White Men and Diversity
Naomi K. McLaurin, Legal Intelligencer, April 5, 2011
Much has been written about the roles that white men can play in advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
From my vantage point, the most important roles are that of mentor, diversity leader and advocate. You see, I have learned some of my most important lessons from white men. And I’m not alone.
Roberta G. Torian, counsel at Reed Smith, readily acknowledges that white males have been mentors throughout her career.
“Most, if not all, diverse lawyers who have achieved some level of success in the corporate or majority law firm world have had a white male mentor them at some point,” said Torian, an African-American woman.
In the late ’80s, what is now the Loews Philadelphia Hotel was a 175-year-old bank named the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society. Its acronym, PSFS, remains lit on the roof of the hotel. Torian joined PSFS in the mid-80s from Mellon Bank, where she had begun her banking law career.
She was the first woman hired in the PSFS legal department. Prior to her joining the legal department, it consisted of white males, some older and some younger than Torian. Within six months of joining, Torian was promoted to the number two spot in the department.
Thereafter, longtime Ballard Spahr partner Jack McCarron joined PSFS as the executive vice president and general counsel. McCarron was responsible for legal, human resources, real estate and operations. Upon his arrival, he began working closely with Torian and ultimately offered her the position of vice president and managing general counsel. Torian was responsible for managing the law department, the corporate secretary’s group and the compliance function.
According to Torian, McCarron “was always there to support me in every aspect of my position and included me in all of the bank’s major transactions, including those requiring travel across the country. Had the FDIC not closed the bank in the early ’90s, the chances are good that I would have remained at PSFS,” said Torian. McCarron and Torian remain friends and are in regular contact to this day.
This year, the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) will launch a groundbreaking mentoring program that pairs white male attorneys who are rainmakers with minority attorneys. The PDLG is a consortium of law firms and corporations that has worked for 10 years to increase the number of attorneys of diverse backgrounds working at law firms and corporate law departments in the greater Philadelphia region.
According to Danielle Banks, PDLG co-president and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young partner, “The idea behind the mentoring program is to share the wealth. Having a book of business matters, and white men are decisionmakers about where business goes,” said Banks, an African-American woman.
“The mentoring program makes good business sense, and it’s the right thing to do. Firms need leaders–talented lawyers who come up though the ranks,” added Banks.
From a practical standpoint, white men continue to hold positions of power. According to a November press release from NALP: The Association for Legal Career Professionals, nationwide, minority attorneys account for 6.16 percent of law firm partners and 19.53 percent of associates. In Philadelphia, minority attorneys account for 3.97 percent of law firm partners and 13.29 percent of associates. According to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s 2010 survey, minorities account for 8.6 percent of Fortune 500 general counsel.
Another component of the mentoring program is for PDLG corporate partners to similarly adopt a minority attorney at a firm with which it does business.
The mentoring program is not limited to PDLG fellows; it is open to all minority attorneys who want to participate. Banks said she hopes that law firms see the merits of PDLG’s model and implement their own mentoring programs.
As Diversity Leaders and Advocates
Some people assume that white men are not interested in diversity. Others believe that white men are ineffectual as diversity leaders and advocates. They believe that white men do not understand diversity and inclusion because they are white and male. I strongly disagree.
It is true that diversity leaders and advocates tend to be women and minority attorneys. I happen to be an African-American woman. Although women and minority attorneys do have a unique experience by virtue of gender and race or ethnicity, this experience does not necessarily translate into an innate understanding and knowledge of diversity and inclusion principles. Some of the most vocal and effective diversity leaders and advocates I know happen to be white men.