A Personal Message From Deanna, our Managing Attorney and Founder
A middle-aged white male law firm owner contacted me last week to ask me as a fellow law firm owner with a diverse team (see photo above), how to create a more diverse environment at his firm. He thought it was important to have a diverse staff but was having trouble recruiting minorities, particularly African-Americans. How could he find them? How could he attract them? “How do you find senior level African-American private sector attorneys?” he wondered out loud.
First, I thanked him for having the courage to ask me these questions and to have taken an affirmative step to engage in discussions with me. I know how race is a subject difficult for many to speak about, and that it is uncommon to have a white male reach out to a black person – male or female – to talk about the subject. (Full disclosure – my background is a mixture of African-American and Chinese-American descent)
I then sought to assess “how is it, that he and his law firm, currently make themselves both findable and attractive to African-American candidates, if at all?”
Did they have a statement on the website in relation to Diversity and Inclusion? The answer was no.
Did their job descriptions state that the company was an equal opportunity employer and that applications by those with diverse backgrounds were welcome? The answer was no.
Did he attend functions at the bar associations (in his state) sponsored by committees such as the Minorities and the Law Committee at the NY County Lawyer’s Association (www.NYCLA.org) where he could meet minority candidates to recruit? The answer was no.
Did he attend events offered by minority bar associations, such as the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (https://www.mbbanyc.org), or request to post a job in their newsletter or “Job Listings” page? The answer was no.
Had he joined any minority bar associations (they are open to everyone after all…) where he could meet minority colleagues and attorneys and recruit them, or ask others for help in doing so? The answer was no.
Had he ever posted a job with the Professional Development office of Howard University School of Law (http://law.howard.edu), or another institution known to educate a large number of African-Americans?
Again, the answer was no, but for all of these questions, the answer immediately became not yet.
He had not known of these strategies for making his own firm appear more attractive – through an outward acknowledgement of the importance of inclusion - to minorities, whether in terms of race, veteran status, not-so-able-bodied people, etc., just as many of you reading this did not know it either.
After this discussion, he came to understand that it was important to verbalize that his law firm is inclusive so that he could attract talent for whom that mattered. Now, you may be asking, does it matter to a minority candidate that a job setting is “inclusive?” Based on all of the feedback I have received, the answer is a resounding “yes!”
For nearly 20 years, I have had younger African-American attorneys, or attorneys-in-the-making, reach out to me so that they could ‘hear my story’ on navigating the private sector landscape where so infrequently any reflection of themselves is seen. Many question whether or not they will be accepted.
In fact, while mentoring high school students at a New York City Bar Association event in 2019, this subject came up – which goes to show how young of an age this notion of not being accepted because I’m black occurs. (Side note – this type of thought actually happens at a much younger age unfortunately…)
Whereas black job seekers make the mistake of perceiving that they are unwanted in certain work environments, whites recruiting for their businesses make the mistake of perceiving that it is “obvious” that their work environment is an inclusive one. After all, the decision makers know they are open to diversity, however many like my colleague, had never thought about not being considered for a job, or fitting in to an environment, based on the color of their skin or the nature of their hair. Unfortunately, this is the reality for some minority candidates in certain professional settings.
Therefore, if you want to make sure to eliminate this perception when it comes to your work environment, you need to voice this publicly, proudly, and with courage.
What Can You Do to be More Inclusive?
For anyone seeking to increase diversity and inclusion, you are welcome to use some or all of the strategies I discussed with my colleague above, or find others on the internet. Importantly, remember that increasing diversity is not something where “everything” has to be done or it’s not “good enough.” Start by doing what you can and what you are comfortable with. You have your own business and there is no competition to be more diverse than so-and-so’s law firm. Just start today and do what you can.
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