Increase Diversity in the Legal Profession by Ending All-Male Panels

Often, in my conversations on increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, a common thread is feeling of helplessness. As much as we would like to have more equality and equity in the legal profession, it can feel daunting and overwhelming for an individual. There is so much to be done.

I first came across the idea of a simple, actionable step — something we can all do to increase diversity and inclusion in the legal profession (and elsewhere).

It’s from August who describes themselves as a “new kind of consulting company designed for a world where constant change, complexity, and uncertainty are the new normal. August’s approach helps organizations optimize for uncertainty by emphasizing agility and experimentation.”

The commitment is simple: Don’t speak on any panels that does not include women.

It’s easy to practice. When you’re invited to speak on a panel, ask the organizer, “who are the other speakers?” If it’s all-male, you can explain that you believe diversity and inclusion is important in our profession. You can ask that the organizer add another woman speaker and/or decline.

This idea is catching on. Over on GenderAvenger, there is a pledge where you can publicly commit to not speaking on all-male panels. (A panel consists of 3 or more people.)

You can see the full list of people who have taken the pledge. As of Sunday, August 20, 2017, there are three lawyers, including:

  • Charles J. Glasser, Jr. Esq.
  • JJ Kapp, Supervising Attorney, Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office
  • Alfons López Tena, jurist and politician 

When I’ve suggested this idea, men will sometimes object. They’ll tell me very specific situations where all-male panels can’t be avoided. For example, if you want to do a CLE on the “trial of the century” of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, all the players will be men.

I would actually push back on this reasoning. Often, the conference organizers will be all-men, who then come up with suggested topics and the topics themselves favor male speakers.

If this is the case, you might suggest pivoting the topic to make it more broad (and inclusive), for example, changing the topic to “lessons learned from trying high profile cases.”

I believe one of the core reasons for why there is still such a huge gap and lack of diversity and inclusion in our profession is because we continue to make excuses for perpetuating exclusion.

Organizers come up with excuses for why it’s okay to have all-male panel in this specific situation because [list all the reasons]. Rather than starting from the commitment: our standing rule is that we do not allow for all-male panels at our conference.

As a woman of color who frequently is invited to speak at conferences, I’ve also adopted this rule but for obvious reasons, I had to modify it. If it’s a 3-person panel and I’m invited to speak, that would be a 2:1 male:female ratio. So, the blanket rule doesn’t work. However, my goal is to always see 40% or more women speakers represented in the conference. So, I’ll ask the organizers who the other speakers are. If I’m the only woman (or handful of women) speaking, I’ll gently point this out.

Often, the organizers will express surprise and say something like, “we didn’t even notice that!” Not once did I get a negative feedback from my pointing out the lack of diversity at a conference. I believe most people are well-intended and means well, but sometimes, they just need a bit of awareness.