Diversity is just good business

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first_imgDiversity is just good business Diversity is just good business Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Diversifying law firms is not only the morally and socially responsible thing to do, but it makes good business sense, and those who are slow to diversify, or refuse to, will soon be left behind. That was the message imparted in Tampa March 9 by an array of speakers to those attending the 2001 All Bar Conference on Diversity, which explored ways to promote the value of a diverse legal profession, with a special emphasis on increasing diversity at large law firms and corporate counsel offices. Conference participants also discussed how best to promote the recruitment of minority law school students and encourage the retention and advancement of minority lawyers. “We know that what makes America great is its rich diversity and if we want to have public trust and confidence in the legal system, our law firms must reflect that rich diversity,” Bar President Herman Russomanno told the more than 100 voluntary bar leaders from across the state who attended the event. “Either you believe it or you don’t believe it.” Russomanno said The Florida Bar is committed to promoting diversity and that he longs for the day when multiculturalism is so ingrained in the profession that it is no longer an issue. But the profession is not there yet, according to Jason Murray, president of the Miami-Dade County Black Lawyers Association. Murray said if the number of minority partners is going to increase, firms must create and foster mentor relationships and pay close attention to the work assignments given their minority lawyers. He said the BLA has found that if young, black associates don’t receive adequate training or challenging work, they will seek out other firms that will appreciate their talents.Corporate America While the legal profession is still coming to grips with diversity, corporate America has already embraced the concept, said Alberto Gonzalez-Pita, vice president and group counsel-international for BellSouth Corporation. He said diversity is a business imperative. One of the biggest obstacles facing corporate America and law firms today is the war for talent, Gonzalez-Pita said. “Not only is the general war for talent a huge issue, but quite clearly the war for the best and brightest talent and especially talent that comes from minority backdrops is the most intense of those wars,” Gonzalez-Pita said. Gonzalez-Pita said in a global economy where every place is different, “then the question becomes, `Are companies better off being diverse and inclusive and thus reflecting their customer market or are they not?’” In corporate America, Gonzalez-Pita said, the answer is an emphatic “yes,” because diversity serves the bottom line. “Last year, Fortune magazine found there is a clear link between diversity and performance in its survey of the best companies for minorities,” Gonzalez-Pita said, adding the study also found that businesses that pursue diversity out-performed the standards of the Fortune 500 companies over the previous three- and five-year periods. “What that tells you is that diversity is a powerful tool for revenue generation and overall performance,” Gonzalez-Pita said. “If you want an advantage over your peers, you’d better be diverse and go toward diversity because that is where the money is.” Gonzalez-Pita said 30 percent of Americans are now minorities and over the next 50 years those considered minorities today will make up the majority of all Americans. “The companies that don’t reflect and don’t value and don’t understand their customers and markets which are diverse are clearly not going to be anywhere near as successful as those who do,” Gonzalez-Pita said. Improvements Made Cesar Alvarez, president and CEO of Greenberg Traurig, said the legal profession has made tremendous strides in diversity since he began practicing in the 1970s, “but we are not where we ought to be.” Alvarez said even today, minority lawyers don’t sit at the table as equals and must prove to their colleagues that they belong. “That requires you to say something and actively, positively, affirmatively establish yourself as a player in that group,” Alvarez said, adding that that is true for African-Americans, Hispanics, and women. “The good news is once you prove yourself, you are accepted.” Alvarez said when be began managing Greenberg Traurig others would speak to him about diversity and he did not initially understand their concerns. “Why are you talking to me about this?” Alvarez, who was born in Cuba and came to this country as a child not knowing how to speak English, would think. “I understand what the problems are, we would not discriminate.” However, Alvarez said, he was short-sighted and really did not understand the issues the specific problems faced by minority lawyers in his office. What Greenberg Traurig found, he said, was that a strong mentoring program helped to overcome some of those issues by fostering understanding between the firm’s lawyers. The firm now holds regular retreats with its lawyers so that management can learn more about the issues that affect its minority lawyers and how the firm can do a better job addressing those issues. Alvarez, however, said communication is a two-way street and it is also important for employees to understand where management is coming from. “Having a diverse workforce is not even an option; it is an absolutely necessity,” Alvarez said. “If you do not have a diverse work environment, you will not succeed long-term.” Alvarez said in today’s legal market you need people who are innovative and “think outside the box.” “Someone who is very prejudiced is very narrow and does not think outside of the box they think inside a very, very tiny box and, therefore, you don’t want them in your organization,” Alvarez said. “You want that expansive thinking from people from all walks of life.” Russomanno said the true believers attend events like the All Bar Conference, and it will take education to bring the others around. “This really is a call to action,” Russomanno said. “It is a call to action for Florida lawyers, and I ask you to feel the power of diversity.” Russomanno said the Bar has an opportunity as it enters the new millennium to “seize the future” and pointed to the Young Lawyers Division as a prelude of things to come. Out of the 44 representatives on the YLD’s elected board of governors, seven are Hispanic, six are black, and 14 are women. He said the YLD president-elect, Liz Rice, is a Hispanic woman and the president-elect designate, Juliet Roulhac, is an African- American. “We also want to recognize that the Bar and others have not done enough in the past and all of us need to be educated and pushed to the next level,” Russomanno said. “We can always do more and we will.” April 1, 2001 Managing Editor Regular Newslast_img

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