When I was asked to write an article about diversity, long before I began the necessary thinking, organizing and researching to compile thoughts and words and complete the article, I knew the title would be, “Are You Done Yet?”
I wanted that title because it was the direct and not-so-direct refrain that I was hearing from many corners of society as things got financially tough, budgets got tight, resources got cut and the threat for survival at the individual and institutional level became more widespread. It manifested itself differently depending on the group or institution, but it manifested itself as if this question — Are you done yet? — was always there, just below the surface.
The January 2012 edition of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Bulletin reported mixed results for law firms in the matter of diversity. Nationally, in 2011, law firms had some increases in diversity figures, improving from the decreases occurring between 2009 and 2010. Nationally, representation of people of color as a whole among associates increased in 2011 after sliding in 2010, yet representation of women among associates declined for the second straight year. When you look at the statistics for Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., both cities are significantly below the national average for the representation and inclusion percentages of people of color and women at the partner and associate level. Our area still lags behind many others. We are not done yet.
In 2010, the American Bar Association Presidential Diversity Initiative issued a report titled “Diversity in the Legal Profession: Next Steps.” It concluded that the economic downturn was a precursor to a negative trend impacting diversity initiatives due to decreased money for those initiatives, decreased hiring or cutbacks generally by law firms and legal departments, and increased costs of law school disproportionately affecting the ability for the poor and working class segments of our society to attend law school, which has typically meant people of color and women. While recognizing that programs by bar associations and law schools have made some progress, the report concluded that the effects of the economic downturn may undo some of the progress made. During these hard times, instead of directly eliminating funding, the conversation has shifted to a restless insistence that efforts (both financial and human resource) have been under way for a long time and traditional economic measures of success, such as return on investment (ROI), are not forthcoming fast enough. We are not done yet.
And, the many articles written in this column of The Legal over the past several years about the work at the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) to increase diversity in the regional legal community remind us that we are not done. These articles provide a chronology of efforts over the years, report statistical impact of those efforts and offer reflection, insight and guidance on how members in the legal profession can assist.
For example, in an article by another PDLG board member, Raymond Williams points out that to achieve our desired results of increased diversity and inclusion we must understand the problem and the “roadblocks impeding our … success.” The changes that are needed in order to reach the goals are multifaceted and slow to come. Finding and supporting the hiring and retention of diverse attorneys in our legal community requires a process like that of the PDLG to screen and place talented “lawyers-in-the-making” at law firms and in companies during law school, as well as support programs for the law students (and ultimately associates) after hiring. Williams looks specifically at mentoring and unpacks some of the ways that mentoring might be improved and made more impactful by ensuring that mentors are representative of the groups that they are mentoring. This is not straightforward as it raises a host of other related challenges and dynamics.
PDLG board member and diversity practitioner Stacy Hawkins has written many articles about the efforts to improve diversity. In one article she notes that while efforts are made to press forward and make changes, those efforts may in fact be having the opposite effect than those intended. She calls to our attention the unconscious but very real and consequential biases that most people operate from in many, if not most, aspects of life. She posits some steps to take to move these unconscious biases to a level of consciousness so they can be named and spoken about and hopefully set aside so as not to derail the diversity objectives. These steps could (with hard work and adequate time) be used for both individuals and institutions.
Michael Reilly similarly highlights how this self-reflection and consciousness-raising might work as he writes about the unconscious way that the topic of diversity is not “discussed” in its truest sense. He notes, “There must be something holding many of us back from engaging in actual, regular verbal dialogue about diversity.” He writes that he will take certain steps, many of the steps of “consciousness-raising” outlined in Hawkins’ article, and put them into practice. As Reilly notes, this will involve many conversations that at some point will get easier. And then the conversations will perhaps allow for the incremental changes to take place slowly, over time — one step at a time. Are we done yet? No, we are not. We must give ourselves the ability to pause, and to make the inevitable mistakes to allow us to learn, grow and change. We need to recognize that at times our efforts may be reversed somewhat and we may have to make the hard climb more than once.
These are only a few of the many insightful articles written in this column on the subject. These articles reflect that the work for diversity and inclusion is big, hard, important work, with many pauses, hiccups, mistakes and disappointments as well as rewards along the way. At times it may be daunting and paralyzing and even the most committed individuals may be disillusioned. We are not done yet.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School’s 33rd annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference focusing on the question “Is There a Business Case for Diversity?” the panelists grappled with the proposition that we are likely to be seen as having failed if we use traditional metrics like ROI to prove the value of diversity. Panelists discussed that diversity has a valuable human element that cannot be stripped from the equation and that ROI does not and perhaps cannot adequately capture. That is why metrics and measures for diversity and inclusion do not fit neatly into what we are used to. Part of the work to be done is to take a hard look at the measures of success. There are many measures that exist today and there is opportunity to create new measures. The conference concluded that there is a very good business case for diversity. It is worth the effort, the conversation and the time. As noted by the panelists at the conference, “We will always need to have the conversation because people will easily forget. … If we stop having the conversation, I think we’ll go backward. … Even after you solve the problem, you have to have the conversation.”
For those asking “Are you done yet?” we need to be ready and willing to have the sometimes difficult conversations. There is more work to do; we are not done yet. •
Ann Booth-Barbarin is senior counsel and assistant secretary of AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP. She serves as counsel to the U.S. commercial business, medical affairs and corporate affairs departments.