More than Words
Update on Diversity in the Workplace:
A Statement of Principle
Charles S. Johnson, III and Lynne Faith Saunders
As the Chief Legal Officers of the companies listed [ ], we wish to express to the law firms which represent us our strong commitment to the goal of diversity in the workplace. Our companies conduct business throughout the United States and around the world, and we value highly the perspectives and varied experiences which are found only in a diverse workplace. Our companies recognize that diversity makes for a broader, richer environment which produces more creative thinking and solutions. Thus, we believe that promoting diversity is essential to the success of our respective businesses. It is also the right thing to do.
We expect the law firms which represent our companies to work actively to promote diversity within their work-place. In making our respective decisions concerning selection of outside counsel, we will give significant weight to a firm’s commitment and progress in this area.
More than 250 corporations have committed to the above "Diversity in the Workplace Statement of Principle," which is part of a BellSouth-led project to encourage and support diversity in the workplace. BellSouth Executive Vice President and General Counsel Charles Morgan initiated the project in the fall of 1998 based, in part, on his personal commitment to diversity.
Morgan’s father was one of the first to hire minorities at BellSouth and he passed this commitment to diversity on to his son. When Morgan joined BellSouth, in 1998, he found a law department with an excellent group of attorneys, but he felt the need to build a more diverse department. He first established a committee to explore all aspects of diversity. The diversity committee was co-chaired by Jim Llewellyn, General Attorney in charge of utility regulatory law at BellSouth, and Joaquin Carbonell, General Counsel for BellSouth’s cellular business. Members of the committee represent all areas of BellSouth’s business entities. The purpose of the diversity committee is to explore ways to attract minorities, expand opportunities, mentor and help minorities reach their professional aspirations within the company.
Morgan also wanted to impact diversity in the profession outside the company, and thus initiated the "Diversity in the Workplace: A Statement of Principles" project. The Statement seeks to establish an expectation that "the law firms which represent our companies [will] actively promote diversity within their workplace," Morgan says. It was sent to the general counsels of major corporations across the country.
Conference on Diversity
As a follow-up to the Statement, in November 1999, BellSouth hosted the "Conference on Diversity in the Legal Workplace" in Atlanta. The purpose of the conference was to help corporate general counsels focus on the nuts and bolts of increasing diversity in the work-place. In a non-confrontational forum, attendees had the opportunity to exchange ideas and determine workable solutions or "best practices" to actively recruit, retain, and mentor minorities in the workplace
As the next stage of this diversity initiative, Morgan has met with managing partners of major law firms across the country. He recently attended a meeting of several hundred managing partners in San Francisco and informed the attendees that their corporate clients would soon be visiting them to discuss the Statement of Principles. The general counsels’ message to the law firms, Morgan advised, would be that general counsels were serious about this issue when they signed this Statement of Principles, and that they expected the managing partners to promote diversity in their firms.
To those law firms who respond that the goal of diversity is a great idea but that it is difficult to find qualified minorities, Morgan replies, "Is this the attitude you would bring to a difficult case that I ask you to work on?" This attitude is unacceptable, Morgan says, because lawyers are powerful, smart, and resourceful and will find solutions to any problem if they work on it.
Another subsequent action BellSouth is taking is sending five copies of the Statement of Principles to each of the signatories. In turn, each company can send a copy to its outside counsel. It is hoped that the Statement will give strong ammunition to the more progressive elements within each law firm. The message will be clear that this is what clients want, and it is in the law firm’s strong economic self-interest to make a commitment to diversity in the workplace.
Other plans for 2000 include hosting another diversity conference similar to last year’s Atlanta conference but specifically for managing partners of law firms; visiting major law firms across the country to discuss the Statement of Principles; and hosting regional meetings of corporate general counsels together with managing partners of major law firms.
To emphasize its commitment to diversity, BellSouth is prepared to pull its business from a firm that is not committed to diversity, Morgan states. While any law firm whose commitment to diversity is questioned will be given "due process" before it loses BellSouth’s business, that law firm will also come to realize that "we are serious about our commitment," he adds.
Charles S. Johnson, III is with Holland & Knight in Atlanta, GA. Lynne Faith Saunders is with Crowe & Dunlevy of Oklahoma City, OK.
Productivity, Creativity, and Longevity
Studies of the productivity of small groups show homogeneous groups do mundane, repetitive, non-creative tasks well. However, for new, different, challenging tasks where creativity and innovation is required, heterogeneous or diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups on the same tasks.
Heterogeneity of Clients
As law firm clients become more heterogeneous, a diverse workforce is more effective in understanding these clients, bonding with them, spotting non-traditional clients with growth potential, and developing productive relationships with them.
This analysis of the importance of diversity comes from Valuing Diversity: Law Firms and Leadership in the 21st Century, a 40-minute program, available either on video or audio tape. The program features Jacob Herring of Creative Cultural Changes, Inc. His background includes substantial experience consult-ing on diversity and related issues for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and major law firms. Other questions the program addresses are:
- What are the current realities of professional life for people of color and women?
- What are the current barriers to a diverse workplace?
- How can law firms overcome these barriers?
- What first practical steps should law firm leaders take?
The ABA-CLE and the Standing Committee on Continuing Education of the Bar produced this program as part of their commitment to encourage diversity in the profession and in continuing legal education. The program is available for $25. For more information, contact the ABA Service Center at 1-800-285-2221.