3 Tips To Actually Achieve Gender Diversity In Traditionally Male Industries. Like Law.
After 13 years at the intersection of three male-dominated fields — law, finance and technology — I thought I’d seen it all (ok, maybe not all, but a lot) when it came to the quest for gender equality. But even I did a double take this summer when U.S. District Judge James Donato denied a rather routine motion because the proposed legal team lacked diversity. With a swipe of his pen and publication to PACER, the judge showed that we inch closer to gender equality when allies and people in power take action. Now it’s time for everyone to discover their inner Judge Donato. No doubt, with the loss of a true national treasure this past week, our #NotoriousRBG, there is no better time than to double (triple? quadruple?) down on an issue for which the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought so tirelessly, endlessly and elegantly.
Let’s begin with the order and what made it so remarkable. For starters, as guest Nicole Auerbach and I discussed on a recent episode of my Tech on Reg podcast, Dear Male Lawyers: Speak Up, a federal judge rarely if ever brings into a court order the issue of diversity. Judge Donato’s actions not only called attention to gender inequity. He also gave the legal team a chance to make it right, which it did, by adding two women in response. Voilà. Just like that, thanks to a white male judge, two women got seats at the table.
Mad props to you, Judge Donato. We all know the path to gender equality requires strong male allies. To all the men in industries like law I ask: When will we see your ‘Judge Donato Moment’?
For those ready to balance the scales, here are some pro tips straight from me to you.
1. Be conscious of your unconscious bias.
“Fifty-eight percent of women attorneys of color, and half of white women lawyers surveyed say they have been mistaken for administrative staff or janitors,” reports a 2018 study, You Can’t Change What You Can’t See, conducted by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law on behalf of The Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and The American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.
I have seen unconscious bias more times than I can count. In one example, while serving as chairperson of a women’s group at a large law firm, I watched the former COO state in a meeting that the firm had “no unconscious bias” when making compensation and promotion decisions. When asked more directly about pay structure, the leadership revealed it had never actually conducted formal research. After a few communal eye rolls, most of the female lawyers left the room knowing our efforts had been in vain.
In any conversation about gender equality and unconscious bias, we must also recognize the additional hurdles facing women of color. The same study I reference above revealed that, “almost 70 percent of women of color say they were paid less than their colleagues with similar experience and seniority, while only 36 percent of white men report the same.”
Pro tip for men: Learn about unconscious bias. Understand what it looks like in yourself and others. Take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. Warning! What you discover about yourself will make you uncomfortable. Sit with discomfort. Own it so you learn and grow. Ladies, we could all benefit from taking this test as well.
2. Speak up already.
We all know the saying, “If you see something, say something.” Judge Donato did in the Robinhood litigation and it worked. Though not everyone has the power of a federal judge, we each wield more power than we think. Someone should have looked around the room earlier in the process and said, “Hey everybody. Isn’t it weird that out of this whole long list of lawyers, we don’t have any women?” If that had happened, the firm could have been spared an unflattering order reminding them that women have law degrees too.
To women: I know this is hard, but we also have to speak up when we see inequality and not just for women but for everyone who has been put on the sidelines. Yes, perhaps we will be referred to as “difficult” or “crazy,” but that’s not new. Lifting others up means we can’t be afraid to call out the behavior that holds all of us back.
“I think most people want to try to make the workplace better. I think they like working relationships to go smoothly,” Nicole said when asked if she is optimistic that industries like law will become more inclusive and reflective of the communities they serve. “I think they recognize that the happier people are when they’re working, the more productive, the better client service that’s going to be and the better the environment that they’re working in.”
Business leaders must speak up and take actionable steps that reflect a deep commitment to creating equitable work cultures. This includes unconscious bias training, transparency in pay and promotions and an integration of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at every level of the organization.
3. “Bash inertia.”
It is easy to gravitate towards people who look, think and act like us. But that is boring and impedes progress. Now that you know about unconscious bias (because you took that Harvard test, right?), make an effort to not just talk but actually do.
“We’ve got to bash inertia,” says Nicole. “We have to do the work to shake things up, and that means shaking everything up.” Nicole advocates that law firms go deeper into the pool of Ivy League candidates or search in other schools. “There are so many amazing, diverse attorneys and the idea that we can’t find them anybody or they’re not qualified… no, you’re just keeping all the things that you did the same as last time and the time before.”
Go out on a limb for someone when you know that person deserves it. Walk the walk for any human not being given the opportunity to join an organization, be on a team or have a seat at the table. Don’t just say something. If you have power, do something.
Law is a very collaborative industry. We form case teams, strategy teams and deal teams. Make sure your teams are as diverse as your clients. Gender equality is not rocket science; it simply requires thought and intention.
Cataclysmic disruptions like the pandemic have shaken up traditional industries. Leaders, professionals climbing the corporate ladder and allies must do more than pay lip service. Men: Find your ‘Judge Donato Moment’. Let’s move on from the same circular conversations we have been having for years and finally achieve true gender equality.
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