Tech Industry Leaders Are Beginning To Accept The Diversity Challenge; U.S. Law Partners Should Do The Same

Tech Industry Leaders Are Beginning To Accept The Diversity Challenge; U.S. Law Partners Should Do The Same

“The sky is falling, the wind is calling / Stand for something, or die in the morning.” – Kendrick Lamar

During the Computer Electronics Show (CES) this month, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich pledged $300 million to increase the company’s workforce diversity. In his keynote speech, Krzanich stated, “It’s not good enough to say we value diversity and then underrepresent women and minorities. Intel wants to lead by example.” Which law firms this year will also lead by example?

Krzanich did not set any specific quotas. Instead, he stated that Intel’s goal is “full representation” of women and underrepresented minorities in the company’s U.S. workforce by 2020, including more diversity across senior leadership positions. As highlighted by Time, “Silicon Valley has long been considered a boy’s club, with major tech companies like Twitter and Google revealing demographics that skew toward white, male workers.” Is the legal profession any different?

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, has become a powerful voice for women in the science and technology fields. Sandberg recently stated, “No industry or country can reach its full potential until women reach their full potential. This is especially true of science and technology, where women with a surplus of talent still face a deficit of opportunity… I know from my own experience that the path to change is best traveled when we travel together.” Many agree with Sandberg that diversity makes teams smarter, leads to better decisions, and helps groups solve problems more effectively. Who among the Am Law 200 managing partners is willing to be the voice for diversity that the legal field so desperately needs?

The “brogrammer” culture of the tech industry was reaffirmed when Google released its diversity statistics last year. The report revealed what many believed – the tech industry doesn’t welcome and often shuts out women and minorities. This indistinct sense of a “culture fit” is commonly recognized as an unconscious bias that pervades the tech industry. How does this hidden bias affect our industry? Since Google divulged its diversity statistics last May, it has launched several initiatives to get young students more interested in coding. Google also plans on administering an unconscious bias training program to promote an unbiased and inclusive place to work. What is preventing the majority of law firms from implementing these same type of policies?

When it comes to the tech industry, San Francisco programmer Shanley Kane believes there is a “prevalent — and ingrained — sense of intentional exclusion.” Could the same be said of the legal profession? As noted in The Wire, Kane said:

We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means – and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups…. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.

The tech industry and legal profession (along with others) are both facing a diversity crisis. Many of the same restrictive structures, policies, and biases can be found in both sectors. Correlation or causation? One difference between these two professions is that the tech industry’s leaders are publicly addressing this issue and making it a priority in 2015.

Whether forced or persuaded, the leaders in the tech industry are beginning to change the way they usually operate and starting to embrace the challenge of diversity. They are developing real, practical programs to deal with diversity. Intel has pledged $300 million towards this cause; Sandberg has founded and become an active, influential, and powerful champion for equality in her field; and Google has launched an education initiative to address this problem as well as committed to an unconscious bias training program.

What is preventing the majority of law firms from implementing these types of policies? Do diversity activists in the technology field demand more than we demand? Or have leaders in the tech industry taken more ownership of this problem than partners in our profession? Going forward, which industry will be more willing and able to handle and promote diversity? Which industry will be more diverse in 2020? Why?

Which firm will be the first to pledge 5% of its net profit to diversity? How about 1%? In other words, which firm will commit to an “opt-out” program in which: 1% of partners’ paychecks will be dedicated to attracting more women and minorities to the firm, actively supporting and retaining those new members, and funding programs to support more positive diversity within the profession as a whole? How many firms have already developed some sort of budget dedicated to these three strategies?

Clifford Chance, one of the big five “Magic Circle” law firms in the United Kingdom, has adopted a “CV blind” policy for final interviews with all would-be recruits:

Staff conducting the interviews are no longer given any information about which university candidates attended, or whether they come from state or independent schools.

“All they will have is the candidate’s name for the final assessment,” said Laura Yeates, graduate recruitment and development manager at the firm.

Which U.S.-based firms will join Mayer Brown’s London office and Macfarlanes in following Clifford Chance and implementing a résumé-blind policy for job interviews? When it comes to diversity, why are European law firms taking the initiative and American law firms dragging their feet? Which law firms will join Google and commit to an unconscious bias training program to promote an unbiased and inclusive place to work? Which firms will develop early-education initiatives promoting the legal profession?

As I have noted in a prior post, the legal industry has displayed some dedication to diversity at the rudimentary level. It is as lawyers progress in their careers that we see more disparity in the data. While many firms admit there is a diversity crisis, there is still more need for efforts around it. I hope firms in our profession answer Intel’s call to action and begin to truly embrace the challenge of diversity.

The majority of U.S. public school students are now in poverty. Unless consciously addressed, the same restrictive structures, policies, and biases that have led to our current system will only be magnified in the coming years. Remember that 92–94% of Biglaw partners are white. Will this percentage increase in the near future? The legal profession needs more leaders to step up and take ownership of this issue.

As Intel CEO Krzanich stated in his keynote address this month, “We’re calling on our industry to again make the seemingly impossible possible by making a commitment to real change and clarity in our goals. Without a workforce that more closely mirrors the population, we are missing opportunities, including not understanding and designing for our own customers.”

Krzanich further noted, “This isn’t just good business, it’s the right thing to do. When we all come together and commit, we can make the impossible possible.” It appears leaders in the tech industry have made diversity a priority in 2015; U.S. law partners should accept this responsibility as well.


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