Equality for All
In the last decade, diversity, has been a goal for BigLaw, in-house counsel, law schools and bar associations. The conventional wisdom is that increasing diversity in these institutions improves learning, broadens business connections and helps lay a level “playing field.” I agree. But how do these institutions define diversity? Webster’s defines Diverse as “of a different kind, form, character, etc.; unlike.” This definition begs the question, “different from what?” Is it universally assumed that the non-diverse person is the under 40, straight, physically fit, unmarried (or at least child-less) and economically stable man? Somewhat akin to the “reasonable man” who populated law school books. Let’s call him Michael. Should you know Michael, please give me his number. I have lots of friends who would be interested. In fact, some would argue that Michael, himself, is a minority. But I digress.
Ironically, diversity initiatives tend to interpret diversity very narrowly. Typically, these programs target racial minorities (actually some programs are even more narrow on race, focusing on African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and maybe Asian-American. Rarely do you find Native Americans or other ethnic minorities included); gender and maybe sexual orientation. However, these are but three characteristics that make us different from our colleagues. It is hard to disagree that other characteristics like socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, nationality, marital status, age, disability status, and size (weight) make us different. In fact, some of these classes are protected by Title VII.
Why not serve these groups? If it is funding, then redirect funding and priorities. By ignoring the needs of these groups, as well-meaning as a diversity program may be, the program is declaring that these groups are inferior. Indeed, racism, sexism, and homophobia exist in legal institutions and attempts at eradicating bias should be pursued vigorously. However, as our nation evolves and begins to accept and include these populations, diversity programs must include these other groups. If these groups are not included, diversity initiatives face the possibility of becoming irrelevant.
On a final note, please find a better name for “diversity initiatives.” When I see the announcements for programming by well-meaning groups, law firms, and law schools–unless I need ethics credits and CLEs are offered, I almost universally ignore it. Why? Because of the above explanation. I assume the program will simply re-hash the many programs before it.
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P.S. Welcome, Equality for All!