At the ABA 2019 Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas, I participated on a panel titled “GOOD Guys (Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity): The Next Generation of Leaders.” When I found out I had been invited to speak on this topic, I immediately developed a case of imposter syndrome and worried about the ways I might fall short in presenting my ideas on this important topic. Fortunately, the program went well.
Perhaps more importantly, preparing for the program helped me think more broadly about the steps that I take (both consciously and unconsciously) to build diversity, equity, and inclusion where I work. Here are 3 steps I’ve taken to become a GOOD (or at least better) guy:
1. Become a More Active Bystander
I practice employment law and, in doing so, I frequently provide employee and supervisor trainings on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation laws. One of the biggest shifts my firm has implemented in presenting these trainings is increasing the emphasis put on the role of bystanders.
Loyola University Chicago defines an active bystander as “someone who not only witnesses a situation but takes steps to speak up or step in to keep a situation from escalating or to disrupt a problematic situation.” It is unfair and unrealistic to expect the victim to speak up for himself or herself when an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation occurs, and so it has become more important than ever that we all understand our roles as bystanders in social and professional interactions.
Specifically, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and take it upon ourselves to speak up and interrupt inappropriate comments and conduct when and where they occur (even if they are not directed at us). Doing so not only helps the victim feel protected and supported, but also sets the tone for appropriate behavior and boundaries. I have found that becoming a more active bystander has helped my friends and professional colleagues recognize that I am an ally and source of support and has a positive side effect of encouraging others to self-reflect and become more active bystanders themselves.
2. Invest and Mentor Through Opportunities and Connections
I work at a boutique law firm with 22 attorneys. We pride ourselves on being the best at what we do. At the same time, it is probably fair to say that most (if not all) of our attorneys could make more money by leaving us and joining a large firm. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to retain our people.
I have found that investment in the mentorship of team members goes a long way towards differentiating ourselves from our competitors while also demonstrating to co-workers that we want them to stay, develop, and succeed at our firm. I therefore make a point of including associates on all client calls, correspondence, and meetings which take place in a given case. I also try to ensure that they are honing their skills and being given the opportunity to draft motions and briefs, as well as meaningfully participate in depositions, oral arguments, and client meetings. Finally, I understand that the firm will have to spend some money to send our younger team members to conferences and trainings that will set up them up for success.
Along those same lines, I take my role as a connector seriously. When one of my colleagues or contacts is looking for a referral for an expert in a random city or specialty area, I spend time researching in order to do the best job I can in connecting that person to those who can provide the necessary support. I also do my best to make time for anyone who reaches out to me to ask for career advice. I view this as a form of “paying it forward” but also as a way to support, promote, and build the careers and reputations of my friends and colleagues.
3. Echo and Amplify the Voice of Others
Finally, I have found it effective and important to both echo and amplify the voice of others. Unfortunately, the voices of some are trampled or overshadowed by the louder voices of others. We all owe it to each other to be good listeners. However, it has become increasingly important that we not just listen to each other, but also take it a step further and make a point of recognizing and emphasizing the good ideas raised by others.
Whether the context is a bar association meeting or a client meeting, when someone makes a great point with which I agree, I try to respond in a way that gives credit to the original speaker. I therefore make a point of saying something like “I agree with Shayda, her point about the impact of plaintiff’s testimony is important for all of us to keep in mind” or “I really want to go back to the point Heather made, as I think it is important for us to all keep in mind as we deliberate about next steps.” Although this takes very little extra effort, it goes a long way towards building an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard and a culture in which people feel encouraged and comfortable speaking up.
Obviously, there are countless other ways in which we can all improve in order to be better allies and empower our colleagues. My hope is that the three steps outlined in this article provide an easy place for others to start, while also encouraging everyone to reflect on the uniqueness of their own situation and how they can better themselves while supporting those around them.