PRESIDENT’S PAGE October 2021
Diversity as a Driver of Business Success
In this column series, I’ve asked you to take a R.I.D.E. with me to
discuss Respect, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity. Thank you to those of
you who have accepted the invitation and not only read my messages, but
also have taken the time to provide me with input. As expected, I have
received texts, emails, and phone calls from lawyers with very differing
views on these subjects.
I want you to know I have read all your comments and taken them to heart. Even those who find fault with my opinions and thoughts are of value to me. In some ways those are even more important. These topics are complicated and intertwined with emotions arising from our individual life experiences. It stands to reason we will have different points of view, but at least we are conversing and sharing and ultimately learning from one another.
That is the goal of the R.I.D.E. We may not all end up in the same place, but at least along the journey we will have engaged in a dialogue that has the potential for leading to greater understanding.
This month we will focus on diversity. A few of those who have reached out to me have questioned the need for this. Like most people, I have not taken up this cause only for altruistic purposes, or to be trendy. The topic of diversity should have our full focus and understanding as lawyers because more and more research suggests diversity and inclusion in our firms and our practices improve business profitability and organizational management.
Legal strategists Yvonne Nath and Evan Parker found that law firms with higher shares of racially and ethnically diverse attorneys are paying their partners more—as much as $260,000 more at the most diverse firms.1 This “diversity dividend,” as they called it, existed even when other separating factors were considered.
The reason why may be rooted in the social science concept that identity diversity (various races, sexes, sexual orientations, and physical abilities) influences cognitive diversity. Nath and Parker point to behavioral research that suggests a group of diverse individuals may excel at solving complex, non-routine problems similar to those found in the legal profession.2 To make their point about how homogeneous groups breed like thinking, Nath and Parker invoke how artificial intelligence follows the webpages we like or the products we purchase and reinforces sameness by showing us options very similar to our stated tastes.
“We must take care to avoid creating teams that will reinforce confirmation bias and homogeneous thinking when trying to solve wicked problems, make predictions, uncover the truth, and innovate,”3 Nath and Parker write.
Despite these findings, diversity in the legal profession is lagging, particularly at the firm leadership level. A national report in 2019 found that just one in five equity partners were women and only 7.6% were people of color. “Among non-equity partners, 31% were women, and 10.7% were people of color.”4
What’s important to note here is that organizations don’t become diverse without significant effort. Just like Nath and Parker’s AI example, we should understand that this outcome of homogeneity at the upper levels of the legal profession is not the result of leaders conspiring to keep diverse people out of leadership roles. Similarly, to claim that a firm or an organization is not diverse because people of color don’t try to attain leadership positions is to live with blinders on. Rather, the situation is emblematic of the problem that, without disruption, the system manages to replicate itself, arriving at the same outcome.
We, the leaders of our profession, can be the disruptors. In our bar, in our practices, in our communities, we can push to diversify not because it’s trendy, but because it makes good business and organizational sense.
Sylvia Borunda Firth
State Bar of Texas
Sylvia Borunda Firth can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.