A Laudable Approach to Promoting Diversity in the Legal Profession


By Gene Commander
Gene Commander, Inc. 

The statistics on underrepresentation of women and people of color in the legal field are all too familiar. For example, women make up only a quarter of law firm partners nationwide, and a scant 12% of managing partners. And the picture is similar for both women and people of color in in-house legal departments. Although women under age 40 now outnumber their male counterparts among actively licensed attorneys in Colorado according to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, further progress remains to be made when it comes to growing leadership roles and reducing the high rate of attrition in law firms. Maximizing career advancement for underrepresented attorneys will only happen when we engage the people who have been absent from the conversation for too long – men.

This is the goal of GOOD Guys — Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity — which involves engaging like-minded men in efforts to promote gender and racial diversity in the legal profession. GOOD Guys was developed in 2016 by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations.

The GOOD Guys program’s premise is that constructively engaging men is critical to achieving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. GOOD Guys events have been held in multiple cities across the country, with action plans to extend their reach. The events include discussions of practical strategies for men to make a difference by supporting DEIB principles, with the goal that all participants will serve as role models for their male peers. The program provides pragmatic insights for men who want to become better allies.

ony Holloway, Gene Commander, Chris Stanton, Jared Briant and  C.J. Chapman sit at a table in front of a crowd. Behind the panelists is a presentation slide on a large screen in front of floor-to-ceiling windows.
From left to right is Tony Holloway, Gene Commander, Chris Stanton, Jared Briant and C.J. Chapman. / Courtesy photo.

The NCWBA, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, convened a GOOD Guys program at the association’s summit in Denver on Aug. 3 and 4. Gene Commander participated alongside Denver attorneys and fellow panelists Jared Briant, C.J. Chapman and Chris Stanton, as well as Tony Holloway, chief of police in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Honorable Bernice B. Donald moderated the panel. She and Professor Sarah E. Redfield are thought leaders in this area as editors of Extending Justice: Strategies to Increase Inclusion and Reduce Bias. The co-chair for the summit, Jessie Pellant of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, helped make the event possible.

Businesses with successful DEIB efforts outperform those without. Diverse legal organizations are recognized for providing higher-quality services, realizing greater levels of employee satisfaction and retention, and enjoying enhanced reputations among their clients and peers. Notably, clients are increasingly adopting diversity benchmarks to measure their law firms’ progress on these issues.

Unfortunately, men too often are not participating in these important conversations and remedial efforts. Yet vocal involvement is critical to building support for DEIB and to implementing meaningful workplace policies and practices that can produce immediate change.

Men can play a variety of valuable roles as allies for underrepresented colleagues in legal workplaces. For instance, men can go beyond traditional mentoring roles by serving as sponsors who not only provide career-related advice but also advocate and open doors for colleagues through a substantial commitment of time and energy.

As discussed in a previous article, reducing inequities in the legal profession requires a multifaceted strategy to create magnetic and inclusive workplace cultures, including 1) targeted sponsorship, training and career advancement programs; 2) women- and family-friendly policies like part-time roles and robust maternity/paternity benefits; 3) flexible career progression options; and 4) measures to root out discrimination and inequities.

Representation of women and people of color in the legal field continues to tick up both nationally and in Colorado, and the face of the profession will look quite different by 2030. Although commendable progress has been made on DEIB, we need more men to participate in forming the solutions.

Gene Commander has more than 40 years of experience in the legal industry while practicing construction law with small, midsize, regional and national firms. He formerly served as managing shareholder in the Denver office of Polsinelli PC, an Am Law 100 national firm. Gene is now an executive business counselor for the legal and construction industries, with a special focus on business growth strategies for Colorado law firms. He can be reached at [email protected].

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