CBA CLC2013 Plenary on Inclusion and Diversity

I am a woman. I am a mother. I am a law librarian. I am a leader. Except for the leader, and law librarian bits, I rarely think about what the other two “I am” statements have to do with my job. Attendance at the Monday morning Plenary session at the CBA Legal Conference 2013 where Arin Reeves of Nextions presented “The Next IQ: The Next Level of Diversity & Inclusion for the 21st Century” caused me to reflect on being a woman and a mother in the context of my career.

I have rarely felt diminished, oppressed or that I have had limited opportunities because of being a woman or a mother with a (got to say it – fantastic) career. I wish that I could say never rather than rarely. As a leader, I was appreciative of Dr. Reeves definitions of diversity and inclusion and her analogies for why those of us involved in the legal profession should care about diversity and inclusion.

In her presentation, Dr. Reeves defined diversity as who we are, visible and invisible characteristics, work force. Diversity is what we as individuals bring to the table. She made the analogy of diversity as seeds. She defined inclusion as what we do, our conscious and unconscious behaviours, work place. Inclusion is how we as organizations react. Soil was the analogy she used for inclusion.

Dr. Reeves reminded attendees of studies that reveal the legal profession as the least inclusive profession in the world. The focus of diversity has been on hiring and the focus should shift to inclusion and flowing from that retention of diversity within the profession. She suggested that it is a problem with our soil rather than our seeds. She also spoke of research that showed that human IQ has increased and that the distribution of the increase in IQ is focused in urban areas where people have been required to navigate diversity issues. She stated that no one today has the luxury of leading people who are just like them.

Organic inclusion in organizations leads to teams who have a broader set of perspectives – often like the broad set of perspectives that are present in complex legal issues. Inorganic diversity (placing people on teams in order to have diversity) does not work; we need to look at organically created teams and ask why a team was created that was not diverse. What is it about our organizations that makes it difficult to build diverse teams?

To create more inclusive environments we have to shift our thinking and actions to simulate the idea that issues are not necessarily right and wrong, but that there are multiple rights. Active thinking about diversity and inclusion, rather than cruise control (to use a driving analogy) thinking is required. A change from tolerance or respecting diversity to seeking differences – a question of what are the values of the group that are unrepresented in order to create the most inclusive, and potentially most successful team.

You may think it is a leap to suggest that the most successful team is the one that is diverse. Reeves spoke of an audit of outside counsel conducted by GE. The audit revealed that the positive reactions on client service were weighted to outside counsel groups that were diverse. Broader perspectives on issues lead to a broader set of ideas for solving problems.

My library team is not very diverse. The strengths and weaknesses of team members are well matched for what we do, but Dr. Reeves presentation will launch some discussion and thought amongst the three of us as to which perspectives are unrepresented in how we think. As three clever (caucasian, multiple generation Canadian women over 40) library types, I hope that we can imagine and account for the variety of perspectives in our organization to give great customer service.

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