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Diversity & Inclusion

Mission Statement

Parker Poe recognizes that promoting diversity is not only the right thing to do – it is essential to the success of the firm, our lawyers, staff, and clients. When people from various backgrounds feel welcome and respected, it leads to creative ideas and new perspectives, thus enriching the practice of law. To that end, Parker Poe is building on initiatives to improve the diversity and inclusion of our employees, developing a pipeline for minority students interested in the legal profession, and collaborating with clients and local organizations who share our commitment to giving everyone a voice at the table.

Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

“Each person at Parker Poe is different, and those differences lift our entire firm. So we work to build a diverse team that feels welcome and respected, which in turn serves our fundamental goals: building community, solidifying relationships, and finding the best ways to serve our clients.”

-Tom Griffin, Managing Partner

A strong commitment to creating a diverse work environment is central to Parker Poe’s core values and strategic vision. The diverse background and experiences of Parker Poe’s attorneys and staff enhance our practice of law and our service to our clients.

Parker Poe has worked hard to bring that vision to life. The firm was one of the first in the Southeast to set up central oversight of diversity initiatives. Under the leadership of a firmwide Diversity & Inclusion Committee, we have expanded our focus on recruiting and retaining female, minority, LGBT, and other diverse attorneys. The number of diverse attorneys at Parker Poe has more than doubled since those initiatives began over a decade ago.

“I want people to know from the outside what I see inside the walls of Parker Poe – the support that I have received since the day I began working here from so many different people, young associates to older partners,” says attorney Chara O’Neale, who now serves as the director of talent management and diversity and inclusion. “My goal is help make diversity and inclusion even more a part of the fabric of our firm and the culture of who we are.”

Parker Poe also recognizes there is more work to be done in the legal industry overall and the community at large. For that reason, our external efforts are equally important, including leadership of community initiatives and partnerships with organizations and advocacy groups. We are proud to partner with the Corporate Counsel Women of Color, the Hispanic National Bar Association, Equality NC, and others who share our commitment.

The firm also participates annually in the American Bar Association’s Model Diversity Survey, which grew out of ABA Resolution 113 urging all providers of legal services to create and expand opportunities for diverse attorneys. The survey is used and supported by the chief legal officers of more than 115 companies.   

Here are some of the concrete ways Parker Poe is promoting diversity within our firm and our communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia:

Recruiting and Retention Efforts

  • We fund a Parker Poe Scholars Program at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), a historically Black university located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Through this program, we fund a scholarship endowment that has a mentorship component for undergraduate students attending JCSU. We have granted scholarships to 15 students who aspire to become attorneys.
  • Parker Poe has hosted the THRIVE program since 2007. Previously known as Life in a Law Firm, the goal of the daylong program is to educate minority law students on what happens after law school, how to make an effective transition into the practice of law, and how to thrive as they pursue the different paths a legal career may take. Approximately 700 students have attended since the program’s inception.
    • “Today has been amazing,” said Destiney Parker, a Campbell Law School student who attended the program. “Because so many times, and I’ll just be very candid with you, you walk into a firm as prestigious as Parker Poe and you think to yourself, ‘Gosh, I hope these people can look past my skin color or that I’m a woman and truly look at my resume, my qualifications, and see me for who I am.’ And my confidence wasn’t the best in that. But being here today, Parker Poe has really re-established in me confidence in the legal field and its ability to encompass a wide range of people."
  • Parker Poe actively recruits at the Southeastern Minority Job Fair (SEMJF) in Atlanta, Georgia. Through our participation in SEMJF, we have the opportunity to interview students from a pool of 50 ABA-approved law schools across the region. Approximately 900 students attend the job fair annually, and five of those students have become Parker Poe attorneys.
  • The firm was an original signatory of the Mecklenburg County Bar’s “Call to Action,” formalized in 2006, to significantly increase the number of minority attorneys in Mecklenburg County. We have also been a participant and leader in the Charlotte Legal Diversity Clerkship since it began in 2006. 
  • Since 2010 Parker Poe has organized a panel of lawyers and staff to spend a portion of their afternoon with high school students participating in the Mecklenburg County Court Camp, which is designed for students interested in learning about the court system and the practice of law.
    • “It meant a lot, especially for the fact that I’ve never been inside a law firm and didn’t know what to expect,” said Jalen Lowery, a 16-year-old who participated at Parker Poe. “It’s good to see that people who look like you can work in these fields.”
  • Parker Poe organizes an annual reception for lawyers of color and firm leadership as an opportunity for continued relationship building beyond the everyday office environment.
  • The firm hosts a women’s roundtable, which provides women attorneys with an opportunity to have an open dialogue with firm leadership regarding prominent issues impacting them.
  • Parker Poe reinforces its commitment to diversity and inclusion through firmwide training sessions, team building, and interaction. Recent examples include a half-day training focused on unconscious bias, a lunch-and-learn on how transgender issues impact the practice of law, and organized activities outside of work to further strengthen relationships.
  • The firm offers alternative work schedule options to accommodate attorneys who strive to continue working while maintaining family commitments, civic engagement, and other personal obligations.
  • Parker Poe has a professional development program that provides a structured path for young attorneys to learn on the job and invest in their careers with the support of senior associates and partners. The program includes a shadowing component that pairs non-partner attorneys with more experienced attorneys, helping to build relationships and develop legal skills.

