Diversity: Bringing a Unique Perspective to the Table
Being that March is Women’s History Month, I thought it would be appropriate for this month’s article to discuss gender diversity and the unique perspective that women bring to the practice of law. However, as a young, female, Hispanic attorney, I fall into a number of “diversity categories” that affect my daily practice, from working with many brilliant women attorneys in Palm Beach County FAWL to being part of a growing (but still disproportionately small) group of Hispanic/Latino attorneys advocating on behalf of a large, underprivileged and underrepresented community of people.
In Florida, and in Palm Beach County specifically, we are lucky to have a relatively diverse population, but we have a long way to go in terms of fully utilizing the many talents and ideas that our diverse attorneys have to offer. According to recent census data and surveys, women make up 51.1% of the Florida population and Hispanics make up 23.6%, but those percentages are much lower when it comes to the Florida legal community, which is approximately 32% women and only 3% Hispanics. Looking at the higher levels of achievement within our profession, the disparity becomes more apparent, with only 2.3% of managing partner or shareholder positions in Florida being held by Hispanics (no comparable statistic was available for women, but it should be noted that only 12% of all women attorneys in Florida achieve the position of managing partner or shareholder, compared with 26% of men).
That’s not to say that there haven’t been achievements overall among Hispanics or women in the practice of law. My mother, who is Puerto Rican, was a successful land development attorney and shareholder at a prominent Florida law firm and, as I’m writing this, there are two very accomplished and respected women shareholders in my firm, many other female and/or Hispanic partners, shareholders and judges statewide, a Hispanic Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and a Hispanic female Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. But this isn’t the norm for either women or Hispanics/Latinos within the practice of law. Although minorities are fully capable of achieving similar levels of success, many don’t. As a result, all of us miss out on a broader range of ideas and perspectives that could be drawn from minorities that never get the opportunity to share their talents or ideas through leadership positions within our firms, courts and legal/civic organizations.
Of course, the disparity between the successes of minorities and non-minorities within the practice of law will continue to change gradually over time but, as professional advocates, we can do more to advance the cause of diversity. More needs to be done to foster the diversity of our profession and encourage the future generations of minorities that could be a part of it so that a very small percentage of minority attorneys aren’t charged with representing a much larger proportion of the general population.
There are local programs that are working to build up and diversify the potential future members of our Bar, such as the Palm Beach County Bar’s Diversity Internship Program; PBC FAWL’s work with the PACE Center for Girls, which works to provide opportunities for young women through goal development and progress monitoring, community service, one-on-one counseling, and skills training; and the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association’s annual legal career fair that provides seminars to local Hispanic and minority students about the career options available within the legal community and, specifically, the path to becoming an attorney. There are also joint networking opportunities between various voluntary bar associations that bring together attorneys that otherwise may not interact with each other in their daily practice. Although there are male and non-minority members of these organizations, there are many more Hispanic and women attorneys that dedicate their time and efforts to these causes and that actively participate in the networking opportunities that they provide. Women and Hispanic attorneys are also encouraged to take on leadership and mentoring positions within these organizations, bringing their ideas to the table and advancing the interests of their members; the problem is that there are few non-minorities there to benefit from it.
My hope is that over the coming years, participation in these organizations will extend to greater numbers of nonminority members and, as a result, more minorities will be recognized for their contributions and propelled into leadership positions outside of minority-specific bar associations. The fact of the matter is that diversity of any kind – age, gender, race/ ethnicity, socioeconomic background – is so important to our profession. We are, after all, in the business of representing – standing in the place of and speaking on behalf of – the interests of clients who come in all different forms and with diverse backgrounds. By working, interacting with, and supporting diverse members within our own legal community, we learn to be better advocates ourselves. In my opinion, Palm Beach County is ahead of other Florida counties in this area, but with greater participation and involvement in these organizations by our non-minority colleagues, we will more fully see the many benefits of our diverse membership.
To find out more about the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion and all of its programs, go to the bar’s website www.palmbeachbar.org and click on the diversity tab.