Many senior partners in law firms ascribe to the notion that new attorneys will “sink or swim” in their organization; that the good ones with potential will outperform the rest. Underlying this deeply entrenched belief is the notion that they were swimmers; they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and succeeded on their own merits and everyone else should too.
What actually happens is that some attorneys swim – but only because they get swimming lessons and water wings; they even get life rings thrown at them when they make mistakes. Those without this favored status are left to drown and soon leave the firm. Without the benefit of the (largely hidden) opportunities given to the select few, it is soon clear that there is no real hope for advancement in the firm.
Eight national research studies demonstrate that female, LGBT, and racially/ethnically diverse lawyers are disproportionately left out when it comes to the intangible but critical opportunities given to the usual favorites.
It is time the legal profession come to terms with this favoritism, caused by affinity bias (an unconscious preference for others who are like you and share common backgrounds and interests). Indulging in this convenient myth is keeping the legal profession from optimizing talent and achieving business goals.
According to a new study reported in the Wall Street Journal, 2/3 of men agree women are paid less for the same work. If that’s so, why do we still have large gender pay gaps? Structural impediments and lack of sponsors for women still play a large role. Inclusiveness initiatives, which make hidden barriers underlying gender pay gaps visible, are absolutely critical to eliminating inequity.
How Much of Your Identity Do You Have to Leave at the Door to be Successful?
Diversity and inclusion advocates routinely face a dilemma when encouraging women and diverse people to learn and play by unwritten rules in white male-dominated workplaces.
They know there is a price to be paid for this accommodation — time spent modifying behaviors to fit in takes away from bringing the full force of your talents and strengths to your work which could impact performance. Additionally, there is a personal cost to hiding parts of your identity in order to be successful. The tension is very difficult to resolve.
Hopefully, as organizations begin to add inclusiveness to their traditional diversity efforts, they will begin to address the hidden barriers that force female and diverse employees to walk this fine line. The benefits to the organization are significant – happier, more engaged employees and a healthier bottom-line. The culture shift begins with understanding the hidden barriers.
Brandeis Professor Andy Molinsky has written a new book on global cultural competence – Global Dexterity – that talks about individuals building the capacity to adapt their behavior to the norms of the culture they’re in without losing themselves in the process. He calls it “fitting in without giving in.” Although the book is focused on global cross-cultural situations, there are lessons that transfer to any workplace. Watch this video of the author talking about key concepts.