February 15, 2020

A key to advancing workplace gender diversity: men

Panelists at a session at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, discussed strategies to overcome obstacles to gender diversity in the workplace. During “GOOD Guys: Accelerating Progress in Austin,” sponsored by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, on Feb. 13, panelists agreed that on one of the keys to advancement: the involvement of men.

GOOD Guys – which stands for Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity – is a program developed by 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 Austin as the NCWBA’s latest event and first official one in Texas.

One of the GOOD Guys, Rear Admiral Del Crandall of the Department of the Navy, discussed how unconscious bias impedes workplace diversity and inclusion. Crandall encouraged the audience, many of whom were men, to get “uncomfortable” – to revise their normal routines – to shake off the bias that may be inherent in their everyday activities.

 “If I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not making the right decisions,” Crandall said, remarking that change may cause discomfort because of unfamiliarity.

Crandall said that unconscious bias often occurs when making assignments.  He said it is “not fair” to give the same person the same task time and again just because he or she knows how to do it. Others should be given a chance. Leadership should evaluate why certain assignments are given to certain people to determine whether bias is at play.

Katie Pothier, executive vice president and general counsel for the Texas Rangers baseball team, encouraged the audience to educate themselves about unconscious bias – and spread the word about it.

Jerome Crawford, senior corporate counsel at MAHLE Industries, Inc., agreed: People should become more aware of “self and their surroundings.”

“Take the implicit bias test, you will be amazed of the biases you have,” Crawford said, noting that the Harvard Implicit Bias test is the most popular.  

Crawford also suggested another useful exercise. Write down everyone’s name in your office and a few demographics for each person, such as gender and race. Once you’ve done that, he said to ask the question, who do I spend more time with and why? He said evaluating how diverse and inclusive your relationships are at work and beyond can help to reveal your biases.

Steven Velkei, the first man to serve as a member of the steering committee for GOOD Guys, said that bias is never about the other person. “It’s about you,” he said.

Velkei said “everyone discounts their own bias.” He said 85% of people believe that they are less biased than average; 14% believe that they have an average bias and only 1% believe that they are more biased than average. 

“We’re so busy, the unconscious drives our decisions,” he emphasized.

Another manageable step to start implementing change in the workplace is to bring others in the conversation. Crandall said he frequently works with people who are 30 years younger than he is and that there are benefits to thinking “the way they think.”

Taking that advice, Sameer Hashmi, an associate at Scott Douglas & McConnico, LLP, in Austin, said he plans to go back to his firm and discuss what he learned in the session with his colleagues.

Moderators for the discussion were Misty Blair, IP Counsel at Kaneka Americas Holdings, Inc. and Teresa Beck, of counsel at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in San Diego, Calif.

To learn more about GOOD Guys or to plan a GOOD Guys event in your area, go to www.GOODGUYSINLAW.com.