Growing up in rural northeast Missouri, Norma Jackson was the only African American female student in her class from first through 12th grade. That experience informed her ongoing work to create pipelines and provide access and opportunities for underserved and underrepresented people.
Under her direction as Thompson Coburn’s director of diversity, inclusion & professional development, the firm has hired a staff diversity manager and implemented firmwide implicit bias awareness workshops in which attendees explore how biases play a role in their perception of others and affect the formation of inclusive spaces. Other workshops have aimed to end biases in hiring and evaluations.
Thompson Coburn also has signed on to Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule 3.0 pilot, a national initiative that requires participants to ensure the candidate pool for promotions, senior-level hiring, significant leadership roles and inclusion on client proposals includes at least 30 percent women and diverse attorneys.
Jackson joined Thompson Coburn in 2018 after previously serving as director of faculty and professional staff diversity enhancement and engagement for the College of Education at the University of Missouri, where she also earned a law degree.
What motivates you most in your work as an attorney and as an advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?
I’m motivated when I see my constituents start to look at things differently than they did before. As just one example, our firmwide implicit bias training was mandatory, and I knew there were some folks who attended for that reason. But afterward, some of those same people . . . thanked me for the program. They said it really opened their eyes to unconscious biases they held.
What makes you most proud of your law firm?
One of the main reasons I came to Thompson Coburn was because I knew the firm already had both a strong tradition of Diversity & Inclusion efforts and the total support of management in the firm’s D&I efforts. You don’t necessarily see top-down support like that everywhere you go in the corporate world. So I’ve been very pleased and proud that, in any initiative I’ve wanted to start or a program I wanted to introduce, I’ve been met with nothing but support and enthusiasm. And I think people at all levels of the firm see and feel that support in action.
Who has most inspired you in your work for Diversity & Inclusion, and why?
Right now I’m inspired by young people who are reacting so strongly to the current national conversation about racism and racial injustice. The recent events in our communities are difficult to witness and reconcile, but they are also causing us to rededicate ourselves to the fight for equal access to justice and opportunities for all. My 12-year-old son Jayden is part of this generation of kids that are wrestling with these difficult questions. They are our future leaders, so it’s our job to give them the education, skills and opportunities that will move them and our society forward.
What must Missouri’s legal community do to promote meaningful and long-term diversity within its legal/justice system?
It’s critical for us to be willing to be vulnerable and honest about systematic racism and injustice and the role that each of us plays in those systems. After the murder of George Floyd, Thompson Coburn hosted a series of Courageous Conversations, small-group video meetings where people at all levels of our firm could gather together to share reactions and emotions, and have a candid talk about what we can all do to address racism and bias. By just listening to the personal experiences of someone different than yourself, you allow yourself to be changed.