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D&I Summit Provides Strategies for Disrupting Inequities

June 07, 2021

By Jeremy Conrad

Bart Bailey

The D.C. Bar Communities held its first-ever virtual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit on June 4, drawing nearly 100 participants for an interactive look at responses to bias. A keynote presentation by business and leadership consultant Bart Bailey kicked off the event with a dialogue modeling meaningful exchanges that can transform organizations.

Drawing parallels between COVID-19 and the “pandemic of racism,” Bailey asked attendees how they felt about these two issues and how those emotions manifested in their physical body. The goal of the exercise was to emphasize the importance of introspection and rethinking how to interact with others.

On bias in the legal profession, Bailey noted that 86 percent of attorneys are white. “White defense attorneys show implicit preference for their own ethnicity, which is reflected in the outcome of the litigation,” Bailey said, presenting figures from a study in support of the allegation of preferential treatment. “Defense attorneys are more likely to encourage African American clients to accept a plea that includes jail time than an identical white American client.”

Instead of telling participants how to react to these statements, Bailey encouraged them to self-reflect upon their answers: “Do I want to bring my voice into what’s happening in this space? When do we choose not to?” And more pointedly, “whose responsibility is it to notice and intervene when implicit racial bias is harming a client?” Bailey asked.

Bailey said there are three potential ways to intervene when encountering implicit racism: calling out, calling in, and calling to. “You can call out by naming the racism for what it is. You can call in by sharing the lived experience of the impact of their words and actions. Or call to account for their words and actions and their impact,” he said. “Which tactic and the specific language used to accomplish the goal of interrupting racism is up to us, but understanding the options can help keep communications clear and effective.”

An afternoon session entitled “Authentic Change Agents: Championing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Through Action” explored the role of allies in interrupting and challenging systemic and structural inequity to foster change.

Dr. Tracey S. Fisher, author of Little Big Change: Understanding, Interrupting and Reducing Systemic Inequity, provided insights into the background and meaning of terms that often come up in the context of equity and inclusion efforts.

Fisher also identified several potential reactions to the legacy of institutional racism. Guilt and anger are not productive, she said, but understanding the history of structural and social contributors to racism and its perpetuation has the potential to improve our ability to provide support and enact change.

Fisher provided a list of actionable ways individuals can support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, such as hiring, referring, promoting, and paying equally; removing or reassigning oppressive management; finding and investing in talent in their community; and referring potential opportunities to friends, networks, and neighbors who are people of color.

Strategies for allies when interacting with those who may be impacted by bias include listening effectively, leaving room for others to express themselves, taking classes to expand awareness, accepting responsibility when mistakes are made, and being courageous.

A recurring theme of Fisher’s speech was the notion (commonly attributed to John F. Kennedy) that a rising tide lifts all boats. Recalling the story of early African American baseball player Satchel Paige, who at the age of 42 led a Major League Baseball team to a World Series win, Fisher pointed out that Paige’s success did disservice to no one. “Being inclusive doesn’t mean that you are excluding someone else,” she said. “What would have happened if he had been playing in the Majors at 20?”

Check out the Communities On-Demand Library later this week for a recording of the event.

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