Diversity Summit Discusses Where We’ve Been and Where We Need to Go
Earlier today, the Philadelphia Bar Association held its Diversity Summit, entitled “Our Dialogue on Diversity.” Over 140 people attended the event, which featured panelists discussing diversity in the past, present and future in the Philadelphia legal community. Chancellor Sayde Ladov served as the moderator.
In discussing the “Past,” the Honorable Norma J. Shapiro of the Eastern District, who graduated law school in 1951, recounted how she was only one of four women from her law school class. When she started working at a law firm, other lawyers and court personnel often mistook her for a secretary. With regard to the “Present,” Butler Buchanan, who is now the hiring partner at his firm, noted how “success is up to you,” and how he made sure to get to know those in his firm and earned their trust. Former Chancellor Andrew Chirls, who was the openly gay bar association leader in the country, brought up how a lot of firms used to have a policy where they would not hire openly gay individuals and would prefer that they did not discuss their sexuality (a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy applied to the legal world). Roberta Liebenberg, the 2008 recipient of the Sandra Day O’Connor Award, related her experience that it was difficult for women to get law jobs because employers assumed they would eventually leave their practices. She also pointed out that success is meeting your own goals and expectations, with the key being a level playing field.
Regarding the “Future,” the panelists talked about their current positions, the importance of the business case for diversity, and the need for the folks in the room (“the choir,” if you will) to help spread the word and promote diversity in the legal world.
As I was leaving, I overhead a couple people in the elevator noting that “preaching to the choir” was not necessarily the case. One person mentioned how there is still certain discrimination, to varying extents, that takes place between members of diverse groups. It is certainly unfortunate if and when that is the case, because the battleground to improve and increase diversity requires everyone working together rather than hampering each other’s progress.
The podcast for the event will be eventually available on the Bar Association website.