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Wow. Ten Years

by Lisa Mickley, Attorney at Hall & Evans

Ten years ago I would not have touched the issue of diversity (let alone inclusion) with a ten-foot pole. I mean that quite seriously; I would likely not have even engaged in a conversation about it, let alone broached the subject. My view was, ‘the world is the way it is, deal and get on with it.’ As much as anything, this was probably because that is how I saw my mother handle adversity in the workplace; I didn’t need to change the world, my task was to navigate it.

But then I was asked by my firm’s management to become involved in the issue; I was unofficially designated the “diversity liaison” and my new awareness, and ultimately passion, were born. One seminal change was that I no longer viewed the issue from a personal perspective but one in which I engaged on behalf of others (a very female attitude, I know). Over the last several years, as my responsibilities in the firm grew, so did my understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced by diverse attorneys, and by firms and legal departments – because of my involvement with the Center for Legal Inclusiveness.  

By understanding, I don’t mean just the stats. I mean, the dynamics. Things I felt and perceived at some subconscious level years ago became identifiable and understandable. Previously invisible hurdles became recognizable policies/practices/procedures to revise. Subtle inequities and “hidden” institutional barriers became increasingly visible and, therefore, addressable. There is no easy fix to these challenges which are rooted in long-held beliefs, social norms, and the human condition. Being able to not only perceive that problems exist, but having a vocabulary and framework for identifying and understanding them, is a critical starting point to resolving one of the most significant challenges faced by our industry. That is where CLI comes in.

I understand that when CLI was formed (originally named the Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence), the original members believed the organization would be short-lived and its 10-year anniversary would be about celebrating “Mission Accomplished.” We are not there yet. Indeed, I think most of us recognize that we have only just begun to tackle these difficult and intransigent challenges. Efforts to create an inclusive legal industry will likely go on longer than will my career. CLI’s mission is as prescient now as it ever was.

As attorneys, we spend our days solving problems, finding solutions, wrapping up the deal. We complete one file/project/problem and move on to the next; some may take longer than others, but they all come to an end-point. I think this predisposes us to think in terms of definable, tangible resolutions, a finish line. Tackling the challenges of diversity and inclusion is anything but that. Yes, there are definable, tangible goals, but this is about process – in both execution and objective. Two steps forward, one step back is the norm. This process is neither linear nor finite.

Ultimately, this process is largely about self-awareness, both personally and institutionally. What is our culture? Is everyone a full participant in the culture? Does our culture welcome everyone? What hidden barriers do I/we embed? What talent might we be overlooking because of our own blind spots? Do we have disparate attrition? How much is it costing us? Does our hiring process attract or discourage diverse candidates? Is our promotion process fair? It is meritorious? Or is it driven by our comfort level? How prevalent are microinequities in our firm? How can I and my peers best answer that question? What challenges am I not yet seeing?

These are just a few of the questions that would never have occurred to me ten years ago but ones I now face regularly. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. And it’s not straightforward. But it is essential, for a whole host of reasons. My personal process began with an understanding that these were questions worthy of asking. Now my process is focused on the questions themselves, as well as raising these questions for others, both inside and outside my firm. CLI has been critical to my process (and essential to my progress), as an invaluable resource, educator, guide, and cheerleader. Its mission is now my mission. Without a doubt, a lot can change in ten years.