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April 2019: Celebrate Diversity Month
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April is Celebrate Diversity Month, started in 2004 to recognize and honor the diversity surrounding us all. By celebrating differences and similarities during this month, organizers hope that people will get a deeper understanding of each other.

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Listening – The Sound of Diversity

By Mike Freed

It is the season to celebrate diversity – a worthy aspiration indeed.  Unfortunately, however, once a cause rises to the level of having its own day or month, it risks having its significance lost in the noise of celebration.  Celebrations themselves can be so festive and joy-focused that celebrants (to say nothing of those who choose not to celebrate) fail to give proper tribute to the cost to achieve that being celebrated.  And, they can distract from the work that remains to be done.

With this in mind, let me offer context and highlight some work that remains to be done.

Diversification of a group can be a step in a positive direction.  But, by itself, it accomplishes little.  In fact, diversifying a body without more can be detrimental if it causes tokenization or minimization or if leads an organization to the false conclusion that it has resolved systemic racism, sexism or ethnocentrism. 

It is only when an organization embraces an inclusive culture that true and sustainable gains are made.  This happens when people with divergent qualities and experiences are not only recruited, but actively engaged, valued and heard.

As attorneys, we know well the value of being heard.  That is to say, we love to be heard; we are paid for it; we crave it; we demand it.  This is particularly so for those who are in charge.  It is no coincidence that we equip our judges with wooden hammers to bang if they are not being heard.  But, what about those who are hammerless?The lawyer’s paradox, regrettably, is that we seek first to be understood rather than to understand.  We talk before we listen.  Indeed, sometimes we do not listen at all.  This paradox often leads us to overlook and ignore the very people we invite into the room under the auspices of diversity.  It can stifle and frustrate the invitee, and it deprives the organization of a full perspective of views and opinions.

So, in this season in which we celebrate diversity, I propose that we commit to unwinding the paradox – to seek first to understand rather than to be understood.  It is only when we do so that we begin to include instead of simply diversifying.

Listen….It’s the sound of diversity.