Although your office may have more Asians than the NBA, it may be far off from being a truly diverse workplace. But as long as your firm can count some minorities on its attorney roster, who really cares about increasing diversity anyway?
Clients, for one. As companies become more diverse, they expect their outside counsel to reflect a similar diversity. A firm that can’t demonstrate a real commitment to boosting its diversity is in danger of getting dumped or passed over by clients. In the long run, that may translate into no work, or even no job, for you. So how can you (minority or not) actively do your part to encourage diversity in your workplace? Here are the Career Center’s top three tips:
Assign high-profile work to minority attorneys. Any senior associate or partner can promote diversity by simply ensuring that minority attorneys have access to high-profile work and substantive experiences. Far too often, minority attorneys aren’t given the opportunity to shine on a case or on a deal, and they end up being relegated to handling the mundane tasks. Whether or not this is done intentionally, it nonetheless inhibits the growth and advancement of minority attorneys. They may stay on with their firm but get passed over for partnership down the road, or leave for another job that will give them the skills and experiences they are looking for. Either way, from the firm’s perspective it’s a lose-lose situation. Clients will undoubtedly question whether a firm is truly committed to diversity if minority attorneys are not being fully utilized, or if the firm’s pool of diverse talent continues to dwindle.
Mentor a minority attorney. Minority attorneys don’t necessarily need to be mentored by someone with the same background. They don’t require any special treatment. What many firms lack are senior attorneys who are committed to seeing the younger attorneys succeed -– not only as practitioners, but in developing relationships within the firm as well. Sounds easy enough, but in reality many attorneys who are forced to become mentors are mentors in name only. While that type of mentor isn’t helpful to a junior associate of any background, it is especially unhelpful to minority attorneys, who may already feel isolated and unsupported within the firm. If more attorneys are willing to help ensure that everyone at their firm has an equal opportunity to flourish and get the support they need, minority attorneys may be more likely to stay and move up the ranks.
Leverage your background. Having an understanding of a particular culture and/or a fluency in a foreign language can help you develop business relationships and may help you build a book of business. For example, as an increasing number of firms establish a presence in Asia, new opportunities are opening up for Asian American attorneys to be involved in their firms’ Asia practices. Additionally, there are many successful stories of minority attorneys who have built their client base by seeking out and servicing small start-up companies whose founders have backgrounds similar to their own. Rather than downplaying their differences, these diverse attorneys demonstrate how they can use their unique backgrounds to their advantage.
By leveraging your background, not only are you benefitting by advancing your career, but you also help diversify your firm’s business, and thus attract diverse talent to your workplace.