We are proud of the progress we have made with diversity and inclusion at Parker Poe, but we know that hard work remains. Our Diversity & Inclusion Committee holds us accountable, tracking our goals and developing new ways to promote diversity within our firm and throughout our communities. The committee is made up of partners, associates, and staff who commit significant time:

  • Building on the culture of inclusion that makes Parker Poe welcoming and successful.
  • Guiding the firm’s efforts to recruit, support, and ultimately retain attorneys and staff from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Partnering with organizations striving to make their communities more open and accepting.
  • Educating people inside and outside the firm about the work we have done and the work we still have to do.

Below are the members of our Diversity & Inclusion Committee:

Diversity Leadership

  • Stacy Wood and Debbie Kleman currently serve on the firm’s board of directors, and Anthony Fox previously served on the board.
  • Marie Johns serves as CEO of PPC-Leftwich in Washington, D.C., a subsidiary of Parker Poe that continues the legacy of Willie Leftwich, who founded a long-standing minority/woman-led firm in the nation’s capital. Marie also will be named the lead independent director of the merged City First Bank and Broadway Financial, which have agreed to combine to form the largest Black-led bank in the country with more than $1 billion in assets.
  • Shalanna Pirtle currently serves as the chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and she is past chair of the Associates’ Committee.
  • Chara O’Neale currently serves as Parker Poe’s director of talent management and diversity and inclusion. Chara previously served as co-chair of the Charlotte Legal Diversity Clerkship program and was a member of the Mecklenburg County Bar’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
  • Former director of diversity Sidney Evering was recruited by the Riley Institute at Furman University as a participant in the Diversity Leaders Initiative. In addition, he was selected as part of the inaugural membership and steering committee of the Diversity Recruitment Consortium sponsored by the Riley Institute, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. Sidney also serves on the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Council and was an inaugural member of the South Carolina Bar’s Diversity Task Force, which subsequently became the South Carolina Bar’s Diversity Committee.
  • Micheal Binns serves as Parker Poe's Atlanta Office Development Partner. In that leadership role, he takes ownership of planning and implementing the firm’s community visibility and engagement strategy in Atlanta. 
  • Sarah Ford has served as secretary of Equality NC’s board of directors. The organization is dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) North Carolinians.
  • Bill Farthing served as the vice chairman and ultimately the chairman of the Special Committee on Diversity of the Mecklenburg County Bar (MCB), which subsequently became the MCB Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
  • Josephine Hicks has served for many years on the Charlotte Chamber’s Diversity Officers Roundtable. She also has been a featured speaker on diversity panels for the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Mecklenburg Bar Leadership Institute.
  • Rebecca Joyner is a co-founder of N.C. Women in Public Finance. This organization is a trade group that promotes mentoring, networking, and education among women working in the public finance industry.
  • Several lawyers at Parker Poe have participated and currently participate in the Mecklenburg County Bar Lunch with a Lawyer Program for minority middle school students.

