I have been thinking a lot about what needs to happen from an operational perspective for a legal organization to implement or augment its DEI efforts. That is, of course, my job. It came to me that one can go through the steps; however, if there is no transition in thinking – and actual transformation in leadership – DEI efforts will likely fail. This is not about checking off boxes or implementing mandatory training; instead, it is about shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
I am sure many of you are familiar with these terms and read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, but it becomes really interesting when you think of mindsets related to DEI efforts and the legal field. Dweck writes, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” (Dweck, 2015). She then describes a growth mindset as “[i]n a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015). Don’t get me wrong, those with a fixed mindset can work hard and put in the long hours, but they never believe their talents will exceed what they naturally are, and they continuously try to prove themselves as worthy. Simultaneously, those with a growth mindset believe that they can change their abilities through learning and hard work and are less focused on proving themselves and are more focused on the growth piece.
How many of those in senior leadership apply a fixed mindset as it relates to less experienced attorneys? How many of those leaders put those attorneys in a box soon after they start working at a law firm or organization using a fixed mindset model. Attorneys, I purport, categorize new attorneys as either high potential attorneys or low potential attorneys. What might it look like if some leaders applied a growth mindset to newer attorneys? Sure, they may still put them in a box based on what the leaders may assume are their abilities on day one, but they do not leave those attorneys in those boxes. Employing a growth mindset approach would be to brainstorm ways to ensure that attorneys gets the support necessary to develop and reach their potential. An example would be to hire a legal writing tutor to work with that attorneys when writing is an issue, instead of simply placing them in a low-potential category. That is inclusivity.
Now let’s apply the fixed and growth mindset models to the DEI efforts in your organization. When I consult and train and provide examples of bringing a more robust DEI plan into an organization, I hear way too often that my suggestions are aspirational in nature and probably will not work. Talk about a fixed mindset. Adopting a growth mindset would be willing to consider my advice and at least give it a try.
While I am not a fan of the Socratic method, I believe strongly in this quote by Socrates: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. That growth mindset allows room for the change that needs to happen with DEI.