Damon Hart: Carrying the Torch of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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By Evan J. Cutts

Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Liberty Mutual Insurance Damon Hart proudly carries the torch of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the organization’s workforce across the globe.

Prior to joining Liberty, he was a partner at three national law firms–Littler Mendelson, Ogletree Deakins, and Holland and Knight. Damon is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross with a BA in Political Science and obtained his JD from Boston College Law School.

For Hart and his dedicated team, that means providing legal counsel and upholding compliance standards for over 50,000 employees in thirty countries. At the core of his practice are humility and empathy, never losing sight of the fact that his decisions impact the lives of real people. Hart is committed to coaching, mentoring, and advocating for underrepresented people in the workforce and beyond. Read on for an in-depth look into the world of D&I in legal practice!

CM: Can you tell me more about your role as Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel?

DH: As SVP and Deputy General Counsel, I manage the employment law group. My team of eleven lawyers and paralegals are responsible for all of Liberty Mutual’s Employment law compliance anywhere from pre-hire through retirement across thirty countries. That means my group looks out at how we go out to market to acquire new talent, as well as our compliance regarding benefits, compensation, and retirement matters.

CM: What are some of the rewards and challenges of your role?

DH: When it comes to looking at what is rewarding and what is challenging, we’re really looking at two sides of the same coin. I would describe our challenge as representing the consciousness of the organization, from the legal department. We are responsible for doing the legal thing and the right thing while empowering the business to meet its objectives.

Partnering with clients is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. When my phone rings, I don’t know if it’s connecting to North Carolina, Texas, or Brazil. And so, being able to relate and support different people from all different backgrounds it a key part of my role.

As you can imagine, there are a number of regulatory schemes to keep in mind when handling employment law for a global organization. Laws are changing all the time, across various municipalities, state-by-state, and international jurisdictions.

CM: How do you stay on top of this fluctuating environment?

DH: There are a number of ways. Externally, I am a member of several industry groups. Local and national chambers of commerce are a valuable resource in this regard. Our partners in numerous law firms also provide updates to major policy changes through seminars. Additionally, leveraging the insights of other organizations, like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) which is ahead of the curve in terms of legal compliance, is helpful.

Internally, I work very closely with the public affairs group and its lobbying wing to track bills that can have significant impacts on the employee-employer relationship. On the talent side, I have a similar relationship with our Human Resources department. At the end of the day, it’s about maintaining good communication with our clients, partners, and HR. Communication on that level is really embedded in the culture at Liberty Mutual Insurance.

CM: As a defense lawyer and expert in employment law, can you talk about your commitment to representing historically-marginalized groups in your practice?

DH: Beginning on a personal level, I am an advocate for and ally of people of color and women at Liberty Mutual. As an outspoken supporter of our women’s empowerment group, I offer my time as a mentor when I can. Currently, I have the honor of sponsoring and mentoring a highly-talented woman within Liberty Mutual. The beauty of these mentor-mentee relationships is that they are two-way streets; I have learned as much from her as she has from me.

Professionally speaking, I am a defense lawyer and have defended larger organizations. However, I show up to each case with a level of humility and empathy for anyone on the other side of the table. That brings me back to my point about the organization’s conscience. In my practice, my focus is on making sure we remain fair and equitable.

In my spare time, I also coach youth basketball For me, coaching is more about building capable and confident young men and women, than winning.

CM: What evolutions would you like to see in legal practices regarding Diversity and Inclusion?

DH: I’m glad you asked because statistically speaking, I had a better chance of being in the NFL than rising to my position today. I’ve been practicing for about 20 years and people of color haven’t moved much in terms of the partnership ranks.

There’s a trend across the nation that shows how little the dial has moved in terms of representation at the partnership level. A report from the Business Insider shows women stalling out at 20% representation over the last twelve years, for example. To be quite honest, there’s been a lot of talk among us, as lawyers, about diversity and inclusion. I think it is time for action.

In-house lawyers like myself have a certain responsibility because we have some buying power. As we buy legal services from outside firms, we need to create opportunities for underrepresented groups. The action that we need is to provide women and people of color opportunities to succeed in law.

CM: What trends in legal practices regarding D&I are you excited for?

DH: There have been some major steps forward in recently and we need to continue those trends. On December 11th, the American Bar Association (ABA) announced its adoption of Resolution 113, “Promoting Diversity in the Legal Profession.” The resolution urges all providers of legal services, particularly law firms, to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys. It further urges the purchasers of legal services to assist in the creation of opportunities for diverse attorneys, now and in the future.

Additionally, a “Model Diversity Survey” has been created for forms to review and adjust their diversity and inclusion programs. That level of transparency will be able to show us when diversity and inclusion strategies are working.  This level of transparency will hopefully provide hard data to validate all of the fanciful claims that firms make on their websites concerning their purported commitment to diversity.

CM: What motivates/inspires you to create a practice of your own?

DH: Throughout my career, I’ve worked with a lot of really great people. What I mean by that is that they understand me, they empowered me to be myself and developed the skills that I have today. I’ve had tremendous mentors that couldn’t be more different from me, and I’m grateful for that. Currently, I have a great team of people that work for me; along with the executives that I serve, they see and accept me. And that means a lot. Their support is what gets me excited to work.

CM: In your opinion, what skills are necessary to be an effective leader?

DH: Leadership is about striking a balance between your drive to complete your goals and grace to defer to someone with a different skill set. Humility is paramount because you have to be able to recognize that other people are experts too and have valuable insights to offer. When working with a team, a leader has to provide encouragement, remain calm under pressure, and lead with empathy.

In your opinion, what will it mean to be a person of Color in 2019?

DH: It is going to be complex. I am a black man first; I am a lawyer second, as evidenced by the fact of how the world sees and treats me. There’s a reality there that has to be recognized. For instance, I was recently pulled over by the police for driving while black—DWB. Even so, I am a man of balance. Which is to say that there is and will be a tremendous opportunity for people of color but as in years past, it won’t be easy.

My mother, in fact, worked for Liberty Mutual for twenty years in the ’80s and ’90s at a branch office in Pennsylvania. So when I forwarded her an email from the CEO of the company announcing my appointment as SVP and Deputy General Counsel, was beyond inspiring. In a generation’s time, some change has been made. But that doesn’t mean the work is done for us; there are still diverse people with immense talents who have yet to be recognized. That is our responsibility going forward, to continue creating opportunities for everyone.