chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
August 03, 2021 Article

It’s Been a Long Time Coming, But I Know a Change Gon’ Come

Greater diversity in many forms—including race, gender, sexual orientation, and abilities—contributes to increased financial success.

By Kenneth M. Battle and Jamie L. Augustinsky

In a world where people of color, persons with disabilities, and the LGBT community all suffer various forms of racism, sexism, prejudice, harassment, etc., there are a number of consistent issues woven throughout the fabric of diversity and inclusion. At the end of the day, we all want a chance. A chance to be human, to be accepted, to just . . . be. As Vijay Eswaran noted in a 2019 World Economic Forum piece entitled “The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming,” “[i]n this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities.” As the world becomes more communicative and interconnected, its diversity becomes more readily apparent. 

Substantial research shows that diversity results in increased profitability, creativity, empathy, and improved problem-solving capabilities.

Substantial research shows that diversity results in increased profitability, creativity, empathy, and improved problem-solving capabilities.

Pexels; August de Richelieu

Diversity and inclusion mean the provision of equal opportunity, as well as equal pay, to diverse candidates in the business world. We want to be included as opposed to excluded, as has historically been the case. So why should corporate America care? Diversity and inclusion make money, make sense, work, and lead to measurable successes in the corporate world. In fact, those companies that have embraced diversity and inclusion as part of their culture have a direct impact on socioeconomic disparity, prejudicial exclusion, and disproportionate opportunities.

It’s time we implore those in the executive suite to review the data, analyze the numbers, and choose to augment their business processes by pushing diversity and inclusion to the forefront. There is substantial research to show that diversity fosters an environment that results in increased profitability, creativity, empathy, and improved problem-solving capabilities. See id.

Employees with diverse backgrounds bring their own perspectives, ideas, and experiences. Businesses including them are stronger and outperform those that refuse to embrace diversity. As discussed in “A Primer on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality: From the Profitability of Diversity to Unconscious Bias to its Impact on Our Country” by Sheryl L. Axelrod, “on almost every measure, greater racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse workplace teams function more effectively than more homogenous teams.” A great observation from one colleague as to why this occurs is that people from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives avoid “groupthink,” whereas non-diverse teams get mired in it. See id.

The impact of diversity is not limited to racial diversity. For example, a 2013 study performed by Denise Lewin Loyd, Cynthia Wang, Robert B. Lount Jr., and Katherine W. Phillips, involved asking people who identified as either Democrat or Republican to read a murder mystery and try to determine who committed the crime, and then prepare for a discussion with someone who disagreed with them. The study found that those who were told members of the opposing political party disagreed with them actually came to the discussion more prepared. As Katherine W. Phillips noted in “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” the results show that when diversity comes from those who are socially different than us, we are motivated to work harder; it “jolts us into cognitive action in a way that that homogeneity simply does not.”

A workforce with significant representation from African Americans, women, people in the Latinx community, persons with disabilities, people who are LGBTQI+, and those holding varied religious beliefs can achieve incredible results. Further, having such people in managing and supervising roles can lead to more equitable pay, promotional opportunities, and increased hiring of diverse candidates. That, in turn, can result in a more dynamic workforce, heavily increased profits, sustainability, and the elimination of things like unconscious bias.

As businesses seek a competitive edge, the solution is right before them. Around every corner, at every turn, and on every human resources manager’s desk are diverse candidates ready to assist with increased profits and efficiency. Research shows that diversity in the workplace has a direct effect on productivity. For example, a 2016 study discussed in “Do LGBT-supportive Corporate Policies Enhance Firm Performance?” found that companies with greater LGBT-friendly policies experienced increases in company value, productivity, and profitability. As noted in the July 2013 article “Why Diversity Matters,” published by the Catalyst Information Center, this is particularly true of companies whose positions require higher technical expertise. LGBT-friendlier policies have a greater impact on attracting this more limited pool of prospective candidates.

Businesses and industries that have stepped to the forefront of disability inclusion have reaped the benefits. As discussed in the 2018 report Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, persons with disabilities represent a large consumer market, and they are eager to know which businesses support them. Despite the false narrative that it can be too difficult to make the adjustments needed to fully accommodate them, persons with disabilities represent an untapped talent pool. Companies that choose to leverage this talent generally enjoy significant and measurable gains in profitability. See id. at 2.

“[E]mployees with disabilities offer tangible benefits, including increased innovation, improved productivity and a better work environment.” Id. at 4. The numbers don’t lie. There are about 15.1 million work-eligible persons with disabilities in the United States. Employing them would send a much-needed jolt to the economy. In fact, the gross domestic product would likely see an increase of up to $25 billion if just 1 percent more of persons with disabilities joined the labor force. See id.

Moreover, when corporations direct work to diverse outside law firms, it enhances the quality of representation they receive. For example, as discussed in “Uninvited: Preferred Counsel Lists and How They Limit Minority- and Women-Owned Law Firms’ Access to Legal Work,” in 2011, Pacific Gas and Electric Company directed nearly 25 percent of its outside counsel budget to minority-owned, women-owned, disabled-owned, and/or veteran-owned law firms, and it paid off. That same year was one of the company’s best in case resolutions.

In many ways, the socially conscious revolution in corporate America has begun. Diversity in the business environment will keep expanding and growing, and the time is now for corporate businesses to accept it, embrace it, and even profit from it.

Kenneth M. Battle is the managing partner of O’Connor & Battle, LLP, a NAMWOLF member law firm, in Chicago, Illinois. Jamie L. Augustinsky is an attorney at The Axelrod Firm, PC, a NAMWOLF member law firm, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

This article is part of a special edition of the Woman Advocate Committee's newsletter following the theme Diversity: It Makes Teams Better and featuring a diverse team of writers from National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) member law firms. This edition of the newsletter was organized and edited by Sheryl L. Axelrod—president of The Axelrod Firm, PC, a NAMWOLF member law firm, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania— and Sandy Sakamoto—partner at LimNexus LLP, a NAMWOLF member law firm, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C.; and Wilmington, Delaware.    

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

Copyright © 2021, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Litigation Section, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).