How can firms increase diversity among equity partners and team members?

Scrabble letters spelling diversity on a background of turned over scrabble blocks

Reading an article recently in the ABA Journal by Maria Antonieta Sager and her journey to become a partner as a woman of color attorney, and networking with Dr. Artika Tyner, the Director of the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice at the University of St. Thomas Law School,  after Dr. Arika Tyner read Maria Antonieta Sager’s article, I wanted to share with you some insights that help me and I think may help you with this title question.

 

Maria Antonieta Sager insights

 

Background

In the article by Maria Antonieta Sager, the author offers several insights based on her experiences at her law firm. Today she is an equity law partner at one of the largest most respected law firms in her field. With only 2% of women of color as equity partners nationally she shares what she learned to help others.

Her humble commentary indicates that with some luck, a lot of hard work, and a firm that wanted to be inclusive made all of the difference for her.

It started with the interview. Keep in mind that it is very important to know how to hire, train and retain the best employees. Her firm did. In the interview one of the of the four partners during the interview spoke up and said “she has my vote.” Think of how strong of a signal this was for Maria. When she was offered the job, she took it.

Mentors

She was assigned two mentors. Mentors need to assist employees in three areas. One mentor can potentially cover more than one area. These three areas are technical, practical and governance. A technical mentor as the name suggest helps out with all of the technical issues associated with the firm. They understand process and systems and can also provide a friendly helpful source on all of the nuances associated with them. The practical mentor knows how to get things done knowing the internal politics of the firm. The governance mentor sees the big picture, can relate the big picture and help the employee understand how the new employee fits in. This often is someone higher up in the organization.

Meetings in Maria’s case were every week for two years with one of her mentors and less rigorously with her second mentor. After two years, both were always available as requested. When ever she visited either they listened actively giving her their undivided attention. This was key. They never embarrassed her or berated her for asking the same question multiple times. They were always respectful. She knew they had her back. Think of how this made her feel.

The importance of trust

Her mentors developed trust with her and her with them. She was straightforward, open, accepting and responsible. She said what she meant professionally and she did what she said she would do. She avoided unnecessary gossip. She represented her clients the best she could. She kept her eye on the ball to get ahead. She enhanced her credentials along the way in her specialty area. After eight years she was asked to become a partner in the firm.

Giving back and volunteering

This firm also had a reputation for giving back to the community, so she was also expected to take actions in that regard professionally and she did.

Recognition

Her contributions were recognized by her partners. The firm realized they needed to be proactive in this area. This made her feel valued. They attended events where she volunteered in the Hispanic community, and to her legal achievements in the firm. She received heart felt feedback for her contributions both within and outside of the firm. Her partners positive feedback met so much to her.

Relationships

With that she made extra effort to build relationships at the firm. After all, as a partner she needed to do the same as she received along the way. Building relationships is an ongoing process that requires continual effort.

These were the lessons that worked for her that you can apply with where you work too.

Having read this article I sent it to several of my professional associates. One of the commentaries I received back was from Dr. Artika Tyner. I wanted to share with you some of her feedback to me for you too.

 

Dr. Artika Tyner

 

Dr. Artika Tyner is a very gifted articulate, professional in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. She is the author of several books on the subject and she is currently working on her new book "Leadership Strategies for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion." This book will focus on four stages: intrapersonal (engaging in self-discovery), interpersonal (building an authentic relationship with others), organizational (establishing strategic outcomes and promoting equity), and societal (developing sustainable, durable solutions).

She shared some additional thoughts on the article by Maria Antonieta Sager that I want to share with you.

She pointed out that the article includes commentary on the intrapersonal and interpersonal elements, but did not address the broader organizational or societal elements. Think of these as concentric circles with intrapersonal at the base with increasing larger circle for interpersonal, organizational, and societal elements.

Blog insights

At her blog site Dr. Artika Tyner offers additional insights on the Five Leadership Strategies for Building a More Inclusive Workplace. These are to be open and aware, actively celebrate differences, building a trusting and open culture, influencing effectively, and optimizing organizational performance. Read more at her blog.

ABA Journal article on bias, microgérassions, and positive actions

She also offered her insights with this August 2019 article from the American Bar Association Journal on Unconscious Bias, Implicit Bias, and Microaggressions: What can we do about them? This thoughtful commentary address these topic areas: The Leader’s Journey: Diversity and Inclusion as Core Competencies, What is Unconscious Bias/Implicit Bias?, How Common Are Implicit Bias?, How to Address Unconscious Bias?, What Are Microaggressions? How to Address Microaggressions, and A Call to Action.

Taking an excerpt from her article she offers

“Research from the Great Place to Work Research Team (greatplacetowork.com) demonstrates that inclusive workplaces reap many benefits:

  • A 2016 study found annual revenue gains of 24 percent higher for most inclusive workplaces than their peers (which lack a diverse workplace environment).
  • Companies with gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers with less diversity.
  • Ethnically diverse companies were 35 percent more likely to outperform less diverse businesses. When racial gaps at work shrink, employees’ productivity, brand ambassadorship, and retention rates (i.e., intent to stay) rise.”

Focusing not only what is the right thing to do, but the economic impact of doing the right thing might you want to work to increase diversity equity among your partners and team members based on the material presented here?

Clearly Maria Antonieta Sager shares her perspective based on her own experience both intrapersonal and interpersonal. However as pointed out by Dr. Artika Tyner she had not addressed additional organizational and societal elements. Dr. Artika Tyner will in her new book. With the advent of George Floyd’s death societal elements have moved to front and center.   Are we now as a society beginning to address serious racial issues. With the NFL making race a central focus with games starting yesterday, is our society really beginning to seriously begin honest commentary on race?

What do you think?

 

About the author

 

Mike is a professional speaker, mediator/negotiator that helps clients resolve issues and be more productive as a conflict resolution expert with the IRS and others. Is conflict blocking your results? You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]