Public Interest Law Section Blog: Tip of the Month How Diversity & Inclusion Benefits Us All:

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  • Public Interest Law Section Blog
    January
    24
    2019

    Tip of the Month
    How Diversity & Inclusion Benefits Us All

    Jennifer L. Johnson

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    In the January 2019 Tip of the Month, Jennifer Johnson explains why law firms should commit to enhancing diversity and inclusion, and offers tips for achieving that goal. “Diversity in a law firm helps spur innovation, and that is a key to success,” she writes.

    The term “Diversity & Inclusion” often generates a sense of discomfort. Some people get defensive and feel personally attacked by the notion. Others turn a blind eye to the matter. But we are at the point where we can no longer afford to simply look the other way.

    The legal profession is still one of the least diverse of any profession. According to the American Bar Association, minority attorneys (African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian, and Native American identifying) represent less than 8 percent of the field.

    Jennifer L. Johnson Jennifer L. Johnson, Indiana 2014, is an attorney with the Milwaukee office of Legal Action of Wisconsin, with a focus on removing legal barriers to employment.

    The numbers are even more abysmal when looking at the number of minorities who are partners at firms.

    Why Should We All Care?

    Diverse and inclusive work environments benefit everyone - both attorneys and clients.

    Attorneys from different backgrounds offer diverse opinions based on their life experiences. In contrast, similarly situated individuals tend to share perspectives and process information in the same way, which countless researchers have found to hinder innovation and advancement.

    Diversity in a law firm helps spur innovation, and that is a key to success.

    Diversity also benefits clients. As a black attorney, I have found that it is easier for clients to communicate and build trust with those whom they have a shared identity. Similarly, it would behoove firms in search of new clients to promote diversity in their hiring practices because a bilingual attorney with Hispanic heritage would help attract Spanish-speaking clients to a firm.

    What Should We Do?

    For starters, firms can alter their hiring practices. Key word, “alter”; defined as: “change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way.”

    That could include being mindful of how firms draft job descriptions. If, for example, a firm is seeking more female attorneys, it should consider avoiding masculine terms in its descriptions. Terms like “assertive” and “ambitious” tend to deter female applicants from applying.

    Diversity in a law firm helps spur innovation, and that is a key to success.

    If firms want more diverse applicants to apply, they should consider participating in job fairs that specifically target these individuals.

    Additionally, every firm would benefit from investing in unconscious bias training. Why? Because everyone has unconscious bias. You do. I do. It is not an attack on one’s character – it is merely a character flaw we all suffer from.

    If you are not familiar with the term’ unconscious biases “are stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.”

    Such training can make firms aware of their specific biases and teach them how to address and alter those biases. There are many unconscious bias trainings available and the World Wide Web is a great resource.





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