Another week, another technology conference (or two). And, yet another way to talk about diversity in the workforce.
It’s no shock to many women and minority workers that many industries are still struggling with inequality. The problem is, there’s not much agreement on where the problem stems from or how it can be stopped—something the ACLU is finding out as they turn their eyes towards Hollywood. And though diversity policies are a tricky maneuver, it’s vital that employers and lawyers alike start pushing for diversity.
Take, for example, the different strategies of two tech CEOs: Tim Cook, CEO to Apple, spoke to a room of STEM scholarship winners stating that the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is “our [the tech community’s] fault.”
“[Diversity is] the future of our company,” Cook told Mashable. “I view these people that I talk to today as the future generations of the company, and they will either be a part of it directly or a part of the ecosystem…I think the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that.”
On the other hand, we have Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel, who though he knows diversity is important, also notes that it’s “not cool” to think of people as numbers. But ThinkProgress thinks that’s also part of the problem for the tech hot bed:
Both tech CEOs were right, diversity is the future and not just for tech. But years of lip service, public examples of discrimination, and mystery surrounding companies’ actual employee makeup have given rise to urgency to fix a homogeneous ecosystem delivering products and services to the globe.
Apple has been committed to diversity efforts, funneling money into program development and releasing a company diversity report that, like others in the industry,showed its employees were a majority white and male.
Spiegel and his company’s youth keep it from having to do massive outreach to balance the scales and diversity can happen more naturally. But that seemingly meritocratic approach is part of the reason why tech — and other industries across the board — struggle to attract women and people of color and promote them through the ranks.
And they’re right; acknowledging that there is a problem, and that it likely won’t just weed itself out, is part of coming up with a solution. The problem now is, what steps can employers take without crossing any legal lines?
The flip side of this is taking place across the country, where affirmative action for college admission is facing blowback. So while it’s clear nobody wants quotas, people are still clamoring for diversity, without an easy answer as to how to mandate it.
Tech obviously isn’t alone: the legal industry ranked as one of the least racially diverse professions in the U.S., with eighty-eight percent of lawyers being white. Additionally, women only accounted for a third of the profession, and these statistics only seem more dismal when applied to partners, general counsels, and beyond. As Daniel J. Green writes for Technology Employment Law, it could be because lawyers know better than anyone how hard it can be to intentionally diversify:
Employers should work to create a more diverse workforce, but they should take care to do it appropriately. The stakes are high, plaintiff’s lawyers are seeking to pin the monetary cost of centuries of discrimination on individual employers and have shown a willingness to use attempts to solve problems and improve the situation as evidence against employers. Human resources initiatives aimed at increasing diversity or alleviating bias should be thoroughly audited to ensure they won’t appear as Plaintiff’s Exhibit A in the near future. The stakes, monetary responsibility for the end result of hundreds of years of discrimination, are too high to take unnecessary risks.
Do clients benefit from diversity within their law firms? While it may appear biased coming from a female minority, I believe all signs point to yes. Law firms with diverse workforces have unique advantages difficult to attain through any other means.
…Law firms benefit from diversity in the same way any other business does. A diverse work environment is more likely to result in greater acceptance of its employees, which results in a happier work environment, which leads to lower turnover. These are all positives for clients when it comes to the bottom line because decreasing ‘the churn’promotes efficiency; fewer attorneys and staff will work on a client’s matters over a longer period of time. Moreover, happy employees are proven to be more productive.
I was raised in a Mexican-American household. We spoke Spanglish at home and ate Mexican food four out of five nights. As a child, I believed this to be the ‘normal’ American life. However, through my friendships with people that did not share my culture, I came to realize there were many other languages being spoken and delicious meals being enjoyed by families around the country. My perception of what an American family looks like expanded. In a way, the career of an attorney is not much different. Attorneys from different backgrounds each provide a unique perspective and approach to the law. When an attorney has the opportunity to work with a diverse group, they are able to expand their perspective on the key issues of a case and are thus in a better position to determine the best approach. The attorneys benefit, as do the clients.
It’s an uphill battle, to be sure. But it’s one that has a lot of value—in addition to being common sense. And just like technology, diversity shouldn’t be ignored any longer.