Ways to Successfully Diversify Your Affiliate
By Natalie Holder-Winfield
Natalie Holder-Winfield is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is a diversity consultant for QUEST Educational Initiatives, a consulting firm that provides diversity and skills development training to law firms, bar
associations, and law schools.
Law firms, businesses, and educational institutions have recognized that if they want to remain competitive as America’s demographics change, they must devote more time and resources to diversifying their workforces. It is only natural that bar associations also are aggressively looking for ways to increase the membership of attorneys from different backgrounds. Here are some guiding principles to help your bar association set and achieve its diversity goals.
Establish a Diversity Plan
As with anything in life, when you know where you want to go, you get there much faster. Start by defining diversity for your organization, and then determine whether your current membership, events, and mission comport with the definition. If they do not, this is an opportunity to determine and devise a strategy for meeting objectives. Law firms and businesses struggle with establishing a diversity plan, so do not be discouraged if the process seems painstaking. You may consider hiring a diversity consultant to get your organization moving in the right direction.
Similar to law firms that want to ensure their diversity efforts are successfully moving in the right direction, take a survey of your members. At least once a year, ask your members anonymously for ideas, suggestions, and feedback on the yearly diversity efforts and programs. This will allow you to gauge gaps in your diversity initiatives.
Members feel invested in bar associations when speakers and other programming initiatives reflect their interests. Try to find speakers—for example, judges, attorneys, business leaders, and politicians from different backgrounds—who can share different experiences and perspectives with your members. If your affiliate hosts dinners or other gatherings, try to find ethnic restaurants. Affiliates should also consider volunteering in a variety of neighborhoods and exposing their bar association to different communities in their areas.
Create Strategic Alliances with Other Bar Associations
When African-Americans, Asians, and other people of color were historically prohibited from joining mainstream bar associations, they created affinity bar associations including the National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and National Hispanic Bar Association. By co-hosting events and conferences with affinity bar associations, a natural cross-pollination occurs. Your members get to meet attorneys from different backgrounds and to inform them about the benefits of your organization, and vice versa. You may also consider having a representative from your bar association join an affinity bar association.
Similar to any organization that wants to increase its membership, offer reduced or waived membership to members of affinity bar associations. Similar to the ABA, your bar association may offer fellowships to attract new members. For example, the ABA YLD’s Minorities in the Profession Committee (MIPC) Scholars Program provides attorneys from underrepresented backgrounds with significant travel reimbursement to attend YLD meetings, complimentary tickets to social events during the YLD meetings, and a formal mentoring program to help the scholars—who are usually new to the ABA YLD—chart their courses through the organization. As a result, a number of MIPC Scholars have continued their participation in the ABA YLD by pursuing competitive elected leadership positions and various appointments.
Remember That Attorneys from Underrepresented Backgrounds Are People Too
Although you may be enthusiastic about recruiting members from underrepresented backgrounds, you should approach each potential member as a valued individual. Once, a member of a mainstream bar association tried to recruit me for membership. I was impressed by his enthusiasm until he explained that his bar association “had” to diversify because without people of color his organization would continue to lose lucrative sponsorships. No self-respecting attorney wants to integrate an organization as a token member. Your approach to new members should be genuine.
Show Members That There Is Equal Opportunity to Lead the Organization
When associates feel that they have encountered a glass ceiling, a bamboo ceiling, maternal wall, or any other barrier to advancement, they are no longer invested in their firms and often develop strategies to leave and find other employment. Similarly, if members of your bar feel as though their advancement is limited, they are going to lose enthusiasm. One of the biggest mistakes a bar association can make is to assume that members from underrepresented backgrounds want to lead or join its diversity committee. Instead, give all members the opportunity to learn more about all committees and positions, especially the top leadership positions.
To assist your affiliate with handling the myriad of issues involved in creating and implementing a diversity plan, the following organizations may have useful resources:
Minority Corporate Counsel Association
Corporate Counsel Women of Color
National Bar Association
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
National Association of Muslim Lawyers
National Native American Bar Association
National Lesbian and Gay Law Association
( www.nlgla.org), and
ABA Commission on Law and Aging