Black. White. Male. Female. Gay. Straight. Transgendered. Asian. Jewish. Christian. Muslim. Hispanic. Blind. Paraplegic. Diversity has more faces than just color.
Just like the rest of the population, there are lawyers who would identify with each of these adjectives and more. And just like the rest of the population, lawyers identifying with these adjectives often face challenges within the profession.
To open the lines of communication regarding these challenges and how best to evolve from them, the South Carolina Bar’s Young Lawyers Division is presenting a diversity series of luncheons highlighting the different types of diversity faced by lawyers. The goal is to emphasize the benefits of diversity and encourage a frank discussion on how to get the legal profession to reflect the people it serves. The first two luncheons discussed the topics of women in the law and people of color and how those populations are making waves within the profession. Conversations in the first two luncheons have already birthed ideas for next year’s events on religion, disability, national origin, and sexual orientation.
Here at GWB, we are pleased to be a part of this series by hosting the third diversity luncheon of this year, discussing the very pressing issue of diversity and inclusion.
What does inclusion mean here? After all, it is arguable that hiring someone is including that person. But is it? It’s kind of like if you ask or accept the invitation to a dance from someone that you really have no feelings for or who is not at all like you. Then, when the day of the dance comes, you let him pay for the flowers, dinner and dance tickets. But once you cross the threshold of that gym floor, you ditch him to hang out with your friends, pretending as if you did him a favor by showing up with him or acting like you’ve never seen him before. Emily Post would roll over in her grave at such a poor display of manners. The comparable analogy in the law, though, is when firms brag and pat themselves on the back because they have a woman at the counsel table for trial because it looks good to the jury, but once back in the office, the firm does not support or encourage her to build her own book of business or makes it difficult for her to work or feel invested with the firm after she has children.
Inclusion means it’s not enough to simply hire someone who brings diversity to your workplace and trot that person out on special occasions. That person—while maybe not the same color or religion as the majority of others in the office—has to be more than a token or window dressing. And like the majority, that person should be valued for the contributions he or she brings to the firm or workplace, not just to check another diversity box to use in marketing the firm to potential clients.
There is much conversation these days about the future of the profession. To remain competitive and relevant, we as a profession must evolve to reflect those we are representing and serving. And conversations regarding how to have a better understanding and create a inclusive atmosphere are precisely what the South Carolina Bar’s Young Lawyers Division and this diversity series hope to foster and develop.
There are no gold stars for simply inviting someone to the dance.