Time for (Radical) Change—Now!

From decades of law practice, I know that diversity is a deliberate act. For more than a decade, women have comprised about 50 percent of law graduates. Minorities and people with disabilities make up about a quarter. Despite those facts, the number of women and minorities in senior leadership in our profession has barely budged.

We need change. Now. We turn our backs on the demographics of the talent pool at our peril. Clients demand diversity, now. Research shows that diverse teams lead to better decision-making and results. We need to banish myths that women simply “go home” to raise children, and diverse attorneys simply choose to go elsewhere. ABA research shows that many women leave the profession not early in their careers but at their peak. Why? They make a rational choice: “If I am going work this hard, I want the same chance to succeed as the male (or majority) lawyer next door.” Too often, believing that is not the case, they vote with their feet.

Our profession needs to work, intentionally, to ensure equal opportunity for all, by doing the following:

  1. Tracking diversity statistics in hiring, compensation, and promotion, systematically, across the organization. Share these statistics with group and firm leaders, and demand accountability.
  2. Leading from the top. For too long, we have expected women, and people of color, to fix this problem, and assumed we have done enough. Diversity efforts need not just support, but also personal leadership, from the top.
  3. Using objective criteria and processes to drive hiring, compensation, and promotion. Use intentionally diverse teams to make such decisions; recruiting from diverse applicant pools. “Business as usual” will not make change.
  4. Shining a light on unconscious bias. While diversity is intentional, lack of diversity is often unconscious. Identifying implicit biases about women and minorities in hiring, compensation, and promotion helps effect change.
  5. Addressing aspects of compensation and succession planning that inhibit the advancement of women and minorities. As baby boomers retire, we need to ensure that all have equal chances to inherit the significant client relationships that guarantee success for law-firm partners. “Follow the money.”

Making change is hard work. However, as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Let’s do it. Now.