Law firms and companies trying to figure out why they're having trouble holding onto qualified minority candidates might want to give some thought to "micro-inequities," said panelists discussing the subject Thursday afternoon at the American Bar Association meeting.
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Micro-inequities, though subtle by nature and not considered actionable on their own in court, can create significantly "macro" effects in the workplace, panelists said. To name a few: lowered morale among minority employees, a feeling that their contributions are not valued, and an undermining of the very diversity efforts that were designed to attract them in the first place, panelists said.
So just what are these small slights that, taken together, can pack a punch?
As Morrison & Foerster partner Eric Tate explained at the well-attended forum, they can be behaviors such as:
- Negative facial expressions when talking to a minority employee
- Leaving certain people off group e-mails
- Mistaking an attorney of color for a secretary or a member of the cleaning staff
- Mistaking one attorney of color with another repeatedly
- Pronouncing an attorney of color's name wrong after being corrected several times
- Ridiculing accents
- Continuously interrupting when a minority employee is speaking
Monitoring, educating and talking about such slights is crucial for walking the walk of diversity initiatives, said moderator Floyd Holloway, counsel for State Farm Insurance in New York.
"We've seen a shift in recognition of diversity," he said. "Just getting people in the room doesn't deal with how to treat people newly at the table."
Added panelist Kim Rivera, vice president and associate general counsel at Clorox in Oakland: "Employee engagement ... is increasingly becoming a key factor in whether people are going to be able to retain talent. It's starting to cost something. ... People don't just have a chip on their shoulder. ... This is something that will absolutely affect our bottom line someday."
Micro-inequities came up at a diversity roundtable conducted by The Recorder in May and published as an advertising supplement. Here's an article by Tate and his MoFo colleague Andrea Cherng on the subject. Another MoFo partner, Arturo Gonzales, touched on some of these issues in a lengthy interview in our special Diversity issue last month.
— Jessie Seyfer