Denver Bar Association
March 2010
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Who has a seat at the table? An important problem in the legal community has a new, practical solution


The legal profession, studies show, struggles more than any other industry or sector when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness. Consequently, attrition rates are high, especially in private practice, not only for diverse associates, but for all associates.

Have heart, dear Docket reader.

The Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence is helping us find a better way. The early results from this nationally recognized nonprofit indicate that making the workplace inclusive might even be a business imperative for success.

The nonprofit — which is supported by all sectors of the metro Denver legal community — will soon release its much-anticipated manual, "Beyond Diversity: Inclusiveness in the Legal Profession." Ten legal organizations in the Denver metro area are already pilots in using the step-by-step guide.

Original content from the Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence

The goal of the manual? To give legal organizations tools to make their cultures more inclusive, and thereby lower the attrition rates for everyone.

CCIE is testing the process with six firms, two corporate law departments and two government law offices in metro Denver. The manual is helping these 10 workplaces bravely identify the unspoken barriers that marginalize good employees. Constructive tactics offer practical ways to transform those tendencies, so as to become an inclusive workplace. The manual spotlights early works of those 10 organizations as models for other legal organizations.

The culture of exclusion and lack of diversity affects us all, and weakens achievement individually and at large, says CCIE. See Kathleen B. Nalty’s article in the March issue of The Colorado Lawyer for a recent, full report from CCIE that cites several businesses, such as Lockheed Martin, that have grown as a result of inclusiveness initiatives.

Even after years of focusing on diversity efforts and increasing the number of diverse attorneys in its ranks, Qwest’s Law Department is one of the organizations that decided to pilot CCIE’s inclusiveness program. They are taking their diversity initiative to the next level.

What we are learning is that traditional diversity initiatives, although important, have not yet achieved the success needed to reverse the trends of marginalization, invisibility and resulting attrition of diverse attorneys. Diversity alone doesn’t ensure a culture of inclusion. Just because there are diverse people in an organization doesn’t mean that they have a seat at the table.

Attorneys can have all the ability in the world, but without the opportunities to demonstrate and further develop that ability, they cannot be successful. They leave their firms to find a better avenue toward success. Law firms, in particular, have very high attrition rates because they are unique business organizations with many informal practices that lead to disparate opportunities and little transparency that keep barriers to success hidden — even to those in management.

A change is needed in the culture of legal organizations — the way they operate, encourage, support, acknowledge and account for diversity, CCIE found.

The "Beyond Diversity" manual was developed with the help of national legal diversity expert Arin Reeves, PhD. Benefitting from Reeves’ 15 years of experience, CCIE found that attrition within the legal community results from organizational structures, cultures and behaviors that are exclusive, rather than inclusive.

One of the biggest barriers in any legal organization is unconscious bias. It is human nature to prefer to work with people within one’s comfort zone. This favoritism is prevalent in law firms, CCIE finds.

True cultural shifts happen when best practices coincide with organizational cultures that embrace and value people from different backgrounds and recognize that these differences can make organizations more innovative, creative, responsive to clients and competitive in the marketplace.

Inclusive organizations are not only diverse; they are learning-centered, and they value the perspectives and contributions of all employees. They strive to incorporate the needs and viewpoints of diverse cultures into all aspects of the organization.

At a time when many legal organizations across the country use the poor economy to put diversity efforts on the back burner, Denver’s legal community is working hard to create solutions to the diversity dilemma.

To learn more about making your workplace more inclusive, attend the 2010 Rocky Mountain Legal Diversity Summit on March 16. Workshops on balanced hours programs, inclusiveness and diversity training will be the focus.

Review summarized by Christine McManus. The original article from CCIE is posted online here.

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