Expanding the Dialogue
Impatient. When asked to summarize the views of leading general counsel regarding law firm diversity efforts, the chief legal officer of a global, Fortune 100 company responded with that one word. He went on to address a belief that he shares with other world-leading chief legal officers: that diversity is good business in addition to being a good thing to do, but the pace of progress in the legal profession should be stepped up. The message was powerful and well-stated. His candor stunned the audience of mostly law firm counsel not only because the response pulled no punches, but also because this general counsel was Caucasian and male. Many incorrectly assume that a white guy will be less interested in diversity issues than non-whites or women. Those who make these assumptions are as narrow-minded as those they seek to criticize, and in my opinion their purported belief in diversity becomes a picture of hypocrisy.
Frequently, the attendees of diversity panel discussions, such as the one this general counsel leader took part in, are those who are no longer straddling the fence regarding diversity – they know it is important and they are seeking suggestions for how to get there. Regrettably though, “diversity issues” are viewed by some, minorities and women included, as a self-interested agenda that women and minorities should lead. It’s a fact that the audiences at most of our diversity programs are largely composed of white women, minorities, and a few gay/lesbian attorneys. And, I am frankly not sure of the reasons why. Has the approach we’ve been taking left many Caucasian men feeling unwelcome? Frankly, at these panels, greater diversity would be represented (and welcomed) in the form of Caucasian men.
Lately, I’ve been advocating re-shaping diversity issues to look at them in terms of in-group, out-group dynamics, and this message resonates well with every audience I’ve addressed. In every group of people – think back to the school yard – there is a defined “in-group” and several clusters of “out-groups.” Strong diversity leadership means building an organization where those who might otherwise fall in an “out-group” category nonetheless have equal access to opportunities, and where their diverse perspectives are heard and valued. In time, good diversity management practices help the distinctions between who’s in-group and who’s out-group to blur, and the goal of building an organizational culture of inclusion is achieved. Since most of us have at one point or another felt the sting of being part of an out-group, let’s re-examine what we may be doing or not doing to prevent an in-group/out-group dynamic from taking hold in our organizations.
To all of our readers, particularly the Caucasian men whom I see in fewer numbers at diversity educational programs, let’s take pride in the fact that our profession safeguards the rights of all of us. But more important than taking pride, let’s also take action to ensure that within our own organizations, we tear down the barriers that limit or exclude any of us from reaching our fullest potential.
Although the focus of my commentary this month is to invite the participation of a wider audience to the diversity dialogue, I’m particularly interested in how MCCA® might be more effective at furthering our goal of a more diverse legal profession. I invite readers with suggestions to email me at email@example.com. Your ideas and contributions will help us to set Diversity & the Bar’s 2005 editorial calendar to address your issues and your concerns. Thanks in advance for your interest and support!
Veta T. Richardson
From the July/August 2004 issue of Diversity & The Bar®