Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Diversity" Efforts

This is a topic I've been ranting about for quite some time. I think I've touched on it a few times here but until now, haven't really concentrated a specific rant on it.

Well, after seeing this job ad yesterday, I think it's time I did so:

Manager Diversity and Inclusion (Downtown)
Date: 2011-01-14, 2:30PM EST
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

Prominent law firm is searching for one to design diversity training programs, assist in the development of practices to recruit, retain and promote women and minority attorneys, coordinate programs and social events relating to firm's diversity initiatve, as well as getting involved in various other related projects. Candidate must have a college degree, and at least two years related experience. JD's with staff-side experience are encouraged to apply . Very good benefits.

* Compensation: to 175K D.O.E.
* Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
* Please, no phone calls about this job!
* Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

PostingID: 2160505812

For those outside the legal field, here's a fact you may or may not be aware of. Perhaps if you know me well or even if you know my background, this shows some obvious reasons I don't like the BigLaw crowd in general & those types have to work harder to prove themselves with me.

Here goes: tons of partners at bigger firms are racist, sexist scum bags who'd love to see the country go back to the 1800s when there was slavery, women were property & you'd be ostracized if you got pregnant before marriage, even if you were the victim of a rape.

Now you may argue "But there are women partners & minorities working in law firms! Surely, racism & sexism are dead, relics of the past."

I'd say "Have you ever heard of tokenism? It's very much alive & well."

I'm not saying this based on presumption or guessing games: I'm saying based on statements from friends, things I've read in blogs written by lawyers on life in law firms and knowledge of a culture that every attorney knows about but few are making little real effort to change.

What do I mean by "real" effort? I mean not keeping a minority person around for the sake of tokenism or making that person into your figurehead to look good to the public or in-house lawyers. I mean not penalizing women who decide to have children or get married by undermining them and claiming they are inferior because they choose to be involved parents instead of hiring a housekeeper to be a surrogate mother.

Real effort is treating someone of a minority group the same as you would anybody else. Looking past the color or gender to find a real person who may not be all that different from you.

I was also watching that episode of A Different World last night where Dwayne & Ron are involved in the racial incident & have to go to the holding pen with the white security officer. If you haven't seen it, you should. I applaud the writers of that show for presenting a balanced view of racism and not just proclaiming that all white people are racists & all black people are their victims. I firmly believe anyone can be a racist & everyone who does it has an equal role in it.

For an example in my life of real effort, I look to my high school. Race wasn't nearly the issue there as it was in college or the legal field. Even my law school made a big thing of "diversity" and "inclusion." How did people do it, though? By segregating people into groups!

Who sees the jacked up irony there? As a perpetual outsider, I make friends with people who show me friendship. I could care less about race; in fact, many of my close friends, my real friends, weren't white. They were never my "tokens." If anything, I might have been someone else's token. That's still true today, in fact. Doesn't bother me since I'll take real friends over fake ones & as a redhead, I'm going to stand out regardless.

One day when I was in college, this girl from NYC who was involved in the school's starting a historically black sorority talked about how she hated being known as "the black girl" to white people. I thought to myself "Honey, that kind of thing doesn't work with me. I've had so many black female friends in my life that none of them get to be 'the black girl.'" I even made the comment that when I first met folk, I don't think of them as "Oh, you're [insert race here]." I notice stuff like someone being in my class or saying something I thought was stupid or wearing something I though would look great on me; I remember commenting on that distinction, actually. Believe me, you are NOT going to be "the [insert race] person" with me b/c that gets too confusing.

Over the years, I've had a lot of race discussions with people. No one's ever called me a racist or claimed I was one before or afterward; we've just been people describing our perspectives. A big one for me is the race debate along with the class divide; many people I spoke to even agreed that if you're a minority who comes from money, it's unfair for you to get opportunities ahead of poor white kids since your presence in a school like my college doesn't contribute to diversity while mine as a poor kid would. That kind of thing happens all the time, though & I experienced it firsthand.

