For White Men: Supporting Diversity Takes Passion
This is the second of six articles that will be written as a continuation of this valuable column. This year, we plan to have several leading white men express their views about the importance of diversity. They will share their thoughts, mistakes, and experiences with us so that we all grow and learn together. It is our hope that this series of articles will spark a meaningful dialogue and assist our readers with their diversity efforts in order to fully tap the talents and contributions of all employees.
The views expressed are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of MCCA®.
Earlier in my career, being a white male lawyer in a predominantly white male business environment, I was uncomfortable with—perhaps insensitive to—the plight of minorities in the legal profession.
It wasn't that I didn't recognize the value of a diverse workforce. But I approached it in a rational, lawyerlike way. I had no passion for the issue.
It was not until I attended a DuPont-sponsored diversity workshop in Virginia over 10 years ago that I realized that real commitment and meaningful breakthroughs in this area would only occur for me when I began to do less rationalizing and more internalizing. That is, I needed to understand and identify with, as best I could, some of the discomfort, harshness, ill treatment, and pain experienced in the workplace by people of color and other minorities.
Most of my professional career with DuPont was spent as an employment lawyer defending the company in discrimination cases and related matters. So my lens, so to speak, was quite "tinted," or should I say, "rose-colored." So to try and personalize some of the incidents that I was asked to investigate and defend was not something that I was prepared to do.
But this workshop had a profound effect on me. In focusing on discrimination in a broad and real life context by having minorities and women relate their personal experiences, the workshop exposed me to some very unpleasant history and a number of life's experiences that caused me to identify with and, yes, develop heightened sensitivities around the subject of race and gender. For example, being the only African American intern in a summer program—no mentor, no safety net, no confidant—is not something that I ever experienced firsthand. However, it was through this workshop that I began to view situations like this in a different light.
My point in all of this is simple: Until you are touched or make some personal connection with the issue of race or gender, it is very difficult for most to feel true passion for the subject. And without that fire or passion, you will never make the true impact that you desire.
I'm pleased to report that a difference is now being made by people with passion for hiring, retaining, and promoting minorities in the legal profession.
You can start with my company, DuPont. While the environment within DuPont is far from perfect, diversity has been a core value of the company for more than 20 years. Like safety and ethics, diversity is a key part of our culture, and the Legal Department has led the way in many respects. Legal is part of DuPont's 30-year-old Supplier Diversity Program, which has spent more than $3 billion through its Minority and Women's Business Enterprise programs over the last decade.
Other DuPont Legal diversity initiatives include support of its law firms' Minority Job Fairs and creation of a Women Lawyers Network of inside and outside attorneys, along with a similar Minority Counsel Network for attorneys of color.
Legal's senior management constantly challenges itself by asking the following questions: What progress have we made in the hiring, retention, and promotion of attorneys and legal assistants of color? Are we supporting the networks of attorneys of color both within DuPont and among our law firms? What are we doing in the area of outreach? Are we channeling business to minority-owned law firms and suppliers? If so, how much? Are we holding our primary law firms accountable as well? This is how we measure ourselves and our law firms and suppliers.
Our performance within these areas determines, in part, how we are rewarded year over year. While it may sound heavy-handed to some, by making diversity a key part of our evaluation system, the message is very clear: Measure up or suffer the consequences.
I'm glad to say I see change for the better throughout major legal departments, not just at DuPont. The change may not be nearly fast enough for some, but we are gaining momentum. I see progress at companies such as Merck & Co., Inc., Abbott Laboratories, Hercules, Pitney Bowes, Inc., Merrill Lynch, IKON Office Solutions, and PPG Industries. As an example, along with four other committed Fortune 500 companies, DuPont Legal has pledged to significantly increase its spending with minority-owned law firms. (See sidebar.)
