A Conversation with Kenneth E. Bunge
The goal of this column is to provide a frank and forthright forum to explore the views of white male attorneys regarding diversity initiatives, as well as to examine the role that these attorneys can and should play in those initiatives. In this issue, Diversity & the Bar® sat down with Kenneth Bunge to discuss these considerations.
Kenneth E. Bunge
Kenneth Bunge has had diverse experiences within the legal profession that inform his ability to take a closer look at white men and diversity. Ken began his legal career as a judge advocate for the United States Air Force before transitioning to Sikorsky Aircraft, where he served as a senior attorney and then deputy counsel. Ken left Sikorsky to serve as managing attorney of United Technologies Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, where he managed the hiring and career development of more than 200 lawyers, as well as the law department’s paralegals.
Ken has also served as chairman of the Legal Quality Counsel of the Conference Board and as president of the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity, a coalition of Connecticut’s largest law firms, leading corporations, public sector entities, law schools and state bar associations. He is currently president of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Connecticut chapter. In addition, Ken has joined Attman Weil as an adjunct consultant.
Diversity is an important professional and personal value to Ken, and he has worked diligently to advance diversity and inclusion as values within the various workplaces and organizations he has had the opportunity to lead. This varied base of experience has led Ken to understand that there are three key components to making sure that white men are fully integrated into the legal profession’s diversity efforts: communication, collaborative teamwork, and leadership.
According to Ken, “white men often see diversity as programs, policies, and other proactive attempts to include minorities and women.” When white men see diversity in this way, they may support it as a laudable goal, but they support it as outsiders to diversity. “It is not a credible concept to white men at times because it doesn’t feel like it includes them.” Organizations must meet the challenge of communicating diversity in a way that includes white men and makes diversity relevant to their day-to-day lives. Ken has heard from many white men that “they not only don’t feel included, but they often feel directly excluded.”
Communicating diversity in a way that includes white men requires organizations to move beyond discussions of programs and policies, and focus on diversity and inclusion as values that govern the way business is conducted on a daily basis. Diversity and inclusion as values expand the business case from simple client demands to creating better organizations through collaborative teamwork. Ken feels strongly that “there is a business case for diversity, but it isn’t enough to communicate just that. You have to be forward-thinking and articulate for people why diversity and inclusion create a good environment for teamwork. Understanding diversity and inclusion through the perspective of teamwork makes the business case make sense, especially for white men who may feel that the business case sets up competition for them.”
Diversity and inclusion as cornerstones for collaborative teamwork not only communicate the business case more effectively, but they create a communication framework in which white men feel included. When white men feel included, they see diversity and inclusion as relevant to them.
“There is a business case for diversity, but it isn’t enough to communicate just that. You have to be forward-thinking and articulate for people why diversity and inclusion create a good environment for teamwork.”
Collaborative teamwork allows organizations to communicate shared values such as “respect for fellow employees” that dovetail well with diversity and inclusion. Ken has found it effective to communicate diversity as essential to “achieving common goals.” This encourages white men to value diverse perspectives as beneficial to the team’s goals. Collaborative teamwork includes everyone on the team while it highlights diversity as strength.
Even though Ken has found this framework to be very useful to draw in white male support in the corporations in which he has led these efforts, he acknowledges that the collaborative teamwork model is easier to implement in corporations than in law firms. “Corporations have values like diversity and inclusion built into their operational directives,” he explains. “Law firms are slow in implementing that model. They are being nudged in that direction by their corporate clients, but they are inherently more competitive than collaborative internally, and personal advancement is more important in law firms than a team’s accomplishments.” He sees this internal tension between individual success and team success in law firms as a key challenge in getting white men fully supportive of and integrated into law firm diversity initiatives.
In spite of these challenges, Ken sees the increasing collaboration between law firms and corporations on diversity and inclusion as a positive direction for the legal profession as a whole. “The more you get people to interact, to collaborate with each other on diversity, the more the ideas will get into law firms. White men’s interaction with diversity efforts through collaboration on diversity initiatives with their clients will get them to see it like they are a part of it.”
Ken strongly advocates for clear communication and collaborative teamwork as the vehicles through which white men are most likely to be drawn into diversity and inclusion efforts. He stresses that the key to drive both these vehicles is strong, focused, and consistent leadership.
“Diversity and inclusion,” according to Ken, “get integrated as corporate values when there is strong and focused communication from leadership at the top, and the message is constantly stated and reinforced.” Ken adds that “the commitment has to be implemented from the top down, but the commitment to focus on diversity, to include white men in that focus, has to have action behind it. It can’t just be words.” He also cautions that leadership on this issue, however well articulated and executed, cannot be effective if it is set up to be a short-term venture. “Commitment to diversity has to be a long-term leadership initiative.”
In reflecting on his own experience as president of the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity (Collaborative), Ken remembers initially hesitating when he considered taking on that leadership position. However, as he worked with others in the Collaborative, many of his hesitations dissipated. He found that the collaboration and the teamwork in the Collaborative made his leadership more about his passion for the issue and his commitment to advancing diversity as a value. “When you have diversity, and all ideas are respected and valued, the leadership of a team becomes about getting things done, and white men are as much a part of that as anyone else.”
In short, to include white men, you simply have to include them. DB
Diversity & the Bar wishes to thank Dr. Arin N. Reeves for interviewing Mr. Bunge and preparing this column.
From the November/December 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®