Lawyers work in one of the least diverse professions in any country, Dr. Arin Reeves told the Monday morning plenary session at the 2013 CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon. It was something the women and minorities in the largely white, male audience had probably already guessed.
And they no doubt nodded vigorously, or even silently applauded, when she said that “diversity” is not merely a matter of including a few people who don’t look like you on a team – it’s a matter of including them because you value their input, because you know they’ll bring something important to the table.
Legal clients are starting to seek out inclusive difference in their law firms. That’s not “oops” diversity, where someone says “we need a woman on the team, go find one,” says Reeves. GE’s in-house counsel, for example, rate diverse teams of outside counsel as being better to work with, as providing better results. And it is for this reason – and not the optics of the game – that more and more clients are saying diversity is important in their legal representation. If you’re known to have a diverse and inclusive workforce, the good clients come to you, she says.
The opposite of inclusive is not exclusive, Reeves says – it’s just incomplete.
At the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative, diversity is something we’ve struggled with. As Lesley Midzain pointedly observed in response to a recent blog post on Slaw.ca, there are seven men and only one woman on the Initiative’s Steering Committee.
“First, it is appalling to me that a national committee struck to look at the future of the profession couldn’t find more than one knowledgeable female leader to help steer the ship (1/8 = 12.5%, much lower than any of the dismal percentages noted in the article),” Midzain writes.
For the record, many of the people we approached to sit on the steering committee were unable to dedicate the kind of time that it would require, no matter how interested they were in the project. Lawyers are busy. Also, we ended up not approaching many of the people originally considered for the Steering Committee because they were deemed to be not the right “fit” – that is, didn’t have the kind of expertise thought to be necessary for the project.
We’ve long known we were open to valid criticism on this point. One of the ways we’ve tried to address the lack of diversity on the Steering Committee is through the makeup of the teams doing in-depth examinations into legal education and training, business structures and innovation, and ethics and regulatory issues.
Can we do more to address the omissions? Undoubtedly. We could probably start by rethinking our definition of expertise. Inclusive diversity is an issue that is important to the future of the profession, and should be addressed at all levels. So tell us what you’d like us to do. How do you recommend making our project more diverse, and moreover, what needs to be done to address the systemic issue?
The author of the blog post in question, Karen Dyck, notes that women aren’t participating in the futures discourse on the whole, and links it to the exodus of women from private practice.
“At this time, when there is a growing understanding that change is not only inevitable but coming at an accelerating rate, when there is a call for innovative approaches that better meet the needs of both clients and their lawyers, there is also an incredible opportunity for women lawyers to step forward to drive and lead this process,” she says.
Other respondents note that they’ve stepped forward, leaned in, done the work – and they’re tapped out.
Cheryl Stephens writes, “After 20 years of change effort, I decided to save my energy for people who really want to change. … Whenever I hear the latest version of the crap about women not ‘leaning in,’ I explode with, ‘Why would they?’”
“I wonder if it’s because women lawyers have provided their input over the past 20 years on this issue and still nothing has changed,” writes Ann. “It could be that the changes required are so fundamental and require such massive cultural upheaval that women don’t see the point in participating if the solutions that get implemented continue to be superficial.”
From the look of things, we all will have to work a little harder at finding real solutions to a systemic problem.