Some years ago, when DuPont Legal undertook its convergence effort to select primary providers of legal services, diversity objectives and accomplishments were top considerations. Why we did this was as much a business imperative as a social imperative. It was clear to our legal team that the juries, judges, and policymakers were of increasingly diverse backgrounds. This trend impacts a company's ability to effectively connect with increasingly diverse segments of the legal and business world, and to reach them on intellectual, emotional, and personal levels. I experienced this firsthand in a local matter before a largely minority city council in a Midwest town. Having a young, African American lawyer represent us clearly made a positive difference with these local lawmakers. The same has been true in some Texas cases, where we have benefited from having Hispanic attorneys represent us before juries made up primarily of Hispanic jurors.
On the more personal side, I have also experienced the joy of mentoring young African American law students and seeing them start successful careers. That's a good place for white male lawyers to impact diversity in the legal profession.
I believe that the subject of diversity is treated by most managing partners and general counsel as a checklist item and not a process that needs to be worked on constantly. Lastly, I fear that the "brass ring" remains beyond the reach of minority-owned firms, and as a result, many are closing up shop.
While I see the diversity glass as half full, there are still challenges that should concern us. I fear that the legal industry, in some respects, is still bent on competing for the same "perceived" scarce talent and resources—those small numbers of African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American attorneys who are always the subject of headhunters' calls and frequent job offers. I fear that law firms and corporate legal departments continue to apply the same old artificial barriers to entry that existed when I was a law student looking for work—the top 10 percent of the class, Order of the Coif, Law Review, premier clerkships with certain judges or at silk-stocking law firms, and so forth. Also, I believe that the subject of diversity is treated by most managing partners and general counsel as a checklist item and not a process that needs to be worked on constantly. Lastly, I fear that the "brass ring" remains beyond the reach of minority-owned firms, and as a result, many are closing up shop.
To overcome these obstacles, all men and women in the legal profession must join the fight for diversity. But white men, who still make up the majority of the profession and its leadership, can play a special role if they learn the lessons I have learned.
I have learned a lot about diversity in the years since I attended the workshop in Virginia. And although I'm still learning, let me share some lessons I've been taught so far:
Your culture counts. You must create a supportive, inclusive environment in your company and department for all to thrive professionally.
You need meaningful goals and metrics to measure your progress in diversity.
Everyone must be held accountable, particularly those in senior management, for the organization's results.
In this area like no other, it pays to persevere. You will not succeed immediately. You will hire and promote minority attorneys, and some will leave. But in the process you will discover how to succeed.
Meaningful change or progress takes time. But this should not be an excuse for the status quo. Others are making major strides; we should too. One of the greatest lessons I've learned, however, is that when white men, as the current power brokers, stand up and lead with passion on the issue of diversity, they can inspire others and help transform the legal world into a diverse, inclusive profession.
Law Departments of Fortune 500 Corporations Join to Increase Legal Business of Nation's Minority-Owned Law Firms
Five of America's leading corporations—DuPont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell Oil, and Wal-Mart—have made a public pledge to place an aggregate of at least $16 million of business with minority-owned law firms during calendar year 2006. The $16 million represents a substantial increase over the combined amount of business the companies have historically placed with minority-owned firms in a year. The companies also pledge to join forces with other segments of the legal community to support the inclusion of such firms among those that serve their legal needs. The catalyst for the initiative was a study commissioned by DuPont Legal, which revealed that the number of successful minority-owned law firms representing U.S. corporations has dwindled over the past 15 years. The report, entitled Study on the Status of Minority-Owned Law Firms in Today's Legal Environment, cites limited access to corporate counsel, perceived inexperience, and racial bias, among other factors, as obstacles preventing minority-owned law firms from obtaining work from Fortune 500 companies.
MCCA's Thomas L. Sager Award
Because of Thomas L. Sager's championing of the cause of diversity in the legal profession, generally, and at DuPont, specifically, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA®) named one of its prestigious awards in his honor. The Thomas L. Sager Award is presented by MCCA to law firms for their demonstrated and sustained commitment to improve the hiring, retention, and promotion of minority and women attorneys. To learn more about how your firm can advance its diversity efforts, visit www.mcca.com.
From the March/April 2006 issue of Diversity & The Bar®