Increasing Diversity by Abandoning Discrimination

Increasing Diversity by Abandoning Discrimination

Many organizations, including employers, give lip service or even thoughtful consideration to “diversity.”  Some conservative acquaintances (including one parent) find this word an opening for a diatribe on what is wrong with the modern world.  Add “politically correct” to the mix and you may have ruined that nice dinner party.

But increasing the representation of women and minorities is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is avoiding liability for discrimination.  A better way to avoid liability for discrimination is to abandon discrimination.   Can a truly color and gender blind organization exist?  Maybe not, but some are more equal than others (with apologies to George Orwell).  An organization can foster a culture where all newer workers are given mentors, are judged according to their merits and contributions, and not thought of first as “the Asian woman” or “that African-American guy.”

Where that does not happen, minorities and women have found it helpful to band together and find mentors of their own gender or race.  The polite response from the majority leadership is to accept and promote these efforts at a distance, without trying to run them.

But sometimes the majority leadership can’t help themselves.  An especially rich example of this comes from the New York State Bar Association.  In order to give women lawyers some helpful pointers on their shortcomings, the bar association offered a panel discussion entitled “Their Point of View: Tips From the Other Side.”   The program brochure describes the discussion as follows.   “A distinguished panel of gentlemen from the legal field will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of women in the areas of communication, negotiation, mediation, arbitration, organization, and women’s overall management of their legal work.”

Brilliant.  One blogger, Bridget Crawford, was incensed, and stated as follows:
I call for all members of the NYSBA to boycott this panel discussion. Yes, the speakers have a right to speak, but we don’t have to go and listen.  Men have been telling us FOR YEARS how we don’t measure up.  To have a panel of men, endorsed by the New York State Bar Association, discussing our “strengths and weaknesses,” is a regression and an insult to all women in the legal profession.

After this and other complaints, the program was changed, both to include women and to describe the “challenges” faced by women, rather than a discussion of their “strengths and weaknesses.”

The truth is that women have high enrollment numbers in law school, and have for years, yet proportionally speaking are not advancing in the field.  Still, having men point out our weaknesses in the overall management of our legal work?  Somebody needs diversity training.

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