The president of the American Bar Association told business leaders in Atlanta that embracing racial, gender and other types of diversity is not only “right and ethical” but also good business.
Paulette Brown, speaking at the Buckhead Coalition’s annual meeting and luncheon, cited studies showing that corporations with at least three women on their boards of directors outperform companies with fewer women in those roles. “I guess they don’t want to make money,” said Brown of the latter group.
Brown, the first African-American woman to serve as the president of the ABA, is a labor and employment partner at Locke Lord in Morristown, New Jersey. She lamented statistics showing that 88 percent of lawyers are white, making the practice of law “the least diverse” among similar professions, such as engineering, accounting and medicine.
To make law more diverse, she said, efforts should start to encourage minorities as early as kindergarten. “I didn’t know any lawyers when I was growing up,” said Brown, who went to Howard University for college and Seton Hall University for law school.
Brown urged the luncheon audience at 103 West to be wary of “implicit bias”—subtle ways to treat someone else based on perceived characteristics of an ethnic or other type of group.
“None of us are exempt from having these biases,” Brown added.
She also warned of “confirmation bias,” by which someone finds examples of a group member’s perceived characteristics. She cited a 2014 study in which partners at law firms were asked to review what they were told was a young lawyer’s memo, which experimenters had intentionally prepared to include mistakes.
Some of the reviewers were told the author—a fictional graduate of New York University law school named “Thomas Meyer”—was black, while others were told he was white.
According to a Vox report on the study, reviewers thinking the author was white “commented that the author ‘has potential’ and was ‘generally a good writer but needs to work on’ some skills.”
But when the author was supposed to be black, “those same errors became evidence of incompetence,” Vox reported. “A reviewer said he ‘can’t believe he [the author] went to NYU,’ and others said he “needs lots of work” and was “average at best.”