Six Steps to Getting Out from Under the Covers Regarding Diversity & Inclusion

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... if we keep doing what has always been done, the stats on minorities in the legal space won’t change by much.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity and inclusion. Like most people who are not Black, I have been contemplating my own allyship and have realized so much about where and how I might still be unknowingly contributing to systemic issues of race. This may appear odd since I am a person of color; but I’m a Latina, and in the current atmosphere, it seems wrong for me to say that things are not always equitable in my world when there are life and death issues of race for Black people.

When trying to distill racist ideas that have been around for literally ages, you can get overwhelmed and confused about the direction to take to be part of the solution. I can legitimately say that I reached a “crawl under the covers” stage where I just didn’t want to look anymore at any of what has been going on in the world. So, for me, step one has been to stop trying to ignore the problem; get out from under the covers and admit there is an issue. I know this is obvious but really looking at the problem is different than just acknowledging it exists.

... for me, step one has been to stop trying to ignore the problem

I could still only digest this in small bits, so I decided to focus on the legal industry because that is where I live and breathe.

I like numbers; while they can be used for various purposes in various ways, they are the closest thing we have to unbiased data. So I decided to look at the facts. I spent some time reviewing the National Association for Law Placement, Inc. (NALP) 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms. I was struck by the opening paragraph of the Commentary and Analysis section authored by James Leipold, Executive Director of NALP, where he says:

The highlight of NALP’s 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms is the finding that for the first time since the Great Recession, the percent of Black or African-American associates in large law firms finally eclipsed, albeit barely, the percent measured in 2009. While that is a positive sign, it is barely so, and it strikes me as somewhat of a tragedy that it has taken more than 10 years to achieve such a meager benchmark, and it is notable that the number remains well below five percent.

According to the latest U.S. Census numbers, Blacks make up 13.4% of the population (Hispanics constitute 18.3%) but even with the one-point percentage gain, they make up only 4.76% of law firm associates. When you look at the numbers, you have to ask yourself: will take another ten years to make another one-point gain?

Law firms have said for decades that they are addressing diversity. So, I decided to look at what initiatives are already out there. I was encouraged to find several initiatives within the industry. In 2019, more than 170 general counsel and corporate legal officers signed an open letter to big law firms demanding more diversity at the partner level. The letter says their companies will prioritize their legal spend on those firms that commit to diversity and inclusion. I also found some innovative programs like The Move the Needle Fund (“MTN”) - the first collaborative effort designed and funded with $5M to test innovative initiatives to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession by bringing several law firms together to address diversity issues as a group.

There is a Diversity and Inclusion Shared Interest Group (SIG) available to members of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) that is looking at how to address diversity issues in the legal marketing part of the industry.

Truthfully, there is no way to properly address diversity unless you look at yourself. It’s not enough to want to be an ally; you must know yourself, your strengths/weaknesses and evaluate where you have influence and can help.

Are you an ally? Can you be doing more? Do you have biases that you need to work on to be able to help?

Self-reflection is a powerful skill to master for leadership in any forum. In the Industry Week article, How Self-Reflection Can Make You a Better Leader, Harry Kraemer, clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School and former CEO of multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International describes it this way, “It’s: What are my values, and what am I going to do about it? This is not some intellectual exercise. It’s all about self-improvement, being self-aware, knowing myself, and getting better.”

Are you an ally? Can you be doing more? Do you have biases that you need to work on to be able to help? Take 15 minutes to really think about who you are and what you could be doing.

Once you look at yourself, it’s easier to decide how you can help. For years, I’ve worked with business development teams that politely mention to lawyers that perhaps their team should include a female or an ethnic minority. Maybe if everyone knew that it was a Black inventor that made a color monitor on your computer possible, they would investigate other great inventions by minorities and women and view them differently.

If you have people that will listen, suggesting that they read information like the Delivering through Diversity report by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company that found that “companies with more diverse executives were 33% more likely to see above average profits” to help them see the value of hiring and promoting minorities.

Are you in a position to suggest your firm have a diversity affinity group or host events specifically for minorities? Are you actively encouraging your firm to participate with Minority Bar Associations and not just the state and national level organizations? Have you joined the LMA Diversity and Inclusion SIG? What can you post on social media that might resonate with others?

At the end of the day, I realize that I do not need to make it so complicated and there is plenty that I can do to help improve diversity in my local community and in the legal world. It really is just going through a few quick steps:

  1. Admit there is an issue
  2. Review the facts
  3. Look at what others are already doing to address the problem
  4. 4. Self-refect
  5. Decide how you want to help
  6. Do something! All the analysis and study won’t mean anything if you don’t act.

We are in a moment of upheaval and sweeping change but even small steps by individuals toward a goal will help us get where we need to be.

We can see the data, if we keep doing what has always been done, the stats on minorities in the legal space won’t change by much. We have to make much broader strokes to effect real change and I’m excited to see so much being done on a larger level. Remember to be kind to others struggling to figure out the right course for themselves yet be firm in your resolve to be a part of the solution.

If the biggest change you make is to simply bring up diversity as a legitimate issue when you have always been silent, then you are headed in the right direction.

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Cecilia Linton is the Senior Director of Communications & Operations at Society 54. She is an accomplished legal marketing professional with an extensive array of experience to share with clients. She is the rare legal marketer who has served in leadership roles for marketing and creative services, business development, and project management/operations. With more than 20 years of experience for regional, national, and international firms, there is no area she hasn't seen or challenge she hasn’t tackled.

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