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Blomquist: Embracing Diversity for the Greater Good

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blomquist-kerryI sat down to write this column about recognizing the strengths in our diversity in the middle of the 2013 federal governmental shutdown…it was challenging at best. But then I thought the timing was perfect. Right now, it is pretty obvious that we spend much more time highlighting our differences than highlighting our many similarities. In the end, we have to rely on our abilities to focus on the latter to work for the greater good. It was Indira Gandhi who said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

October has been designated “Diversity Awareness Month” by the American Bar Association. I know this because I am on the National Conference of Bar Presidents’ (NCBP) Diversity Committee and as such I get to work with some great bar leaders to promote the best and most effective diversity programs, initiatives and ideas from all different levels of the organized bar. Diversity refers to meaningful representation of and equal opportunities for individuals who self-identify with those groups that are historically under-represented in the legal profession.

This is an increasingly important issue for us as lawyers and as managers of lawyers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the middle of this century white Americans will comprise less than 50 percent of the population of the United States. It is critical that diversity within the legal profession keep up with the overall growth of diversity in our communities. It’s a sound business conclusion because that represents an overlooked but substantial book of business. It is a clear ethical conclusion because as leaders of this bar and of this profession, we must help underserved populations access their system of justice.

This week I had a chance to email NCBP Diversity Committee Chair Steve Toole about the work the IndyBar is doing in this arena, specifically to brag about this summer’s wildly successful 2013 Diversity Job Fair. I said early on that this column will be used to highlight the great work of this bar association and its leaders and on that note, let me brag about one thing: every once in awhile, I can pick ‘em. Shelley Jackson from Plews Shadley Racher and Braun agreed to chair this year’s Diversity Job Fair Committee and she and her committee did an extraordinary job.

Shelley and her committee engaged 28 employers who interviewed 72 students of color and diverse backgrounds from all over the country. This year, they added a student workshop called, “What the employer wants to know in a 20 minute interview” with a capacity of 25 students. They had a waiting list. Also this year, and for the first time, they hosted an Employer Retention Workshop. It also proved successful, and showed again that one of the best things about the committee leadership in this bar is their willingness to try something new. They did, and it worked.

The results so far indicate that 25 callback interview invitations were extended, 24 callback interviews were held and 23 offers were actually extended. I say “so far” because hiring personnel is a fluid process; the work of that one day will continue to change lives down the road. The IndyBar Diversity Job Fair is growing in both numbers and prestige.

Thank you to our sponsors, our employers and our interviewees. Thank you to Shelley Jackson and her hard working committee for taking point on this and running full speed. Thank you to Caren Chopp and IndyBar staff for being flexible and willing to do what is not always easy but is always innovative, because the goal here is to serve our members and advance this legal profession. The IndyBar’s continued good work in this area will change the stars of this profession down the road, and definitely for the better. For more information or to get engaged for next year, check out ibadiversityjobfair.com.

Now that this column is going to press and the government shutdown is over, it means that fists have unclenched, even if just a little, even if just for a while. Taking a page from my weary and dog-eared book on positive anticipation, this is a chance to refocus and recommit to working together … and for someone to write, “Everything I know about being a Congressman I learned in Kindergarten.” It’s a bit overdue.•

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