Running in Place?

Businesswoman on cellphone runningLast week I wrote about Tanya Odom’s fascinating presentation at the NALP Diversity and Inclusion Summit.  Ms. Odom discussed the #FutureWorkplace and what that means for diversity.  I then immediately went home and tried to figure out how Second Life works.  Still no clue.

Ms. Odom’s presentation kicked off a day of thoughtful, provoking, and sometimes uncomfortable discussion on where we are on diversity and why we aren’t further.  Here’s some of what I was privileged to listen to:

Phyllis Levinson, a New York-based executive coach, provided tips on how to utilize executive coaching techniques to encourage your organization’s higher-ups to implement diversity initiatives.  Her advice was simple: be a change agent.  Are you getting the desired outcomes?  If not, then go to those higher-ups and ask them, “Do you REALLY want change?”  If the answer is no, then you’ve done all you can do.  If the answer is, “Yes,” but with caveats, then you have to work from within to get change done.

Next up was Ann Rainhart, Chief Talent Officer at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.  Ms. Rainhart talked about her company’s flexible hours policy and how that has helped them retain the best talent in their firm.  Faegre offers a Full-Flex program for all of its attorneys.   Attorneys working flextime are not required to be in the office except on their own hours and terms, are paid the same as full-time attorneys and are eligible for partnership.  And while this may not initially appear to be that different from regular billable hours, Ms. Rainhart pointed out that more attorneys, particularly women, have taken advantage of this formal program than those who did when it was simply billable hours.

Robert Nelson of the American Bar Foundation then joined Peggy Davis of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms, and Sandra Yamate of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession to discuss the troubling statistics of diversity in the law.  The statistics were provided by the After the JD study.  The statistics reveal just how much work we have left to do.  You can learn more about the study here, but several of the panel’s points resonated with me – increase diversity among lawyers in law firms until it is at the same level as college graduates; continue to work with diverse lawyers even after they’ve started with the firm, and do more outreach to diverse law students to encourage them to enter the profession and stay.

The day wrapped up with Howard Ross of Cook Ross Inc.  Mr. Ross talked about new diversity strategies for the new millennium.  And while he left us with many thought-provoking questions, the one that resonated with me the most was his very first: after years of initiatives and millions of dollars, what in diversity has changed?  Since 2000, women’s pay equity has increased 2%.  The number of women CEO’s?  That’s increased 1%.  We have spent more resources than any generation in history on increasing diversity, and yet, Mr. Ross asks, how much progress have we really made?

That was Mr. Ross’s question.  Here are my questions for you:  Looking back at the past, are you satisfied with what we’ve accomplished, or are you disappointed in what we have not?  And looking to the future, are you hopeful for where we’ll go, or pessimistic that we will keep running in place?  Take our polls and let us know your thoughts.  Don’t worry – it’s anonymous.

Thank you again to NALP for inviting me to their excellent 2013 Diversity and Inclusion Summit.  Here’s to #NextYear.

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