Diversity By The Numbers Doesn’t Always Paint The Picture

As a feminist of a certain age, I count.  I look at places of privilege and power, and I count.  How many women?  How many minorities? How old are they? How high have they risen, and how quickly, and who rose faster or still lags behind?

This tactic has a noble heritage.  My favorite practitioners?  The Guerrilla Girls.

Counting, generally, is most effective in starting a conversation.  If you are honest, however, once the conversation starts, you have to factor in the way the world works. That can be frustrating, because counters are often interested in accelerating the pace of change as far as the way the world works. It hurts to acknowledge that change can take more time than you hope it will.

Houston mayoral candidate Gene Locke is the beneficiary of a joint press release from the Tejano Democrats and the Houston Black American Democrats which alleges that the city department his opponent leads has a “dismal record of hiring minorities in senior level positions.”

I’m sure that at least 100 people did exactly the same thing I did upon reading this press release. Clicked on over to the Andrews Kurth site for a cursory count of who’s who and who’s what in the public law section here in Houston.  This presumably is the section in which Gene Locke would have more influence over hiring and promotion than, say, the securities practice group in London, but look at any section you want.

Go ahead.  Check it out.  Draw your own conclusions.

And remember, Andrews Kurth promotes itself as being particularly strong at diversity issues.

Also note that the press release mentions a survey of the 10 (yes, ten) top-level people in the department. Does anyone think that a picture of the 10 top-earning partners at Andrews Kurth would be a rainbow coalition?

It would be difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison, for sure. After all, the law firm isn’t required to release the same level of detail about employment and salary practices as the city. Even if they do, and they have very strong incentives not to do so that have nothing to do with the mayoral campaign, they won’t get around to it until after the election. Trust me. I’m a lawyer.

I bet there are some similarities between the partnership structure at a law firm and the employment rubric of a city department. We all know the jokes about how hard it is to lose a government job once you’ve got one. How are hiring and promotion practices constrained by long-established traditions or rules regarding tenure?

The partnership numbers at any law firm skew to the old, the white, and the male. That’s because the old, white, male partners who joined the firm when diversity wasn’t a recruiting goal have stuck around—that’s the nature of being a partner. I’m willing to bet that city employees benefit from a similar situation as far as tenure goes.

Being fair, you have to acknowledge that one partner, one department director, can’t reverse years of history and habit. Absolutely, each should try to put policies and practices in place that set up their team for a more successful future with a more diverse workforce, but if you leave out the time factor, you are setting up anyone for failure.

Being fair, being fair doesn’t come up much in political campaigns.  It is always worthwhile to raise the diversity question, and, as I said, counting can be a useful tool to launch the dialogue.  But diversity by the numbers doesn’t always paint the picture.

We only have a few more days of campaigning, and clearly, mud is being slung as fast as it can be dredged up.  Those of us commenting in public likely made up our minds long ago, and we don’t mind getting dirty, but it makes me sad to think of the undecided voters making decisions based on misleading numbers or endorsements rooted in hate.

I don’t think this study brought anything helpful to the conversation at this stage in the campaign.

By the way – sorry no link to the study.  I got it in an email but can’t find it on the web.  I’m busy, got to get to work, so here are the ‘for more info’ contacts listed in the email if you want to call and have it sent to you.  I’m assuming they could send the entire report as well.

Sandra Puente, 713-864-4700

Gabrielle Hadnot, 281-787-0338

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2 Responses to Diversity By The Numbers Doesn’t Always Paint The Picture

  1. Erik Vidor says:

    Here is a study by the NALP (National Association of Legal Profession) on Andrews and Kurth’s Houston office. BTW I really enjoy reading your blog.

    http://www.nalpdirectory.com/dledir_search_results.asp?fscid=F367301&yr=2009&orgtypeid=F?fscid=F367301&yr=2009&orgtypeid=F

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