A recent amendment to the constitution of sections at the Ontario Bar Association has set aside two, out of 24, elected positions on each section executive to be dedicated to remedying diversity deficiencies on the section executives. I argue that the amendment is important and necessary.
In recent years, the Ontario Bar Association has lent a strong voice to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within the legal profession. Several initiatives have advanced the discussion and promoted positive action.
Examples of such initiatives abound. The OBA’s speaker diversity requirement has played an important role in shattering old, erroneous pre-conceptions that only speakers of a certain vintage, gender and background make for good panel speakers. Over time, new voices of female, racialized, Indigenous, and other diverse professionals have been added to OBA continuing professional development, making CPD more relevant. The ongoing Not Another Decade initiative moved the discussion beyond asking why EDI matters, and focussed on providing a framework for how firms and organizations can transition to improving EDI in the workplace. The OBA Foundation, the charitable arm of the OBA, prioritized supporting equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives and projects within the justice system, acknowledging, “the justice system is strongest when it embraces and reflects all individuals it serves.”
Every one of these initiatives plays a role in this journey toward a legal industry that reflects the mosaic of people it serves and can therefore be effective and legitimate.
Along the same lines, in the past year, the OBA approved an amendment to the constitution of its sections, requiring section executives to appoint two members-at-large “to ensure that the Executive’s composition reflects the diversity of the Ontario bar.” The OBA has 40 sections, which are specialized groups generally focused on practice areas. The initiative leaves it to each section to look within and determine where they could benefit from adding further diversity. It may not be an easy or comfortable task in every instance. It is, however, an opportunity to ponder important matters that may not be always top of mind.
By now, we amply know the why for EDI. It is not just about equity, fairness or “doing the right thing”, important as those principles are. Studies have shown that diverse executives tend to outperform non-diverse executives, and it is not hard to see why. Difference of perspectives matters, in particular in law, which in essence is, or should be, a humanistic enterprise serving our notions of society and community in their pluralism and diversity.
The two positions on each OBA section executive deal with how we get to EDI. In this context, EDI is a fluid concept and dependent on the particular circumstances of each section executive in every given year. Every year, each section executive is asked to confer about ways to increase its diversity and take positive action in that direction. That diversity will differ from year to year, and from section to section. What matters is to take a moment out of our busy days and ponder on issues we may not otherwise think about. Are there any perspectives the section could benefit from? Are we missing anything? Do we reflect the bar and broader society?
No EDI initiative needs to be a complete answer to all the EDI deficiencies that the bar and bench still grapple with. It suffices if a plan of action inches us closer in that direction. That is what the recent initiatives do.
About the author
Mohsen Seddigh is chair of policy and public affairs on the OBA's board of directors.