Committee meetings. Task forces. Networking events. Panel discussions. Pipeline programs. Hackathons. Colorado’s legal community hasn’t lacked for events and initiatives to promote diversity and inclusiveness among law firms and the judiciary.
Yet many diversity advocates say that actual progress remains slow in promoting women and people of color in the legal profession.
One indicator is a survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers that found that women comprised 20 percent of the equity partners at law firms last year, which was only up from 15 percent in 2006. That sluggish growth comes despite the participation of attorneys, law firms and other organizations in diversity and inclusiveness initiatives over the past decade.
Miko Brown, a partner at Davis Graham & Stubbs in Denver, said the lack of progress can lead some people to question the effectiveness of certain “D and I” measures.
“I get it — people say, ‘I’ve been working on these issues for 10 years, I’ve been going to these diversity meetings and participating in these diversity committees for 10 years or even longer, and I’ve seen absolutely no meaningful change, why am I wasting my time?’” Brown said. That disenfranchisement is a sure sign of what she considers “diversity fatigue.”
The term diversity fatigue has been cropping up more and more to describe the cynicism professionals and organizations feel toward campaigns to hire and promote more women and minorities. But the term has been used in the legal profession as early as 2010, in a report by the ABA’s Presidential Diversity Initiative.
The report, “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps,” pointed out a generational conflict within advocates.
Certain proposals to increase diversity in law will often excite newcomers, while “[l]aden with diversity fatigue, some seasoned campaigners for the cause may carp: ‘We tried these same recommendations back in 1993, and they didn’t work.’”
Diversity advocates who have been involved for years, the report continued, “may complain of diversity fatigue as a response to the continual recycling of issues that had seemingly already been discussed and even resolved.”
Diversity fatigue can come from the “stress and exhaustion of trying to recruit and retain diverse talent” and failing to make significant progress in it, said Jennifer Jaskolka, an assistant general counsel of Xcel Energy who’s long been active in promoting diversity and inclusiveness in Colorado’s legal community. “It’s not seeing the progress you anticipate will result from implementing D and I measures.”
Diversity committees and women’s initiatives, which are now commonplace at law firms, “got a lot of momentum and enthusiasm early on because they were brand new,” Brown said. But over time, diversity advocates can grow skeptical about those programs’ effectiveness, seeing that many firms still have trouble hiring and retaining women and attorneys of color.
It can lead some attorneys to even tune out those initiatives, which means the legal community needs to think of ways to keep those discus- sions meaningful, Brown said.
RECOGNIZING SMALL VICTORIES
Diversity fatigue can often take its toll because diversity advocates are focused on the larger goals — like pay equity at law firms or a judiciary that reflects the racial demographic of the state population — and the profession’s continued failure to meet them.
“I think people really need to be reinvigorated with some victories,” Brown said. “But how do we do that in the context of these really large global problems?”
One solution is to shoot for, and recognize, the smaller victories in advancing diversity, Brown said. For example, instead of setting the goal of eliminating the gender pay gap at a law firm, attorneys could instead focus on getting more women on the firm’s compensation committee, which is a significant milestone to- ward that larger goal.
“That is much more doable,” Brown said. “And once you start to get more women on the comp committee, you’re probably going to get pay equity.” The smaller goal comes with more concrete steps that diversity advocates can take, which in the compensation committee example could be finding rising stars in the firm who would support pay equity measures and grooming them for committee seats.
The alternative is spending years and money focusing on pay equity as the primary goal and then being discouraged when the initiative fails to reach it over time, Brown said.
Some other “stepping stone” solutions legal employers have implemented in recent years have included the Mansfield Rule, which some firms have adopted to ensure that at least 30 percent of the candidates they consider for leadership roles are women or people of color.
Jaskolka said that it’s important to track and review diversity metrics in hiring and promotions. Metrics can help firms and companies recognize what progress they still need to make in building more diverse teams of attorneys, but also see where they’ve achieved it.
“We definitely need to celebrate the small wins frequently and out loud,” she said.