Law Firm Diversity: When Your Culture is the Problem

Paul, Weiss’ new crop of partners was announced  – all white. All male, too, except for one.

White males make partner there at a much higher rate than women or minorities. But you know what’s the worst bit in this piece about diversity at the firm?

“You become the mother of the team.” This is what happens to many women at work – partner in a law firm or not. Women are expected to take on “administrative tasks”, and are “left behind” from client meetings.

With this going on at work, does it really matter if you made partner or not? (Well, yes, the millions in remuneration probably do help dull the pain a bit.) But when no matter how smart you are, how hard you work, what you achieve – you’re still reduced to low level tasks in the eyes of the big guys, the environment is not a good one.

And this happens everywhere. If you’re a woman, and you’re reading this – think. Have you ever been asked to do something that was below your pay grade? Have you known a man to be asked to do that same thing in the workplace?

As long as this inherent bias exists in our culture – that women are less-than, not as important, not as capable as men – the workplace will not be a positive environment for women. You can put all the women you want on your masthead, make them partner, give them fancy titles you want, but, if, during the work day, they are treated as though what they have to offer is valued less than what males in the workplace have to offer, you have a diversity problem.

Because I don’t believe you can treat women like they’re “less than” and somehow treat minorities equally. I don’t believe that your workplace can hold such inequality towards females and yet somehow, be equitable towards other people who are different than you. Maybe black people in your office don’t become “mother”, but I’ll bet that you have a different path of “less than” for them, and for other minorities.

When women are sidelined at work, you have a diversity problem. It’s deeper than how many black or female or Filipino faces you have in your partner pool. It’s inside your culture.

Think your firm is free from this? Ask around. Talk to the women, the minorities at your firm about their experiences. Learn what they experience, and learn how you can improve.

Need a reason why you should do this? According to a Morgan Stanley report, “more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

But really, the main reason is because you hired these people for a reason. So stop sidelining them into whatever path you’re putting them on, and let them do their work freely. Let them have the same opportunities that you let the white guys have. Give them a chance to shine.

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