Diversity conference addresses issues

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The Marion County Bar Association and Indiana Lawyer partnered to raise awareness and provide best practices regarding diversity and inclusion in the legal and business communities during the first Diversity in Practice conference. "Diversity in Practice: Building a Culture of Inclusion" was in Indianapolis Sept. 27 and 28 and featured keynote speakers Edward James Olmos, noted actor/director and civic activist, and Roderick Palmore, executive vice president and general counsel for Sara Lee Corp., as well as educational breakout sessions. Also several individuals and entities were honored.

Speakers challenge attendees In his speech "We're All in the Same Gang," Olmos said, "You still think there is an African race. You still think there is a Caucasian race. You still think there is a Hispanic race. You still use race as a cultural determinant. I can't even tell you how wrong that is. You all use it, and you're all professionals! There is only one race: the human race." He said the nation's educational system has a "huge, huge" problem in that it teaches only Western European origins as U.S. history. Olmos said he wasn't advocating doing away with traditional history but simply augmenting it to reflect the various influences from throughout the world. "We are not a melting pot," said Olmos, who said the U.S. is more like a "big salad" in that people never stop being who they are. Olmos challenged the luncheon attendees of 350, "How many of you can go home today and never again use race as a cultural determinant?" Palmore addressed the reality of diversity in the legal and business communities with statistics that showed women and minorities still occupy a low percentage of equity partnerships and noted more than three-quarters of minority associates depart law firms. "So what? Why should we care," asked Palmore. "Is this an old axiom of the talent rising to the top?" He countered there is a "social fatigue" regarding the issue of diversity. The law firms Sara Lee uses express a sincere interest in diversity, but Palmore said the firms hadn't even used their own data to develop a strategy to tackle issues. "Accountability and standards must be set and applied," said Palmore. "The best talent means diverse teams." A team of like minds, backgrounds, experiences won't have as many ideas as a diverse team, said Palmore, who used an example of a black woman who came up with the idea of the tag-less T-shirt for Hanes, which was then under the Sara Lee umbrella.
Diversity in Practice Awards Awards recognizing progress and contributions in promoting diversity were presented in eight categories. The following were honored during the luncheon: · Attorney: Roderick H. Morgan, Bingham McHale · Corporate: WellPoint · Government: Marion County Public Defender Agency · In-house Legal Department: Eli Lilly & Co. · Judiciary: Hon. Frank Sullivan Jr. · Law Firm: Bingham McHale · Law-related Not-for-profit: Indianapolis Bar Association · Law student: Jasmine T. Parson, Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis
Conference a success "We are extremely pleased with the first Diversity in Practice conference. The feedback I have received already has been very positive; attendance was strong; and all of our keynote speakers fit perfectly into the format and message of the event," said Chris Katterjohn, publisher of Indiana Lawyer. "I would be remiss if I didn't credit former Indiana Lawyer Publisher Glenda Russell for championing the idea of the conference and bringing it to the company. She did the initial work of forming the committees and establishing the conference's general outline. It was unfortunate that she moved on before she could see it through, but I know she would be pleased with the outcome." The Marion County Bar Association was pleased with the event as well. "The Diversity Conference was an absolute success. Ideas were shared openly and freely. Participants received information that will assist their organization with effectively addressing diversity issues. Corporations, law firms, governmental agencies, attorneys, and law students all offered a multitude of comments and compliments regarding the quality of the speakers and presentations," said Jimmie McMillian, Marion County Bar Association president. Check out Indiana Lawyer's Web site,, for photos from the event.

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