One Nation. One Team.

One Nation One TeamFriday is the 4th of July. And this year, a traditionally non-American sport will take center stage this Independence week. The United States men’s soccer team will play in the World Cup for a chance at the quarterfinals.

Their team motto certainly befits this team of multiple ethnicities: “One Nation, One Team.” It’s a motto that can apply to this country as well.

We are a nation of immigrants. Thousands of years ago, Paleo-Indians crossed the Bering Strait to live on this continent. French and Spanish settled in the 1500s, later joined by Pilgrims and Puritans, and English convicts and colonists. They all brought with them half a million kidnapped Africans. In the decades that followed, immigrants came from across the world, as refugees, forced laborers, and migrants seeking a new life. Irish, Germans, Chinese, Poles, Slavs, Italians, Serbs, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Vietnamese, Cubans, Haitians, Africans, West Indians, and now, as we enter another era, Asians and Latin Americans.

It’s this new immigration era that is partly responsible for our ongoing population transformation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2050, our national population will be 399.8 million. That’s a 34% increase from our current population of 314 million. Where is this new population coming from? Native births of course, but also, immigration. Globally, 1 in 5 international migrants live in the United States. Between 2012 and 2050, Pew Research Reports estimates that 41.2 million immigrants will arrive into this country. In other words, 48% of our new population will be immigrants. And they’ll mainly be coming from Mexico, India, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba, Korea, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. Those are currently the top ten countries from which U.S. immigrants arrive. Three Central American countries, four Asian countries, and two Caribbean islands.

Now take a look at that men’s soccer team. 11 of our 23 players have at least one, and in some cases two, foreign-born parents: Hungarian, Mexican, Norwegian, Colombian, Icelandic, Haitian, and of course, our five German sons of American servicemen. Not to mention those who claim Native American, Latvian, Irish and Polish roots. And our coach Jürgen Klinsmann is a former German national player who has lived in California these past sixteen years.

Our national soccer team is a microcosm of the diversity that exists in this country. It also serves as an example to those detractors who argue that diversity just doesn’t work. In the legal sphere, these skeptics contend law firms and legal organizations should stop spending money on diversity training and diversity initiatives because they don’t translate into success.

The world of soccer has something to say to those critics. After analyzing ten years of European football data, three U.S. professors concluded that, without a doubt, more diverse teams outperformed less diverse ones. In fact, they argued, by incorporating additional, culturally inherent skills to its roster, an average team could change an outcome from a tie to a win in one of every three games.

For more anecdotal evidence, see Coach Klinsmann’s statement:

It’s all part of globalization. American families are spread out through business and the military, but they are still Americans. It’s a wonderful thing, and we are tapping into it … They fit in well, and the blend of backgrounds can make us a stronger team.

I am not claiming to be any kind of soccer expert, but I can guess that part of the reason the U.S. Soccer Federation hired their German-born coach was to appeal to the many talented German-born American players who grew up in Germany, live in Germany and play for German club teams. It worked. That success could support the viewpoint that hiring diverse attorneys can bring in diverse clients.”

And teamwork? Some critics argue that diverse teams aren’t as cohesive as non-diverse teams. German-born player Jermaine Jones would disagree:

It’s not the point that we’re American Germans … We’re all Americans. We’re one piece. We stick together like a team.

Of course, you can only take the soccer analogy so far. That said, our men’s team does demonstrate the advantages of a team open to diversity. A diverse team, whether on a soccer pitch or in a law firm, can attract and retain a higher caliber of workers, particularly ones who want to work for a diverse team. That team can also benefit from the incorporation of numerous viewpoints. Diverse team members can challenge biases and force the team to see different solutions to a single problem. Or to spot a problem before it erupts. The team will be more mindful of diverse clients (or fans), who in turn may be more attracted to a team because of the diversity it demonstrates. Moreover, diversity fosters teamwork where all team members, diverse and non-diverse, are forced to go beyond their comfort zone to improve collaboration.  And maybe most importantly, a diverse team will reflect a nation that in 35 years, will not have a single majority race.

The reality of diversity initiatives, particularly law firm diversity initiatives, is that they require concerted effort for what often appears to be little result (unless of course your clients are willing to penalize you for failing to meet diversity goals). Yet as Scott Page writes toward the end of his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies:

[T]he benefits of diversity do exist. They’re not huge. We shouldn’t expect them to be huge. But they’re real, and over time, if we can leverage them, we’ll be far better off. We’ll find better solutions to our problems. We’ll make better predictions. We’ll live in a better place.

Diversity in this nation has been an ongoing, hard-fought struggle that is nowhere near the end. And, again, whatever success Team USA has, the team only has limited utility as a diversity analogy. But look at those immigration numbers. Look at our changing population. Look at our shrinking world. Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, 56 white men of British descent signed a document to create a nation that now numbers 318 million, descended from all corners of the globe. That’s diversity to celebrate. One Nation, One Team. Happy 4th of July everyone.

 

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

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Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

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