Sept. 18, 2019 – Lawyers have a role to play in helping organizational leadership understand the importance of diverse viewpoints in boardrooms, and how diversity and inclusion can help businesses and other organizations make better decisions.
“I think diversity and inclusion is a conversation going on in boardrooms across America,” said attorney Rochelle Klaskin, deputy executive director and chief administrative officer for the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.
“Diversity of viewpoint and diversity of thought leads to better business decisions. I think it’s a measure of good business,” said Klaskin, who recently sat on a panel discussing corporate governance in the #MeToo Era at the State Bar of Wisconsin's 2019 Annual Meeting & Conference.
Clyde Tinnen, a partner and business lawyer at Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee, said the most important asset for businesses is information. “We live in an age where what you know can determine whether or not you exist tomorrow,” Tinnen said.
“To the extent they don’t recognize an opportunity or a real or perceived threat, they are really disadvantaged. The job of lawyers is to advise, navigate, and mitigate risk.”
But Tinnen also said lawyers can play a role in helping leadership blind spots, which could be implicit bias that can impact decisions. Other viewpoints are needed.
As example, Tinnen, who is African-American, provides an example of implicit bias from his own life. After graduating high school, Tinnen was at a friend’s house for a barbeque. In the fall, he would be attending the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
But that day, he was wearing Harvard shorts. One of the parents asked if he was attending Harvard. Tinnen said no, he was off to William and Mary. Clyde’s buddy said Clyde could have gone to Harvard or anywhere else he wanted to attend.
“The mom asked if I played football,” Tinnen recalled. “I said no, ma’am.” Then she asked if Clyde played basketball. “I said no, ma’am. My friend saved the day and said no mom, he’s just wicked smart.” This parent had an implicit bias about Clyde.
And businesses and other organizations can make better decisions if implicit bias, the blind spots that everyone shares, are tempered through diversity of thought.
“It’s important to talk about this because we want business organizations to succeed,” said Nadelle Grossman, associate dean and law professor at Marquette Law School. “Wisconsin businesses will do that by being more inclusive of different types of people.”