Identifying Diversity Issues


Beth Ford
Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

I have been thinking about and reading quite a bit about diversity in the workplace over the last few months. This all began as I was filling the third attorney position in my office, a federal defender organization, in about a year. That in and of itself was a new experience for me, because we had gone several years without much turn over. It became evident to me that I had to try to become more intentional in my advertising, hiring and attempts to retain staff.
This was public interest work which pays on the federal scale. It should attract people with varying backgrounds. There should be hundreds of people passionate about the opportunity to protect the Constitution and Bill of Rights for their clients and for all of society. Was it because we have offices in Knoxville, Greeneville and Chattanooga, Tennessee? Was I advertising in the wrong place? Is diversity really just a social nicety that is not that important in the scheme of things? The questions became much more numerous that the answers.
What I learned is that I do not know much about diversity. I am learning that I do not know how to establish pipelines that will lead people to my office (a topic for another blog or two or three.) I, also, learned that I was clueless about inclusion which is just as important or perhaps more important as putting together a diverse workforce. I learned that diversity makes good business sense, that all leaders should embrace diversity and inclusion, and that after those outstanding employees with diverse backgrounds are hired, the leader of the law firm as well as everyone in the law firm must be involved in identifying barriers and biases so that real inclusion occurs, because no one wants to go through the very expensive hiring process after just a short time.
Needless to say, there have been dozens of studies, scores of books, and innumerable seminars about the subjects of diversity and inclusion. Many of those books have begun to collect on my shelves, and my CLE’s are heavily weighted toward these challenges. I want to share one book that I have recently read which is a great starting point for thinking about these issues. The book is Going All-In for Diversity and Inclusion by Kathleen Nalty, an attorney whose experience includes working for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. This a short little tome that is filled with charts, checklists and all kinds of assessment tools for figuring out where you and your law firm are and how to make changes that will benefit you and your clients.

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