A Renewed Case for Diversity

Diversity-globeSimply defined, diversity recognizes that a group or an organization is made up of many different people; people who differ in appearance because of race, ethnicity or gender but perhaps more importantly, and often overlooked, people who are different because of their values, culture, beliefs and life skills. In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki says:

“…there’s no real evidence that one can become expert in something as broad as ‘decision making’ or ‘policy’ or ‘strategy.’ Auto repair, piloting, skiing, perhaps even management: these are skills that yield to application, hard work, and native talent. But forecasting an uncertain future and deciding the best course of action in the face of that future are much less likely to do so. And much of what we’ve seen so far suggests that a large group of diverse individuals will come up with better and more robust forecasts and make more intelligent decisions than even the most skilled ‘decision maker’.”

And isn’t that a good enough reason to embrace diversity in the workplace? Forget for a second that under the EEOC guidelines, diversity is practically the law. Look instead at the advantages of diversity in the workplace: increased creativity, increased productivity, new attitudes, new language skills, global understanding, new processes and new solutions to increasingly complex and difficult problems.

Diversity in business
I spoke to the HR director at Haynes & Boone, a firm with 525 attorneys in 12 global locations, regarding diversity initiatives at their firm. Their Diversity Committee provided the following information:

“Haynes and Boone has a strong history of commitment to diversity. We believe that diversity enhances innovation and the delivery of quality legal services to a diverse clientele. A wide range of perspectives and a unique understanding of the cultural nuances of global markets heighten our ability to strategically and effectively navigate clients’ complex business needs.

We are often asked by clients and prospective clients to report on our diversity initiatives and to identify the diverse teams that will support the client’s legal needs. Diversity is important to our clients and they expect us to provide a diverse team of attorneys to work with them.”

Arguably, diversity is a key business imperative today, and it’s not surprising that it is getting a lot of attention from our clients. As the world continues to shrink, our business partners are increasingly multi-national. The companies you court business from may either have offices, clients or both in multiple countries around the globe. The two fundamental drivers for profitability are controlling cost and increasing revenues through innovation. It is through diverse expertise, strategic thinking, ingenuity, innovation, the ability to solve problems and the ability to respond to new market demands that a company can meet the demands of their new world client partners.

Is it any surprise then that leading enterprises have made diversity front and center of their vision? As vendors and suppliers, we bid for new business and respond to RFPs and most, if not all, include a request for information on the company’s commitment to diversity as part of the selection criteria. Questions often relate to the specific demographics of the legal personnel working at the firm, including the number of women and minorities and their seniority levels. Questions are also asked about the role these individuals will play in completing legal work for the client requesting the RFP.

Take a look at Microsoft’s diversity statement (found at www.microsoft.com):

“Diversity and inclusion are integral to Microsoft’s vision, strategy and business success. We recognize that leadership in today’s global marketplace requires that we create a corporate culture and an inclusive business environment where the best and brightest diverse minds—employees with varied perspectives, skills, and experiences—work together to meet global consumer demands. The collaboration of cultures, ideas, and different perspectives is an organizational asset and brings forth greater creativity and innovation.”

The practice of diversity can enhance an organization’s responsiveness to an increasingly diverse world of customers, improve relations with the surrounding community, increase the organization’s ability to cope with change and expand the creativity of the organization.

Diversity in law firms
It is worth noting how law firms are taking the lead from the corporate world. It is well known by now that more corporations and clients are putting pressure on their attorneys to become more inclusive, and law firms are recognizing the real advantages of paying attention to diversity. In 1999, 400 chief legal officers of Fortune 500 companies signed what became known as the Diversity Statement. This was a signal to show their business partners that they are committed to diversity and expect the same from them.

Each year, ALM ranks U.S. law firms based on their percentage of minority attorneys and minority partners. According to ALM, 2011’s top 10 firms with 19.3% or more minority attorneys are:

  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
  • White & Case
  • Munger, Tolles & Olson
  • Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
  • Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith
  • Hughes Hubbard & Reed
  • Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear
  • Fenwick & West
  • Morrison & Forrester
  • Townsend Townsend & Crew

These firms have embraced diversity initiatives and have developed committees and leadership teams to focus on providing an inclusive culture. Through these initiatives, these firms create an environment that encourages people from diverse backgrounds to work for them and augments their ability to attract and retain talent while keeping employees happy. In turn, these firms solidify their reputations for excellence and are positioned for growth.

Successful diversity initiatives
Some components of a successful diversity program include:

  • Forming a core committee to promote diversity initiatives
  • Work/life balance initiatives for working moms
  • Support and sponsorships for local minority bar associations
  • Mentoring programs to engage and retain diverse talent in the firm

It is important for us to understand that workplace diversity is no longer an option and also not merely the right thing to do. Diversity is the roadmap to success in the workplace of the future. As we become global organizations, enterprises and economies, we should look forward to working with a variety of diverse individuals who will inspire and invigorate the workplace.

Contributed by Sangeeta Agrawal, Executive Director of Special Counsel in Orange County, CA

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