President's Message: Overcoming fear and cultural inertia through community

  • March 08, 2021
  • Charlene Theodore

Disruption – the likes of which we’ve all experienced intensely over the past year in all facets of our lives – is scary and stressful, but, so too, can be the readjustment and rebuilding that come in its wake.

One common thread in the conversations I’ve led through my Work that Works podcast with those who deal directly with workplace leaders on organizational change is that the fear of making a misstep can be paralyzing. This paralysis is amplified when tackling deeply personal, potentially sensitive issues in the workplace such as systemic discrimination.

I think to the discussion I had with author and diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, Lily Zheng, about what it means when people say they believe EDI will happen “organically" – that some culture shift will be triggered by the hiring of a racialized lawyer, or after a firm training on unconscious bias. Now, of course some who espouse that view are simply trying to evade necessary and important work by way of wishful thinking. But, a lot of the time, Zheng told me what she hears is, “I am scared,” or “I don’t know how to do this effectively,” or “I don’t’ know what my role is, and I’m  worried I’ll mess it up.”

And even when that first obstacle and uncertainty is cleared and efforts to create a more inclusive environment move ahead in earnest, fear and doubt can derail practices that would lead to desired outcomes. We can be afraid of having difficult check-ins with our employees about their interaction with the organizational culture and whether they feel they can be fully themselves at work. We can be afraid of training that might force team members into uncomfortable self-reflection or awareness. We can even fear collecting vital data about the experiences of diverse employees in the workplace, anticipating their resistance without including them in process.

These fears are all valid in their own way, but they must be tackled head-on if we’re to achieve enduring progress as a profession, which is a key objective underpinning the OBA’s Work that Works and Not Another Decade initiatives: giving lawyers and firms the tools and strategies you need to formulate a plan that will work to advance equality, diversity and inclusion in your workplace that you can implement with accountability and transparency and, most critically, confidence.

Never forget that the OBA is a knowledgeable, generous and inclusive community that in so many ways, through so many different avenues, provides a safe space for you to connect with other lawyers and share your ideas, your goals,  your challenges and concerns. It’s been my experience, especially coming out of a Black History Month celebration that was brimming with energizing activity and enlightening conversations, that in this community you will find endless opportunities for collaboration and collegial exchange that help you solve seemingly intractable problems, set new objectives or simply find the motivation you need to move forward with a course you had already chosen.

The OBA community offers the sounding board and solutions you need to get ‘unstuck’. When it comes to ending inequality and forging meaningful and measurable diversity and inclusion in our profession,  we can’t afford to fall prey to fear or cultural inertia. The ‘how’ is the way forward, and you will always find that here.