll find me there.

Andi Simon: Good. This has been a great, great conversation. Every time I do these, I learn more and more about wonderful women who are really transforming our society and themselves. You, the company you work for, the people you work with, and I’m happy too. So let me wrap up for those of you who come and send me your emails and push out all of our podcasts. Last I looked, we’re in the top 5% of global podcasts, and in some places like South Africa, we’re really high. And it’s sort of like, really? So you never know where you are.

So the message today is: take your heart and follow it a bit. You never know what’s in it for you. My books, of course, are on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your local bookseller. Women Mean Business is a fascinating book. I’ll turn around and I will bring it over here because as you look at a book, you begin to realize, it’s my third book, and the other two were all Amazon best sellers and award winners, but each book has a different insight. And so as you open it, I mean, I love Kay Koplovitz, not by chance, I opened it by chance. They teach you something, and I often say that a book has a fingerprint, and the fingerprint gives it a uniqueness, but its power is inside. And so as the book is opened at all of our events, and if you’d like an event, please let me know. What happens is something magical.

Kay Koplovitz said at one event, think fast and act fast. And she said: if I had time to analyze all the things I had to make decisions about, I’d never make a decision. And I said to myself, you know, as an entrepreneur, I thought fast and acted fast and that’s how we learn from others. We get inspired by them. And it does spark our success with new ideas that we know aren’t so crazy. It’s fun. So thank you again for coming. It’s been a pleasure. And we’ll see you next week as we post all of our great podcasts. Enjoy the journey. Thanks, Melissa. I’ll say goodbye now.

Melissa Andrieux: Thank you, Andi, for having me.

Andi Simon: It’s a pleasure.

WOMEN MEAN BUSINESS® is a registered trademark of the National Association of Women Business Owners® (NAWBO)

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