Shifting Cultural Norms Are Helping to Melt Away Our Biases
An issue that has been vexing for large law firms (and the whole legal profession) for decades, is this: How do you increase diversity among partners and leaders? While many legal employers, including my own law firm, have made great strides in awareness—creating affinity groups, incentivizing our lawyers to focus on diversity, and providing professional development support to our female/diverse attorneys—we are not yet moving the needle enough. This is an issue that I feel particularly inspired about resolving, and I have spent much time thinking about the challenge.
We are making progress, and I am heartened to see and hear discussion among lawyers of all backgrounds and generations about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Plus our clients increasingly recognize the importance of diversity in their legal teams and hold us accountable to deliver diversity in meaningful ways. These programs, conversations, and incentives are important and must continue.
Perhaps equally heartening, I am observing cultural attitude shifts regarding who belongs at the table, who is worthy of being promoted, and who is capable of leading in the legal profession. Some of this is natural cultural progression, but I would like to think it is also because of the efforts we are making as a profession, as described above. I see convergence in traditional gender roles in the professional world, as more women are the breadwinners for their families and more men are working alternative time commitments, or staying home to raise children or care for parents. Young men and women are equally interested in flexible work arrangements, telecommuting, and juggling work and important personal goals. Many of the interests that were traditionally treated as women’s issues are now of interest to everyone. Whether it is chicken or egg, some of the unconscious and conscious bias that has plagued our profession for so long seems to be melting away with these shifting cultural norms.
I submit that one of the most critical things we can do as leaders is to understand what inspires our youngest colleagues in their careers—men and women, and diverse attorneys of all types. If we can embrace shifting cultural values and be open-minded about offering a variety of paths to achieve success, we can all be more successful in the future, naturally level the playing field to improve our diversity, and retain our most talented human capital.