by Chris Fortier
Attendees gather before the program begins.
Both attorneys and employers need to actively participate in improving diversity in the legal profession. A panel discussed how minority attorneys can advance personal success, positively impact law, and improve the administration of justice. How can recruitment and hiring improve diverse representation across the legal profession and improve suffering retention rates. Moderated by Zaida C. Thompson, Loudoun County Attorney’s Office, the panel included Toby J. Heytens, Solicitor General of Virginia, Michelle B. Craddock, Craddock Law PLLC, and Christina T. Parrish, Assistant Attorney General, Virginia Office of the Attorney General.
The panel opened asking Why it is essential for employers and attorneys to improve diversity? Mr. Heytens stated that diversity and inclusion “makes the work and the world you own better.” Ms. Craddock noted the workforce feels negative effects when management does not have diverse voices at the table. At her old firm, her coworkers noticed pay gaps and being overlooked for growth opportunities. This caused diverse individuals to “fly out the door.”
When the question turned towards diversity’s importance in Government, Ms. Parrish stated that diverse opinions bring more perspectives to the table, creating better decisions. “How do you balance both sides when you are looking things through one set of lenses?” She noted that diversity is not just skin color but in the experiences we have.
What are challenges and myths of diversity?
- “There are no qualified diverse candidates,” Ms. Parrish noted as a quote she hears all the time. “Search harder. There are qualified diverse candidates.”
- ”All You Have to Do Is Stop Discriminating,” was Mr. Heytens’s quote. “A lot of jobs are network or relationship created. People who know people talk to one another.” He urged attorneys to keep expanding networks and meeting new people.
- “Discrimination in pay is legal, ‘it’s the law!’” quoted Ms. Craddock. “Lawyers are complying with professional duties. If you pay fairly, you will attract women and minorities.” She also noted that women who have children get paid less, especially with bonuses, and have lessened prospects.
Mr. Heytens noted that inclusion must be a personal and a management commitment. Ms. Parrish noted that as a new lawyer, she was not prepared to practice from the unspoken rules standpoint. “I needed to be at happy hour talking to colleagues, making the relationships.” She urged attorneys to teach to speak the language and navigate the landscape, educating on the norms.”
Mr. Heytens noted that networking and supporting one another can be very difficult to do. “ This must be a conscious priority to do as he is working on this himself. You have to consciously tell people where you are going and invite others along but do not pressure people. Walk the line to make people feel welcome. Do not pressure people to do stuff not in the job description.” Ms. Parrish added that diversity is asking to the party but inclusion is asking to dance. “Interaction is important as that is how relationships form.” Everyone must be able to get into the conversation. She urged new attorneys not to allow others to “box you out” of conversations. These events are networking events where new people meet, not where old friends catch up. “It’s about the mindset. Don’t let them box you out.”
Chris Fortier serves on the Board of the Governors of the Diversity Conference, working on the Invictus newsletter and the Diversity Conference website and social media. In his day job, he works at the Social Security Administration (SSA). The views in this article are his and his alone and do not reflect those of SSA or the Federal Government.