By Anastasia N. Kaup
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with a male “C-suite” officer at a prominent investment fund, with whom I’ve worked for years. Among other topics, our conversation touched on diversity and inclusion, and on that topic, the officer said: “we’ll never improve diversity and inclusion numbers in business or law unless those who are in positions with the power to do something, actually do something, to support others who are diverse or women.” That comment really struck a chord with and inspired me, and I couldn’t agree more.
One recent estimate put the percentage of diverse CEOs of Fortune 500 companies at 5%, in the aggregate across all diverse groups, and the estimate of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies at 7% total. The proportions of diverse and female employees of those companies, and in the general population, are of course much, much higher.
Most large law firms aren’t faring much better than Fortune 500 companies. Fewer than 7% of all equity partners in the largest law firms are diverse, and fewer than 20% of all equity partners at those firms are women. Diverse individuals comprise around 30% of all law students. Women comprise over 50% of graduates from top law schools.
Somewhere along the way, diverse individuals and women are getting lost in the shuffle or pushed aside while non-diverse individuals and men are succeeding to the highest positions in business and the law. While diverse and female representation at the highest levels in large businesses and law firms has been increasing, by a tiny amount, each year over the past decade or so, there’s still a long way to go until diverse individuals and women achieve parity with their non-diverse and male peers.
The question is, how can we affect positive change and increase the numbers of diverse individuals and women represented in positions of leadership in business, and in the equity partnership ranks at law firms? There are many ways that might work, but one key way that is almost certain to work is for clients to use their power and influence to be a force for positive change.
As the “C-suite” officer I spoke with said, clients (both those who are diverse and/or female individuals themselves, and allies who are non-diverse and/or male), with the power to direct business to other businesses or to law firms, can make it known that they want talented and qualified diverse individuals and/or women working on their matters. They can also insist upon those individuals receiving the credit for that work.
I am proud to and fortunate enough to work with one of the top banks in the world, which happens to have a brilliant in-house legal team that is ~80% female and/or diverse, who have used their influence with my law firm to insist that I, as a diverse and female Partner, receive the credit for the work performed (by me or other attorneys) on their matters. Having clients like that advocate for attorneys like me, can make all the difference for change. (Though I’m also grateful to work for a law firm that recognizes the importance of supporting its attorneys, particularly diverse and female attorneys, and to have the support of firm management (including from non-diverse and male allies at the highest levels), who value diversity and makes sure to provide credit where due, anyway. That’s not usually the case for many diverse and female partners at other law firms.)
Some of the best mentors and sponsors I’ve had in my career have been non-diverse and male individuals. In order to achieve parity and representation in the highest levels of business and law, those of us who are diverse and/or women will need allies, particularly those in positions of power, who understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, just as much as we’ll need other diverse individuals and women, to support us. There aren’t enough of us who are diverse and/or women in businesses or the law yet, to lift each other up and achieve parity on our own.
Here’s to hoping that those in positions of power with the power to do something, actually do something, tangible and today, to support diverse individuals and women, in business and in law.