Diversity as an Asset in Navigating Your Career

Today, the meaning of race in America is a complicated matter.

About 31% of the U.S. population is currently African-American, or Hispanic- and Latino-American, yet less than 10% of the leaders of the largest American companies are non-white.  In the two-century history of the U.S. Senate, only 26 senators were non-white.  Indeed, according to the New York Times, only 44 of the 503 most powerful people in American culture, government, education, and business, are minorities.

All of this is to say that in America’s workplaces today, people of color are underrepresented in positions of leadership.  If you are a person of color, you may wonder:  How can I use my diversity as an asset to achieve my career goals?  If you are not a person of color, you may query:  How can I embrace diversity to improve my career progression or the organization?

This article will tackle both questions.  Our goal is to give you some ‘food for thought’ to help you formulate a better sense of why diversity is so important, and how it can help you move your legal career forward.

Why is Diversity So Important?

There are two main reasons why diversity is important – (i) new perspectives and (ii) improving a company’s bottom line.  That’s right.  Not only does inclusion expand your organization’s world view, but it will almost certainly increase the performance of your firm or company.

First, with regard to new perspectives, do you remember your Constitutional Law class?  You may recall those Affirmative Action cases involving college admissions.  The main argument in favor of Affirmative Action centered on the value of diversity – the idea that an institution of higher learning is enhanced by having a multitude of perspectives.  That very same ideal is what drives the need for diversity in the law firm and corporate workplace.

Indeed, the companies that can boast having a workforce that is as diverse as the U.S. population, can also boast having the ability to attack business challenges from many perspectives.  Here are just a few of the advantages that come with being part of a diverse team:

  • Expand Your Reach. Diversity in your workforce will naturally lead to attaining a diverse group of clients and customers.
  • Enhance Innovation. It cannot be doubted that people who come from different walks of life will most likely bring to the table a different way of solving problems and generating new products and services.
  • Better Decision Making. According to a recent study in the magazine People Management, when diverse teams (of three or more people) make a business decision, the teams will outperform individual decision-makers 87% of the time.

Second, with regard to improving your bottom line, it has been proven that companies with great diversity outperform their peers significantly.  The proof is in the numbers.  Forbes magazine published a recent article, indicating that:

  • Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers, and gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to do the same;
  • Companies with more women on the Board of Directors outperform their peers over time;
  • Inclusive teams outperform their peers 80% of the time in team-based studies; and
  • Inclusive companies (i) had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period, (ii) were 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market, and (iii) were 2.9 times more likely to identify and build leaders.

Therefore, anyone who believes that diversity is a mere buzzword in corporations and law firms does not know the hard facts.  Don’t be fooled.  Diversity in the workplace is a way to survive and thrive as an enterprise into the future.

That said, how can you leverage diversity in your own career?

Positioning Yourself as a Diversity Candidate

Knowing how important diversity is to a firm or company, means that you know you bring assets and strengths that are unique and, more importantly, in demand.  That one-of-a-kind quality should bring you a sense of confidence and power in your job search.

Accordingly, keep diversity in the front of your mind as you work through the job search steps with your legal recruiter.  For example, when researching firm or in-house opportunities, think about assessing the culture of an organization.  What are the firm’s values, traditions, and beliefs?  How satisfied are employees at the company? Does the corporation already have a diversity commitment?  Are there diverse leaders- and demonstrated diversity of thought? How tolerant is the organization in thought leadership?

In that same vein, when preparing for an interview, consider the skills that you have personally developed based on the challenges you had to overcome in life.  Think about how the insight you have attained because of your race or ethnicity could be used to solve problems at work.

Indeed, it is seeing the world in a different way, given your own experience with unconscious bias and stereotypes, that makes you a candidate that companies want.  Thus, in an interview, you can subtly but powerfully demonstrate that you have that ‘X-factor’ to help an organization grow because of your diversity.

Can I Embrace Diversity in My Job Search Even If I Am Not A Diversity Candidate?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal “yes.”  As you can see from this article, diverse workplaces translate into companies that perform better than their peers.  Therefore, informing employers of your own diversity bona fides is an asset. Diversity of thought, perspective, experiences and competencies all add you to your body of work and the totality of what you bring to the table.

Did you participate in any inclusion or diversity programs in your career, your law school, or outside of work?  Did you provide diversity training in the past?  Indeed, your commitment and success working with diverse teams or groups in the workplace, combined with your knowledge of how beneficial inclusion can be, will show your openness to new ideas and new perspectives.  That approach can only add dimension to your already impressive resume and accomplishments.

In sum, diversity is the key to companies outperforming their peers in today’s market and into the future.  In your own career, you would be wise to make sure that diversity is part of your agenda.

If you are diversity candidate, your life experience and way of looking at the world is an asset that companies want.  If you are not a diversity candidate, your commitment to diversity will be something that sets you apart from the pack.