Time for change

There are many ways in which lawyers can move the needle toward inclusion, says Fernando Garcia

Fernando Garcia

My support for diversity and inclusiveness was organic. Growing up in the ethnically and culturally diverse area of Jane and Finch in north Toronto, diversity was an undisputable reality. There you quickly discovered that good and bad, friend and foe come in every sex, size, ethnicity and colour imaginable. And you learned that none of these characteristics are a determining factor for talent, personality, friendship, potential or success.

In the world of business and law, the goal is to build the strongest, most capable team around you. People’s lived experiences, especially where different than your own, add perspective and make your team stronger. At the federal level, a country’s optimal potential cannot be fulfilled if a large proportion of its population is shut out of opportunities in our schools and workplaces. To be at our best, we must be united, and we must be diverse and inclusive.

Unfortunately, the recent tragic events surrounding the death of Mr. George Floyd are evidence that we are not united, and that support and respect for diversity is not engrained. Deeply rooted problems in our society exist. The resulting protests are not just as a reaction to this tragic and avoidable event, but they are manifestations of generations of injustice, abuse, deep mistrust, and unequal opportunity. Change is needed, but to be effective it must come at the political, justice, corporate and social level.

This tragedy cannot, and will not, be in vain. The tide of change is here, now, and as people find their voices it is a time to reflect and to reassess the status quo. We all have a role to play in bringing about positive change, and so we must ask ourselves what we, as lawyers, can do to help bring about this much needed change.

Here are some steps that we can take to help move the needle:

  • Commit to learning. As a light-skinned, straight, male Latino, I cannot say that I speak for or can relate to the discrimination being felt or experienced by lawyers or colleagues of different skin colour, sex, physical abilities, cultural or ancestral background. We must accept that we all have different experiences and obstacles. Commit to listening, to sharing perspectives, to validating the views of others and to seeking mutual solutions.
  • Commit to sponsoring/mentoring others. Many of us have had the advantage of certain privileges. Volunteering to mentor or support other lawyers or law students, especially those from diverse backgrounds (even if that is not your own background), can be a mutually valuable experience. Also, actively promoting them and their achievements to others in your network may be the boost they need to gain their feet in their career. Other simple ways of helping would be to pass on opportunities to them. For example, if invited to speak at an event, you may wish to politely decline and direct them to another colleague who may have a different perspective and may benefit from the exposure. You can also make sure to nominate diverse deserving lawyers for legal awards and recognitions which are a great career boost.
  • Commit to being vocal about your support for diversity. Speak about diversity and the value of inclusiveness every chance you get, so that it stays on the radar and people think about it.
  • For my in-house colleagues, commit to using whatever leverage you have in selecting external counsel to emphasize the importance you place on diversity and your expectation that lawyers servicing your file are diverse, not only in pitching the jobs but in doing the work.
  • Adopt initiatives like the Mansfield rule, in conjunction with your HR colleagues, to ensure that a proportion of all candidates interviewed are of diverse background. Also make sure that you actively provide a copy of the job posting to organizations such as the amazing Roundtable of Diversity Associations (RODA), which represents a coalition of 20 equity-seeking Canadian legal associations, all of which will be more than happy to share the posting with their membership.
  • Provide pro bono support. If you are in an area of practice where you are able to provide free legal support or support at reduced costs to those in need, this is an experience that would be extremely fulfilling and would be of great help to others.
  • Become an active member of organizations such as Legal Leaders for Diversity or the Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion Network.

As the great Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

This is the time to make necessary change, and there are many things you can do to help.

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