Another day and another great article highlighting the issues of law firms and diversity, There’s A Diversity Problem At Law Firms – What Can Be Done?
The issues of diversity and INCLUSION at law firms is not as complex as we want to make it. We’ve been talking and writing about this forever, but talking and writing isn’t action.
We have a pipeline problem that goes back to high school, and probably middle school, yeah, elementary school as well. What are YOU doing about that? What is your FIRM doing about that?
We have a pedigree bias problem. What are you and your firm doing about that?
We have an implicit bias problem. Have you taken the test? Do you understand YOUR implicit bias?
We have an interview process and procedure problem. Has your firm revamped and retrained HOW you interview?
We have an inclusion problem. Look around your firm. Who isn’t getting invited to (fill in the blank). What clusters are clustering together and why?
I’m reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. Throughout the book she talks about her experiences growing up and her education, about getting to Princeton and Harvard Law, and then to an AmLaw 100. And she talks about what it felt like there, in the ivory tower, when she’d go home each night to her home on the south side.
Flip to page 121 and start reading about her experience as part of the recruiting committee at the firm. Honestly, when reading this paragraph, she could be talking about ANY law firm:
Trying to help remedy the imbalance, I pushed for us to consider law students coming from other state schools and from historically black colleges like Howard University. When the recruiting team gathered in a conference room in Chicago with a pile of student resumes to review, I objected anytime a student was automatically dismissed for having a B on a transcript or for having gone to a less prestigious undergraduate program. If we were serious about bringing in minority lawyers, I asserted, we’d have to look more holistically at candidates. We’d need to think about how they’d used whatever opportunities life had afforded them rather than measure them simply by how far they’d made it up an elitist ladder. The point wasn’t to lower the firm’s high standards, It was to realize that by sticking with the most rigid and old school way of evaluating a new lawyer’s potential, we were overlooking all sorts of people who could contribute to the firm’s success. We need to interview more students, in other words, before writing them off.
We can do better than this. Think about all the law firms out there touting their diversity programs. They’ve hired Chief Diversity Officers. They are training and coaching and training and coaching, yet where are they on this chart? If they’re supposed to be the examples for the rest of us, what is it that we should be taking away from this?
We cannot do better if we’re not willing to look and get rid of what isn’t working. We KNOW diverse (and I’m not just talking diversity in color and gender, but ALL experiences) environments and groups produce better results. Yet law firms want what I like to call “diverse like us.” Meaning, different races, creeds, and colors, but with all the same pedigrees and bells and whistles, just like us. That’s NOT diversity.
Diversity and inclusion are not something that will naturally happen because we’re nice people, or because we want it, or because we know it’s the right thing to do.
Diversity and inclusion will ONLY happen by taking actions, challenging our way of thinking, and, yes, doing things a lot differently than we have been doing them to date.
Diversity and inclusion will not happen by concensus, but only through leadership. If you’re not on board, you’re part of the problem, and you need to go.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But we’re all good, nice people and we know it’s the right thing to do.