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March 23, 2012

Improving Diversity, Inclusion in the Bar Association or Other Organization

Vernā Myers

Vernā Myers

“Ask.”  “Gather information.”  And “assess and change.”  Those were just a few tips that Vernā Myers offered in her presentation, “Intentional Inclusion:  Key to Member Retention.”  The program—presented by the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Office of the Executive Director, Section Officers Conference and Center for CLE —addressed ways to improve diversity and the experience, specifically in bar associations.  But the advice given is useful for any organizational setting.

Feeling welcomed and treated with respect, feeling included and integrated, having opportunities, and being able to contribute ideas and concerns are all part of “inclusion.”  As Myers described, diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.

To further inclusiveness, a bar leader or other manager can ask members or staff:

  • Is there something you need?
  • What are your concerns?
  • What are your goals?  What role would you like to play?

    The following are helpful in information gathering:

    • Have open dialogues—periodically;
    • Utilize focus groups and interviews, especially through third parties, where members will generally feel freer to speak more openly;
    • Conduct surveys, specifically with underrepresented groups, but also with the majority group in order to have a basis for comparison.

      Use the information you gather to assess your organization and make changes, continues Myers.

      Much of the exclusion that occurs in organizations is unintentional.  As humans, we have implicit biases.  And while some micro-inequities may be intentional slights, many are not.  In-group favoritism also occurs.

      Specific actions that bar associations can take include:

      • Holding orientations and receptions to foster connection, decipher culture and learn unspoken rules;
      • Implementing “posses,” in which classes are created of individuals whogo through orientation and programming together;
      • Establishing diversity training;
      • Adhering to the NFL’s “Rooney” rule that requires a diverse slate to fill certain positions and opportunities;
      • Working with diverse bar associations and offering discounts on membership;
      • Offering financial assistance to attend bar meetings to enable face-to-face communications; and
      • Inviting others to speak by offering something of yourself.

        The CLE program can be purchased here.