August 09, 2019

“GOOD” guys critical to improving workplace diversity, says panel

One of the keys to breaking the impasse to women’s advancement in the workplace is men, said a panel at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The session, “GOOD Guys,” sponsored by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, took place Aug. 8 at Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Panelists at the Annual Meeting program “GOOD Guys” discussed strategies to overcome obstacles to diversity in the workplace.

Panelists at the Annual Meeting program “GOOD Guys” discussed strategies to overcome obstacles to diversity in the workplace.

GOOD Guys – which stands for Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity – is a program developed by the NCWBA to bring attention to the role men play in advancing a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

The program was developed about three years ago in response to stalled progress in improving racial and gender diversity in the legal profession, as women today still comprise less than 20% of equity partnerships despite efforts to improve the situation over the years, according to research cited by the National Association of Women Lawyers in 2015 when it gave the legal community a failing grade on the retention and promotion of women in law firms.

With research repeatedly showing that the key to achieving diversity is to engage men, not blame them, the first GOOD Guys program was held in 2016 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego. It has since been replicated in at least a dozen cities across the United States, with San Francisco as the NCWBA’s latest event.

Each program is based on a practical toolkit that includes resources to replicate the event and ways to connect to other groups working on the same issue.

Each GOOD Guys event also introduces attendees to a panel of “good guys” in the legal profession who serve as role models for other male lawyers who can help move the needle on progress.

The San Francisco event included Matthew Fawcett, general counsel at NetApp; Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England & Wales and partner at Clifford Chance; and Captain Thomas Leary of the United States Navy JAG Corps, each of whom shared practical tips on what men can do to advance diversity and inclusion.

Fawcett encouraged men to follow three steps to make a difference, noting that businesses with inclusive workforces outperform their competition:

  1. “Walk the talk.” Fawcett has a seven-person leadership team and six of them are women.
  2. “Put your money where your mouth is.” Invest in development and set aside money for leadership and development workshops.
  3. “Wave the flag.” Show up at events like GOOD Guys; also let people know when you’re hiring.

Men can take the lead in developing and participating in efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, encouraging others to do the same. But make sure these efforts will resonate with the people you want to reach.

The first step is a conversation, Davis said. Find out what people are interested in and value before making assumptions about what they want.

Leary said it’s about intentional and deliberate leadership. “Take a step back and ask yourself: What am I doing? How am I doing? And is it landing the right way?”

Among other practical tips, both Leary and Davis stressed the importance of creating mentorship opportunities for diverse lawyers, with Davis suggesting that attorneys consider a “reverse mentor,” someone opposite of yourself.  “Spend time with somebody you would not spend time with outside the office.”

Panelist Joan Williams, professor at University of California Hastings, who presented research on racial and gender bias in the workplace, suggested that firms rotate among both men and women assignments and tasks that are usually handed to women, such as office party planning, cleaning up after meetings and scheduling conference calls.

The GOOD Guys toolkit and other resources are available at www.goodguysinlaw.com