April 14, 2017 Practice Points

Unless You’re Actually Tired of Winning, Continue Pursuing Diversity

By Juliana Yanez

Gender equality is promoted as important because “it is the right thing to do,” but employers often overlook the business case for such equality. Companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher earnings than their peers. In fact, among all Fortune 500 companies, the ones with the highest representation of women on their boards significantly outperform the others. Monique Villa, Why Gender Equality Makes Business Sense. As Woman Advocates, we can use lessons from the broader diversity and inclusion context to shine a light onto how women in the legal profession can contribute to higher quality legal services and help us further make the business case for increased gender diversity and support for women in our organizations

In a recent New York Times editorial “What Biracial People Know,” Moises Velasquez-Manoff highlights a few advantages multiethnic individuals experience and touches on the societal and individual benefits of diversity. A central theme is that diversity leads to greater mental flexibility.

In the article, Velasquez-Manoff points out that by three months of age, biracial infants recognize faces more quickly than their monoracial peers, suggesting that their facial perception abilities are more developed. Similarly, after simply reminding multiracial participants of their mixed heritage, they scored higher in a series of word association games and other tests that measure creative problem solving. The research shows that having multiple selves enhances mental flexibility and creativity.

The concept of multiple selves is a lesson that extends beyond the biracial focus of the article because the authors’ research does not end with multiethnic individuals.  Those of a single racial background also saw an improvement in their scores when they were reminded that they had various identities in life. Therefore, it is not necessarily multiethnicity itself that is key to enhanced mental flexibility, but rather the ability to recognize multiple self-identities irrespective of race. Velasquez-Manoff emphasizes that diversity aids in a limber mind-set and enhances problem-solving abilities.

The studies Velasquez-Manoff discusses provide yet further evidence of the importance of diversity. Groups that lack diversity are subject to groupthink and are less likely to question faulty assumptions. Diversity encourages mental flexibility, open-mindedness, and creativity. Diverse workgroups allow us to approach complex problems from multiple angles and to find innovative solutions to our client’s problems. The ability to embrace diversity will lead to better client outcomes and a higher probability of being an industry leader.

One additional finding that is particularly salient for the legal profession is Velasquez-Manoff’s discussion of a Tufts University study that found racially diverse juries appraise evidence more accurately than all-white juries. Such benefit does not derive solely from those jury members that are diverse—white jurors who are part of a mixed jury more carefully consider the evidence as well. Litigators should consider such research when approaching voir dire; so often litigators fixate on the gender and race of a prospective juror and make assumptions.  Such a move—according to this research—could have the effect of dampening a jury’s collective ability to understand evidence.

Much of the strength and creativity of America stems from diversity. For our profession to achieve its potential, it is imperative that we embrace and champion diversity and inclusion. The pain of flexing our diversity muscles is well worth the societal and individual gain.

Juliana Yanez is an associate at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP in Palo Alto, California.


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