Goal IX Newsletter

Fall 2000, Volume 6, Number 4

Diversity Lessons from Corporate America by: Charisse R. Lillie, Commission Chair

Can Only White Men Run a Model Company?"

The New York Times recently asked this probing question regarding the General Electric Company. The corresponding article, Charisse R. Lillie"Where G.E. Falls Short: Diversity at the Top," ran as the front page of its Money & Business Section on Sunday, September 3, 2000. A vivid depiction of its leadership—a sole black man’s face amidst headshots of 30 white men—accompanied the article. That same question, that same picture can be easily applied to major law firms, corporate legal departments, and most other settings in the legal profession. Like G.E., the legal profession falls short in its diversity efforts. But, also like G.E., the legal profession has started to move in the right direction on some fronts.

The chief executive officer of G.E., John F. Welch, recognizes that pursuing diversity is more than just the right thing to do. "Diversity isn’t just a nice corporate program," Welch states in the article. "It’s a business and a global reality." Many leaders in the legal profession have expressed similar insights. Corporations, such as those that have joined the Commission’s Minority Counsel Program, continue to encourage diversity among the law firms that represent them. Many well-known law firms have backed their diversity initiatives with significant financial and human resources.

To readily communicate the bottom-line benefits of diversity, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession has recently published the Why Diversity brochure. It features comments— many from non-minorities—on the importance of diversity in law firms, bar associations, the judiciary, and all areas of the profession. To receive a complimentary copy of the brochure, contact the Commission at 312.988.5643.

The one minority in G.E.’s top echelon, Lloyd G. Trotter, acknowledges that even he, as the company’s most senior black executive, has fallen short in managing diversity. In the New York Times article, Trotter admits that he barely knew the minorities in G.E.’s middle management: "I looked at myself and said, ‘Am I using all of the necessary energy and the skill moving people up the ladder?’ And the answer was, ‘No.’" Lawyers of color, particularly those who have progressed in the profession, must also do their part to help others succeed.

Accomplished minority women lawyers share their experiences and strength with newer women lawyers in the recently released book Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters: Words of Wisdom from Multicultural Attorneys Who’ve Been There and Done That

Moving up the legal ladder becomes even more difficult the closer one gets to the top, especially in a corporate setting. One black woman, a former G.E. engineer, noted "there are only so many management slots," and at some point the career "moves are lateral, not vertical." In the legal profession, this phenomenon has been labeled the "pyramid problem," which we examine in this issue of Goal IX on page 3. As with the black woman engineer, this problem can directly contribute to the challenge of retaining talented minority employees. The Commission offers solutions to the problem of retaining minority lawyers with its newest product: "Raising the Bar: A Complete Multi-Media Program on Diversity and Retention in the Legal Profession." Based in part on the "National Summit on the Retention of Minority Lawyers in the Private Sector" that the Commission held last Spring, this program brings a fresh perspective to the problem and provides real-world solutions. "Raising the Bar" will be released later this fall. Contact the Commission at 312.988.5643 for more information.

Achieving true diversity—in the legal profession, corporate America, and the country overall—requires the sincere commitment of everyone involved. Working with other groups and individuals within the ABA, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession continues to fulfill its commitment to promote full and equal participation of minorities in the legal profession. We know the answer to the New York Times’ headlining question is: "No." For a company, firm, or profession to be truly successful, it must have diversity in its leadership ranks.


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