Q: I’m an openly LGBTQ+ attorney of color who works at a law firm well-known for its great track record in diversity and inclusion. How do you suggest sharing constructive feedback when my workplace considers itself a champion of LGBTQ+ inclusion?
A: When you work at a law firm that prides itself on LGBTQ+ inclusion and is known for being a “Best of” workplace, it can nevertheless be challenging to give voice to the very real challenges that still inevitably arise – after all, celebrating inclusion is a journey, not a destination. Perceptions from leadership can range from “Such things would never happen here” to “Well, at least we are not the worst” to “It’s just the cost of doing business.” Gaps in understanding the intersectional experiences of people with more than one marginalized identity may derive as much from a benign lack of cultural capability as from animus.
Even workplaces that have achieved recognition for their efforts toward LGBTQ+ inclusion – those that can “check all the right boxes” – will continue to have work to do. After all, as an entire profession, we lag behind other fields in equity. Across the legal industry, there are tremendous gaps in representation for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, particularly anyone who fits more than one of these categories. Just take a look at our LGBTQ+ Bar DEI Index, the NALP Report on Diversity, or the NAWL Survey on the Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms, to see how much progress remains to be made. To achieve better retention and promotion numbers among attorneys, our DEI work must center efforts to support and uplift the most underrepresented attorneys – focusing on that goal will inevitably “lift all boats.”
The most progressive or “Best of” workplaces carry a special responsibility to do better. No organization achieves perfection – and even if it did, it would not be perfect in perpetuity – despite accolades and recognition year after year. Leadership in such organizations must have a growth mindset. Let’s treat these admirable achievements as just the floor to true equality, not the ceiling. An important step to achieving this mindset is to open up avenues of communication, so that you are better able to learn what the actual experiences are of underrepresented attorneys. A sign of a healthy workplace culture is one where critical feedback can be freely shared and heard, and applied without prejudice. Constructive feedback is the key to understanding what systemic changes must be addressed in the workplace to improve retention. We ask that both leadership and workers approach discussions with compassionate curiosity.