Why diversity isn’t a numbers game

By Beverley Spencer Winter 2017

 

If you haven’t read Hadiya Roderique’s blistering account of why she left big law, I’d encourage you to do so. (Called Black on Bay Street, it was published Nov. 4 in The Globe and Mail, and has been widely shared on social media.)

The superbly qualified and well-rounded Roderique – she holds a law degree from U of T, a science degree from McGill, and is a musician and a competitive athlete – landed her dream job on Bay St. where she flourished for several years.

She found it harder to fit in, however, as her career progressed.

As Roderique learned, pure merit is a myth. Success, especially in the legal profession, depends on working hard, but it’s also about “opportunity, belonging and fit.” And as a person of colour, she writes, these are roadblocks every step of the way. Subtle acts of racism wear out a sense of belonging; clashing values over what makes a successful life hinders career progress.

Her story struck a chord with many members of the legal community who are tired of seeing talented lawyers self-selecting out of the profession because they can’t contort themselves to fit the mould. The waste of ability and intellect is bad for the individual, bad for business and bad for society.

As Frank Vettese, a managing partner at Deloitte Canada later wrote, business in general has been getting diversity all wrong. It’s not about numbers; it’s about “making each of us feel valued for what we bring to the table as individuals.

The legal profession can’t afford to squander talent that can help it meet today’s competitive challenges. It’s time for all of us to examine the unconscious biases that prevent real progress on diversity.

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