Sidley Austin appoints chief diversity officer

Commercial litigation partner will spearhead the firm's diversity and inclusion initiatives

Sidley Austin appoints chief diversity officer

Sidley Austin has appointed Maria Melendez as its next chief diversity officer.

Melendez succeeds Sally Olson, who has been in the role since 2011 but will retire from the firm on 1 May. Melendez is a longstanding member of the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee. She served as chair of the committee in New York from 2002 to 2016.

Sidley Austin, which has an office in Sydney with three partners and three of counsel, said that Melendez will spearhead the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Melendez was previously a partner in the firm’s commercial litigation and disputes practice. She has more than 25 years’ experience in a wide range of high-stakes commercial disputes, including litigation and arbitration.

“My many years of practice at Sidley have been very rewarding, and I will forever be grateful for the wonderful opportunities to work with extraordinary clients around the world on so many interesting matters,” Melendez said. “As I pivot to this new role, I am very excited to have the opportunity to continue to work with my Sidley colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders to strengthen and further advance our diversity efforts as we recruit, hire, develop and promote exceptionally talented lawyers from all backgrounds around the globe.”

Melendez is also known for her diversity and inclusion work outside of Sidley Austin. She chairs the board of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national civil rights organisation focused on Latino rights in the US. She is also Sidley Austin’s representative to Her Justice, a legal service provider on matters of domestic abuse and child custody to disadvantaged women in New York.

Melendez was also honoured with the Flor de Maga award given out by the Puerto Rican Bar Association for her leadership, for being a model to other women, and for advocating for societal equality.

Mike Schmidtberger, who chairs the Sidley Austin executive committee, thanked Olson for her “tireless work” as chief diversity officer.

“Under Sally’s leadership, we have experienced a measurable, sustained increase in the diversity of our partnership and firm overall, and a strengthening of our inclusive culture,” he said.

Sidley Austin is confident that Melendez has the passion, vision, and resolve to propel the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts, Schmidtberger said.

“María is widely respected and known in the legal profession as a diversity and inclusion champion and we are delighted she chose to set aside her active legal practice to accept this important role,” he said.

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