Diversity Isn’t Enough

lady-justice-with-scalesAn award, sometimes called a distinction, is something given to a recipient as a token of recognition of excellence in a certain field. One of the most iconic awards given out each year since 1927 is by Time Magazine for Man of the Year. In 1999, the title of Man of the Year was changed to Person of the Year, thus creating a pathway for a more diverse collection of possible recipients of the award. In theory after 1999, the award was no longer gendered and thus open to all people, although only two sole recipients since 1999 have, in fact, been non-males.

Awards are interesting. The criteria for receiving them can be simple or can be complex. The ways for which a person is nominated could be formal or informal. Each award carries with itself a different set of rules and requirements.

In the Amazon original series Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge characterized “women’s awards,” as “infantilizing bollocks… ghettoizing, a subsection of success.”

If you chose to agree with Waller-Bridge, it follows that the same is true of awards for all minorities. It’s clear, an award is meant with the best intention – to draw a spotlight to the good work and fierceness of the recipient, but in some cases it can be a reminder of how inequitable the playing field really is for the person receiving it.

The fact that we would still need to highlight someone based upon their diversity and not in lieu of it is an issue we in the legal profession will struggle with for years to come. Until there is equality, these types of awards will exist.

Many times it feels like a Catch 22. Many legal colleagues characterized as diverse or as a minority in the legal profession, whether it be based upon race, gender, origin, etc., all grapple with being in the spotlight. It is one thing to rise in the ranks of a company and be the “it” person because you look different or represent an underrepresented group amongst the mostly male, usually Caucasian and straight partners. It can even be flattering to be the poster child for diversity and inclusion in the firm, the court, the county, or the office at times. However, there is also a pretty serious downside to being the face of diversity that presents itself when the inclusion ends with you.

Once you’ve climbed the ranks and passed all the struggles thrown at you due to your diverse background and bias in education, the profession and in hiring, it’s difficult at times when you feel like you’re being used to prove diversity exists, while also dealing with the internal workings of being likely one of the only people like you in the job.

I’ve often asked myself if people think I’m where I am because I deserve it or because I check a box for the organization or group I represent. I can imagine I am not the only one. Diversity isn’t enough. Inclusion must be an equal priority to normalize diversity in the workplace so that it is not the exception but the norm.
The issue I see is that too many people see diversity and inclusion as a communication and an awareness issue rather than a process, policy, culture or systems issue. All of which needs to be addressed to achieve actual inclusivity.

While best practices are always evolving, included here is a list of ideas to help promote inclusivity that should make diversity in the workplace become an integrated norm rather than a monthly spotlight.

1. Establish and clearly communicate specific, measurable and time-bound goals as you would with any other strategic aim.

2. Consider forming a council comprising a dedicated group of leaders in the organization. Inclusion initiatives can’t solely be the responsibility of the HR team or your organization’s Diversity and Inclusion group. It has to be embodied by everyone in order to really take hold.

3. There must be a whole organization buy-in to achieve Diversity and Inclusion. To create an inclusive culture, everyone from the top to middle management to entry-level employees need to buy in.

4. One of the most important ways to show employees that you respect their backgrounds and traditions is to invite them to share those in the workplace.

5. Move beyond sensitivity training. Sensitivity training is an important part of the solution, but too many organizations use it one time and believe it will remove all risk of conscious and unconscious bias from their organization. Without the implementation of proactive measures, including an ongoing internal discussion, sensitivity training can easily end up being an experience that likely won’t resonate among employees.

6. Moving Target. When thinking about inclusion, small changes can have a big impact on how people feel. Be adaptable and listen to your employees.

If each company, firm, court, and office can integrate these tips then we might well be on our way to getting more diverse people on the cover of Time Magazine and presented with awards that are offered to all candidates and not just diverse classes.