Tech Industry Leaders Are Beginning To Accept The Diversity Challenge; U.S. Law Partners Should Do The Same

diversity diverse workforce business law firm minority lawyers“The sky is falling, the wind is calling / Stand for something, or die in the morning.” – Kendrick Lamar

During the Computer Electronics Show (CES) this month, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich pledged $300 million to increase the company’s workforce diversity.  In his keynote speech, Krzanich stated, “It’s not good enough to say we value diversity and then underrepresent women and minorities. Intel wants to lead by example.” Which law firms this year will also lead by example?

Krzanich did not set any specific quotas. Instead, he stated that Intel’s goal is “full representation” of women and underrepresented minorities in the company’s U.S. workforce by 2020, including more diversity across senior leadership positions. As highlighted by Time, “Silicon Valley has long been considered a boy’s club, with major tech companies like Twitter and Google revealing demographics that skew toward white, male workers.” Is the legal profession any different?

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, has become a powerful voice for women in the science and technology fields. Sandberg recently stated, “No industry or country can reach its full potential until women reach their full potential. This is especially true of science and technology, where women with a surplus of talent still face a deficit of opportunity… I know from my own experience that the path to change is best traveled when we travel together.Many agree with Sandberg that diversity makes teams smarter, leads to better decisions, and helps groups solve problems more effectively. Who among the Am Law 200 managing partners is willing to be the voice for diversity that the legal field so desperately needs?

The “brogrammer” culture of the tech industry was reaffirmed when Google released its diversity statistics last year. The report revealed what many believed – the tech industry doesn’t welcome and often shuts out women and minorities. This indistinct sense of a “culture fit” is commonly recognized as an unconscious bias that pervades the tech industry. How does this hidden bias affect our industry? Since Google divulged its diversity statistics last May, it has launched several initiatives to get young students more interested in coding. Google also plans on administering an unconscious bias training program to promote an unbiased and inclusive place to work. What is preventing the majority of law firms from implementing these same type of policies?

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What Minorities And Women Can Learn From Michele Roberts, NBA Union Chief

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“I’m the black sheep but Chris Farley wears the crown / And I know life is just a game in which the cards are facing down.” – Drake

In Michele Roberts’s senior yearbook, she quoted Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni:“Joy is finding a pregnant roach and squashing it.” Roberts was born and raised by a single mom in a low-income housing development in the Bronx. She attended public schools before earning a scholarship her sophomore year to a boarding school. She received her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan (1977) and law degree from UC Berkeley (1980). Roberts could be considered a real-life example of the script from Finding Forrester. Last July, she was named Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

Roberts is the first woman to be in charge of a major North American professional sports union. Prior to being elected the NBPA Executive Director, Roberts was a trial lawyer with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (2011-2014), Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (2004-2011), and Shea & Gardner (n/k/a Goodwin Procter). At one point in her career, she even headed her own firm (Rochon & Roberts; Rochon, Roberts, & Stern). Prior to this, she spent eight years in the Public Defender Service for D.C. (rising to chief of the trial division). Just as Jamal Wallace in Finding Forrester found a mentor in William Forrester, so too Roberts found a mentor in Charles Ogletree at the Public Defender’s office. Miss Elsy, Roberts’s mother, was also a strong figure in her life. As ESPN writes, “When other families in the neighborhood accused Miss Elsy of thinking her kids were better than everybody, she would respond, ‘No, I just think they’re better than everyone thinks they are.’”

Last week, ESPN aired a special Outside the Lines segment titled “Content of Character: Union Leaders Roundtable.” The host, Jay Harris, began the discussion by asking the panel, “What does the color of your skin mean for your roles as union heads?” Roberts answered, “We’ve had to deal with the fact that when we walk into a conference room or a courtroom or wherever that there are presumptions that are going to be made about us because we are African-American, and then added to that is the audacity of my being a woman in the world of sports. Having said all that, I allow myself to be troubled by it for about a millisecond and then we all just go on and do what we have to do.”

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