In my college, race issues were a HUGE deal. Never mind that we were right near some very good black colleges where black folks could go to school without racist assholes from backwoods GA bothering them. I don't blame black students for not wanting to go to my college; I had no idea they made race such a big issue until I started school there. Their racism is a huge reason I'll never donate money to them.

To combat this whole situation, my undergrad attempted "diversity" and "inclusion" efforts. We never had these things in my high school. It was just hang out with who you want to. I hung out with who I liked & stayed myself. Yeah, there were cliques but no one had to be told how to treat minorities with basic human respect. If you made a racial slur in my high school, half the white kids would have taken a swing at you right along with the black kids (including me). I've told people off on shit like that since that's a personal attack on my friends, which is the same as an attack on me. Just don't make racist remarks around me if you want to live.

So, I have serious problems with trying to inject "diversity" and "inclusion" along with the type of hiring selection for such a position in a law firm. First, the problem with "diversity" efforts:

A) Not addressing real problems like racism of law firm partners & not viewing people primarily as "that black girl" or "that Mexican guy." They have names, they have personalities. Use that. I think doing anything less when you're supposed to be working with these people is racist.

Using description is one thing but I recall a guy who worked with me at the museum who I heard addressed as "Black [insert name]" by white folk. I can't imagine he knew about it b/c he never called himself that. I just knew him as my co-worker from Michigan who said I was the real life Daria.

Who wants to bet that kind of thing doesn't happen in these firms?

B) Tokenism. Most of the time, no one bothers listening to these women & minorities who come in through these programs. They don't get support, respect or the opportunity to make suggestions that are taken seriously. No wonder women & minorities leave in droves; wouldn't you?

C) Separation. Separating people tells them they're not as good so they need special help. That doesn't truly include anyone who gets it. That just says "Here's a handout b/c you're not good enough to do it on your own." Spare me your handout!

Now for hiring these directors:

A) First off, having experience at these shallow efforts at other places doesn't mean you know beans about the problem. You likely have that superficial understanding of "inclusion" like the people at my undergrad did & no clue how to treat anyone equally.

I strongly believe that if you're not part of that group or someone who personally experienced this kind of thing, you can't figure out a way to fix things. You're just on the outside looking in.

B) The programs themselves are flawed & the academics who have "prior experience" are not going to have new ideas. They'll just continue the tokenism & nothing will change.

C) Academic understanding of any problem isn't the same as real life experience. I can tell you a lot more about experiences I've lived than someone who's never had that happen.

In conclusion, you don't make a place more open to women and minorities by creating shallow "diversity" efforts & attempts at "inclusion." You make your environment more pleasant for everybody. You approach people as people, looking at everything about them. Law firms are known for looking only at grades and Ivy League schools, which do result in disparate impact on minorities & women.

If they really gave a damn about diversity, they'd look at the total person. Their total reputation & potential without any regard to color, name, etc. The people I work with don't base me or anyone else's competence on color, directly or indirectly. No one goes on a white person bitch fest around me.

Until my undergrad really hammers down on the racist fringe (kicking the racist frat out would be a start) & the law firms quash the bigots, no diversity effort is going to change things. No one I work with has to use a "diversity" effort or make a big deal about people's racial background (or orientation, for that matter); different people just feel comfortable dealing with them.

THAT'S what these morons should be doing if they want real change. Otherwise, it's just a dog & pony show this cynic could care less about.


  1. I agree with you completely! Very well said.

  2. Like you, I can warm to the topic of diversity, especially as it concerns the notion that having a minority lawyer somehow makes a difference to an adverse party who happens to be a member of the same minority. There is a real cynical manipulation at play, for example, when a firm chooses one of its Black lawyers to try a case because the jury pool also skews Black. And I don't know that a Hispanic employee who sues for Title VII discrimination benefits in any way because the employer defense counsel is also Hispanic.
    I was researching diversity online in preparation for a possible post on the topic at my blog, "The Irreverent Lawyer." I enjoyed reading your angry , 'no-holds barred' take on the subject. I wish you continued success! - Mo