Awards & Recognition

  • The Charlotte Business Journal named Chara O'Neale among the 40 top business leaders under the age of 40 in the Charlotte region in 2020. A panel of judges selected Chara based on her impact on diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, her community involvement, and her overall impact on the region.
  • The Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) honored Micheal Binns as a "Rising Star" in 2020. Micheal and his fellow Rising Stars share “the love of law, ambition, and pursuit of excellence, while possessing a compassion for those in need and a strong desire to give back to others,” according to MCCA. In addition, Micheal was honored as "On the Rise” in 2020 by the Daily Report, the leading legal publication in metro Atlanta and the state of Georgia.
  • The North Carolina Bar Association honored Anthony Fox as a Legal Legend of Color in 2020. Anthony was recognized for the significant impact of his legal career in North Carolina, as well as for demonstrating a high level of service to his community.
  • Career Mastered selected Chara O'Neale to receive a National Diversity Leadership Award in 2020. Chara was recognized among “visionary women who lead by example” and who “have made significant contributions to diversity and inclusion,” according to the organization. Additionally, The Mecklenburg Times named Chara to its list of “50 Most Influential Women” in 2019, and she was an individual recipient of the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Awards presented by North Carolina and South Carolina Lawyers Weekly in 2019. 
  • The American Bankruptcy Institute selected Ashley Edwards as one of its 40 Under 40 winners for 2019. ABI’s 40 Under 40 program recognizes insolvency professionals across the country who are committed to the highest standards of achievement at work and in their communities.
  • The Charlotte Business Journal named Sarah Hutchins among the 40 top business leaders under the age of 40 in the Charlotte region in 2018. A panel of judges selected Sarah based on her successful legal practice, her community involvement, and her overall impact on the region.
  • The Mecklenburg Times named Ashley Edwards to its list of “50 Most Influential Women” in 2018. Ashley, a partner in the firm’s Charlotte office, was recognized for her influence in the courtroom and on other young professionals.
  • SmartCEO announced Parker Poe as a winner of its Charlotte Corporate Culture Award in 2017, which recognizes companies that foster creative, collaborative workplace cultures. “That philosophy extends to clients, the community and employees alike, and includes diversity as a crucial aspect,” SmartCEO wrote about our firm.
  • In 2017, our former director of diversity Sidney Evering became the first recipient of the South Carolina Bar’s Diversity Spotlight, which the Bar created to recognize members of the legal community “at the forefront in striving to increase diversity within the profession.”
  • Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair Shalanna Pirtle was named among the “50 Most Influential Women” in the Charlotte area by The Mecklenburg Times in 2017. The winners were nominated and judged by their peers, with an emphasis on community leadership and influence.
  • Sidney Evering received the Outstanding Alumni Award by the Southern Region Black Law Students Association for work related to the promotion of diversity and inclusion in 2014-2015.
  • The Triangle Business Journal named Parker Poe as a winner of its Leaders in Diversity Awards in 2014. The awards recognize the accomplishments of businesses striving to reflect the diversity that makes the Triangle a great place to live and work.
  • Sidney Evering received the Jonathan Jasper Wright Award from the Black Law Students Association at the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2013. The award recognizes an outstanding member of the legal profession who facilities diversity in the workplace and in the community.
  • The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce gave Parker Poe its Excellence in Workplace Diversity Award in 2013 and 2009. It recognizes companies for their significant contributions to the advancement of South Carolina through diversity initiatives and inclusion efforts.
  • Parker Poe received the Charlotte Chamber’s first annual Belk Innovation in Diversity Award in 2008. It was given to the company that best exemplified new and inspiring initiatives aimed at retaining, mentoring, and developing minority and female employees.
  • The Best Lawyers in America, Chambers USA, Super Lawyers, and other publications have ranked many of our female and minority attorneys among the top lawyers in their fields.