Making the Case for Diverse Firms

Before becoming director of diversity and inclusion at DLA Piper, Genhi Givings Bailey’s first foray into law — and the lack of diversity in the legal industry — came from the music business.

Hailing from a family of musicians, it was no surprise that Bailey wanted a piece of the entertainment industry. And although the talent in the business was diverse, the lawyers representing them were mostly white men, making Bailey — as a young black woman — feel like an outsider, she said.

While doing some research on diversity in the music industry, Bailey stumbled across the job title of chief diversity officer, which piqued her interest and dovetailed her legal skills with her passion for diversity and inclusion issues. Bailey no longer practices music law, but her efforts to enhance diversity in the legal industry have grown exponentially throughout her career.

As director of diversity and inclusion at DLA Piper, Bailey is on the forefront of implementing strategies that foster a diverse talent pool and change the culture of white male dominance in the workplace to one that welcomes many ideas.

Below is an edited excerpt of Bailey’s interview with Diversity Executive magazine.

How do you promote long-term diversity solutions at DLA Piper?

I see two paths to long-term change. One is an institutional path, driven by policies, programs and initiatives where we look at existing systems and ferret out areas where unintentional bias might exist. The other path is focused on the individuals. One of the things that we are doing is enhancing the opportunities for diverse lawyers to develop and build their [client base.] Partners are going to give work to people that they know, like and trust. If you are an unknown entity, you don’t have a chance.

We have hosted internal networking sessions; associates are being invited to dinner in the partner’s home. The idea is for the associates to get to know one another, to get to know the partners and to network inside the firm and develop strong relationships.

 

Why do you think there is a lack of diversity in the legal industry?

The numbers of women and people of color coming out of law school ready to compete in a large law firm environment are few, and we need to change that. The [American Bar Association and Law School Admissions Council] have done substantial research on this issue. Only 31 percent of white applicants do not get in to law school, whereas 60 percent of black applicants do not get accepted. Numerous reasons are cited for this issue, including inadequate preparedness going back to early childhood education. Good diversity pipeline and mentorship programs can help prepare students of color for success in law school once they are accepted.

The other big challenge is unconscious bias. It’s something that’s inherent in us. The bad stuff creeps into the process when our biases are based on assumptions and stereotypes that get in the way of who we choose to mentor, give work to or promote. The trick is to see [unconscious bias] and identify it, and then interrupt it. That’s where we can be successful.

 

What is the best way to address diversity education?

I think one of the mistakes D&I professionals have made has been diversity and inclusion training. At the end of the day, we walk into a room and talk to people about what’s wrong and then walk away and expect things to change. That’s not an effective way to get change because people don’t want to be told they’re wrong.

You can’t expect people to undue an entire lifetime of habits and assumptions [in one day.] We have to give people the tools to continue to do self-learning between those trainings, or have systems in place to make sure people can utilize what they’re learning. Take a survey to learn about people’s perceptions about diversity in the organization. The information gathered will help you determine where the work needs to be done and what to prioritize.

Disseminating information via the company’s intranet is another good way to continue learning. The employer can go a step further and devise a monitoring system where they can check in on participants to see how they are doing and measure progress. The employer should also hold people accountable for that progress or lack thereof.

Joe Dixon is a Diversity Executive editorial intern. Comment below or email editor@diversity-executive.com.