In February 2018, I authored an article for The Legal Intelligencer on why law firms needed to not just be talking diversity. The article was timely because it was on the cusp of Women’s History Month (March) and just as Black History Month (February) was ending. Although only touched upon lightly, I mentioned two highly relevant points that will be emphasized herein. First, I am really hopeful that in the coming days, months, years, diversity and inclusion is no longer a trend or another hot topic of the moment. I want it to be that we don’t have to talk about it but we want to talk about it. D&I shouldn’t be seen as an ‘issue’ or an unwanted requirement imposed upon employers but instead as an everyday way of life. Kerra Bolton in her article for CNN wrote that we need to ensure “that Black History Month is not a one-time event, but a sustainable practice throughout the year.” Bolton couldn’t have been more right. We shouldn’t need a ‘reason’ to celebrate, nor confine it to only certain months of the year. We should be living every day celebrating, participating and enhancing a diverse and inclusive way of life.
But, with that being said, it unfortunately appears there is still a long(er) road ahead of us. Putting aside the current political landscape of our country, there are still diverse groups of individuals that are not advancing in the corporate world – law firm and otherwise – and it’s pondering as to why. In my article, I had provided some statistics on law firm diversity, as captured by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). According to NALP’s 2017 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, published in December 2017, while both women and African-American partners in law firms increased slightly in 2016 and 2017, their representative numbers are still lower than they were in 2009. Overall, while most categories saw small increases in 2017, minority women continue to be the most underrepresented group at the partner level in law firms, regardless of firm size or jurisdiction.
Those bleak statistics were released three months after Ellen McGirt authored The Black Ceiling: Why African-American Women Aren’t Making It to the Top in Corporate America for Fortune. McGirt stated a harrowing fact: “there are currently zero African-American women running Fortune 500 companies.” Some of McGirt’s article centered on Ursula Burns, the last African American woman to run a Fortune 500 company (Burns left Xerox in 2016). Burns stated that “even with black women graduating from college in record numbers, not enough are coming out of the education system to get them all the way through to the C-suite… and the black women who do make it often end up in support positions rather than the operational roles that lead to CEO jobs.” But there are simple ways we can ensure opportunities (and successful ones at that) including by ensuring young minority female professionals have good mentors. But it won’t be done by mentoring alone. Together, we need to change not only our way of thinking but also the way we view one another. It’s tough to stomach that unkindness and cruelty are still as prevalent in 2018 as evidenced in reading online stories with the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork and also when reading Maura Cheeks’ How Black Women Describe Navigating Race and Gender in the Workplace which was published in March 2018 by the Harvard Business Review.
However, I have hope. I have lots of hope that together we can achieve great things. I attended the Women’s Business Enterprise Council’s Executive Leadership Luncheon in early April where the topic was “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Service.” It was encouraging to hear from a panel of six highly successful women (four of whom were diverse women) – not of their hardships in climbing to the top, but what they have done since getting there. Bottom line: While we are moving in the right direction overall, and to paraphrase Verna Myers, we need to make sure that all persons are not only invited to the party but that they are asked to dance as well.