DEI is about more than collecting ‘likes’ on LinkedIn
Let’s start with the first criticism — your argument that DEI is just theater. Talk of DEI certainly can be empty sloganeering sometimes. We all fall short of the principles we espouse; it doesn’t follow that those principles lack merit. To understand why DEI initiatives are not theater, it helps to consider some of the core beliefs underlying this work.
First, there’s the recognition that we spend our lives making choices that open some doors and close others. When we pick a law school, for example, that opens certain doors (like the influence of certain professors or the assistance of certain alumni) and closes others (like the professors and alumni at other schools).
Which doors we choose depends in part on which doors we think are available to us. We ask ourselves if there’s room for someone like us on the other side. DEI committees exist because we want the answer to be an emphatic yes — without regard to race, gender, religion or any similar trait — for every door in the legal profession. That’s what DEI committees mean when they talk about “representation.”
DEI work also arises from the recognition that, as our careers progress, we find ourselves holding the keys to certain doors — to jobs, to promotions, to opportunities, to raises, and so on. We want to be good stewards of those doors. And being a good steward means ensuring that those doors are open to anyone qualified to use them. This equal-protection principle is a constitutional value — one of the rules we pledge to support when we earn a bar card — and we can uphold that value only if we act with intention.
DEI work also demands a little humility. It recognizes that we are flawed human beings who are not always aware of our own biases. We may close doors to others based on assumptions we hardly know we’ve made. Just as you cannot choose an antidote until you identify the poison, you cannot address bias until you identify it. That work starts with our own biases.
What does DEI look like on the ground? Judging from firms around the country, DEI means actions like:
- keeping track of who gets invited to client meetings to make sure everyone is getting opportunities to grow their business;
- doing more to recruit from underrepresented groups, such as sending job openings to affinity bar groups;
- reviewing salaries to look for pay gaps; Encouraging attorneys to share their pronouns so everyone feels free to be themselves; and
- investing in underprivileged communities to ensure that today’s young people have the opportunity to become tomorrow’s leaders.
The list could go on and on. The point is that DEI work involves deliberate actions, grounded in constitutional values, that can make a difference in people’s lives.