Dear Betty & Lulu,
By my figures, you will be reading this letter around your 21st birthday, some 20 years from now. The 2016 I know will certainly sit in stark contrast to the diverse world of 2036.
There is nothing quite like watching your children grow up. You have learned. You have developed. You have each become your own individual. Your journeys are just beginning. I trust you are journeying into a richer, more diverse world than I will ever know.
Your journeys will be very different than mine, as your world will be very different than mine. My journey began with a dedication to creating an impact on my corner of the world through the rule of law and seeking equal justice for all. Your dad loves the law and respectfully dedicated his life to serving it. To believing in it. Just as his father, your grandfather, did before him, for over fifty years. And my journey continues.
By this letter, I declare that I am fully committed to you both to undertake all I can to make sure the working world you enter hires, evaluates, retains, and promotes women and minorities based on their merits. So I commit to you that I will do all I can to give you the tools to accept those challenges as opportunities for you and the next generation of leaders you will join.
A trail has been blazed by recent generations before you. Now, that responsibility is departed onto you to continue the change and continue the amazing contributions. Your potential is boundless—at least much less bounded than when I began this effort in earnest in 2016.
A New Future from a Dismal Past
Today, we are in a dismal state, as I examine the legal industry as an example. Truth be told, the needle hasn’t moved much the entire time I have been a lawyer. The legal profession has historically provided some of our greatest leaders, and continues to churn out trailblazers in our government, corporate and nonprofit positions around the globe. Thus, the profession’s membership should be as diverse as the populations it serves. This just isn’t the case.
The legal profession is comprised of 36 percent women in 2016, yet only half that percentage (18%) account for women in equity partner positions in large firms. For minority women, the numbers are far more unwelcoming. At just 2.55 percent of partners in 2015, minority women “continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions.” The key findings go on and on. The racial disparities are even greater. In 2016, Asian women and men earn more than their White, African-American, and Latina counterparts. Among women, Whites earn 87 percent as much as Asian women, African-Americans earn 73 percent, and Latinas earn 65 percent. In comparison, White men earn 83 percent as much as Asian men; African-American men earn 63 percent as much; and Latino men, 57 percent.
Yet, when looking at what little progress has occurred, sometimes I’m shocked we have progressed at all. The conservation of the powerful mentality in a competitive “eat-what-you-kill” culture doesn’t allow for much room for others who may encroach on their power, money or client relationships. This definition of being “successful” must change. Then again, rays of hope do manage to shine through. Organizations adopting a collaborative culture start to realize real value as those in power positions create positive career outcomes for the talent they are sponsoring.
The Diverse World of 2036 Blossoms Inclusiveness
I hope that as you read this you are surprised to learn about the history of 2016 and before. I trust you look around and can see a diverse world with inclusion on every horizon, in every industry. The trend of 2016 where women were expected to account for the majority of undergraduate students: about 9.6 million (57%) in fall 2016, compared with 7.5 million (43%) men has continued. In fact, women outnumber men in both college and graduate students. In 2016, less than a fourth (24%) of Fortune 500 general counsel are women. That gender disparity has vanished not only for corporate counsel, but in law firm partnership. While working women earned only about 83 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2016, that disparity has narrowed to a be a negligible gap. Much of the gap can be accounted for the fact that women do continue to take more time off than men to raise children and take care of older family members. However, now in 2036, men increasingly take paternity leave, are involved in their children’s and parents’ lives, and now surveys show, perform about 50% of the household tasks.
Due to increasing globalization and technological advances over the last twenty years, employers increasingly ignore ethnic and racial backgrounds, and hire and promote individuals based on their unique skills, perspectives, and talents. Companies recognize the accelerated diversity of their customer base for all products and services, and serve those demands with an equally diverse workforce. The organizations that ignored these advancements have not survived in your diverse world of 2036.
Just as I write this letter to you both, I read a call to action by a general counsel of a major corporation saying, “It appears that articles, awards, panels, conferences and fancy websites just aren’t getting it done.” He is right on. And others gradually followed his lead. Gradually in the years since 2016, we eschewed the trappings of diversity, rolled up our sleeves, and worked toward inclusion.
Rather than ignoring inclusion as “a women’s issue,” smart, strong male leaders realized they cannot afford to lose the highly capable talent that women and minorities represent. The leading companies of 2036 embraced and enabled women and minorities to advance and thrive. They have done this by demonstrating their commitment to change by sponsoring these individuals of talent so that their careers can be accelerated. They put their own reputations on the line for “their gal” as they once only did for “their guy.” Once men, myself included, actively and purposefully invested and advocated for a more inclusive workplace, the quality, performance and value of organizations began to reach new levels.
Find Yourself Through Others
Your generation is already part of the “minority-majority nation” in the United States as of the more than half of the 20 million children under 5 years old are minorities. The plurality nation of racial and ethnic groups which makes up your diverse world has been moving the needle closer to equality. All people in the workplace have embraced the value of diversity and inclusion, or at least found ways to even just talk about it with greater ease than in 2016.
Your mom and I have been your teachers and your influencers, but you two must always diversify your circle of influencers. Just as your own wisdom will expand with new experiences, the value of your organizations’ talent will be found in that diversity. The inclusion of others’ perceptions, perspectives, and values will enrich your professions during your own journeys. Seek out mentors and sponsors. Your sponsorships by those already in leadership positions will serve as a catalyst to reach your potential and explore great opportunities just as others may.
A Diverse World Offers a Wealth of Knowledge
You know your dad is one to be blunt – Your journeys will be difficult. While I wish I could be there throughout them, you will be facing much of your challenges and adversity without your mom or me by your side. Nevertheless, the courage and determination you have built in yourselves over the years will always accompany you. And just as you are confident in who you are, you must be open and accepting to those walking next to you.
Listen and learn from all the individuals you encounter – those of different backgrounds, nationalities, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexual orientations – to build a broad understanding of human nature. The more you look through the eyes of others, the more you will discover the endless wealth of knowledge found in the people of our diverse world.
If you don’t find yourself in uncomfortable positions, you’re not pushing yourselves far enough. And soon, sooner than you might think, you will find yourselves in those positions of leadership. How will you embrace the call for action then? How will you have an impact? How will you be an influencer to bring about impact by others? By preparing yourself now. Keep doing more. Keep looking through the eyes of others. Keep finding opportunities in your challenges. You will be great and do great. Your journey will continue.