Asker Saeed has spent more than a decade working to advance workplace diversity, first as an attorney handling commercial law and real estate transactions with Murtha Cullina and then later helping to organize the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut. As the new diversity director for the state’s biggest law firm, Day Pitney, Saeed is now focusing on diversity as a full-time job. He is the newest member of the firm’s senior management team.
In addition to developing new programs to attract and keep top talent at the firm, Saeed will carry on many diversity initiatives already in place. Those include the Day Pitney Attorneys of Color Network (DPAC), whose mission is to foster an inclusive environment to promote the success of attorneys of color.
Before joining Day Pitney, Saeed was a vice president for IAE International Aero Engines AG, a joint venture involving Pratt & Whitney. Before that, he worked as an assistant counsel for Pratt and served as the legal department’s representative on the United Technologies Corp.’s Diversity Council.
Saeed spoke with Managing Editor Jay Stapleton about his new position and his perspective on the importance of diversity of all kinds, everywhere.
LAW TRIBUNE: Tell us about your own ethnic identity, your family background?
ASKER SAEED: I was born in England. Both of my parents are from India and they both in their 20s found themselves in England where they lived. My dad was there in 1958 my mom got there in 1963 and they lived there until 1976. I was born in England my two brothers were born there and I lived in Canada from 6 to the time I was 28. My background is south Asian. I’m also Muslim.
LAW TRIBUNE: How did the perspective of your cultural background shape your career?
SAEED: Obviously, there are a lot of reasons I got into this diversity business, if I can refer to it as such, but certainly one of the events that occurred quite early in my legal career, was my first day of orientation at Murtha Cullina was Sept. 10, 2001. Yeah, so obviously the second day of orientation, the world for a south Asian man with a Muslim name was all of a sudden very different. Of course the diversity issue is much larger than just a person’s ethnicity or the fear of discrimination. It’s about acceptance and tolerance. And saying if you have a diverse perspective, I want you on my team, that is the kind of culture that I talk about and envision in the future.
LAW TRIBUNE: Can you describe the responsibilities of your new position?
SAEED: There’s a lot. I’ll just say my responsibility is to further, develop, implement and drive the firm’s strategic diversity plan. Part of that is being a thought leader, being an advocate for diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives. Obviously, I work with the executive committee, the development committee, the hiring committee, the director of human resources and the director of attorney development. I am responsible for tracking all of our diversity efforts, building relationships with external entities or constituencies, including our firm’s clients, professional organizations, and affinity bar groups.
LAW TRIBUNE: Why is diversity awareness an important goal for the law firm, from the business side?
SAEED: I think it’s important for everyone’s business because of the world we live in today. We live in a diverse world. We used to be a Northeast regional law firm with Northeast regional clients doing business in the Northeast. Now, we’re a Northeast region law firm with clients all over the country and world doing business all over the country and world and so diversity, or having an appreciation for diversity, is just a reality of doing business today. And the better that we can include diverse perspectives in our lawyering, problem-solving and decision-making, the better we can understand our clients and our clients’ needs and the better service we can provide to our clients.
LAW TRIBUNE: What are some of the challenges of making everyone more aware of the importance of diversity?
SAEED: It’s not an issue that we’re on the cusp of solving if you will. I’m quite certain today that there is not a 300-plus lawyer law firm in America that is as diverse as it wants to be — and so we don’t really have a standard to measure ourselves against.
LAW TRIBUNE: What are the challenges in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce?
SAEED: The reality is there are plenty of people who work here who are diverse, [but] who for many different reasons do not have the interest of staying here at Day Pitney in the long term. That’s not to say that Day Pitney isn’t a good law firm to work at, because it is, but rather, it’s that there are people who are not interested in being partners at large law firms. So as much as you have efforts [to increase diversity], the reality of the world is working against us in many cases. The difficulty is to get people to start thinking along the lines of [diversity efforts as] a process, and not worrying so much about the individual wins and losses along the way.
LAW TRIBUNE: Do you have an example of that how the process is more important than the numbers?
SAEED: I’ll give you an example. Very recently we had a minority partner leave the law firm, an Hispanic male and he left to go and become a federal judge. You know, traditionally, you might say as our goal is to diversify, that we’ve lost a senior member of the law firm and therefore were moving in the wrong direction. But the guy became a federal judge. I’m not sure I’m willing to count that as a loss. We’re going to keep track of the head count, because that’s important, but we’ve got to focus on the process.•