Understanding the Importance of “Inclusion” as part of “Diversity and Inclusion”

We in the business and legal communities talk about diversity and inclusion.  Most of the people of privilege who I know focus on the diversity component, but far fewer truly understand the importance of inclusion.  I plan to work harder to ensure inclusion in my personal and professional life.  And when I fall short, I beg to be informed.  I ask all of us who have had the privilege of inclusion to do the same.

As a white man who ultimately attained a relative degree of privilege, I did not sufficiently understand or appreciate this for far too long. 

I’ve been married for 33 years to an African American woman with whom we have three grown bi-racial daughters.  My current business partner in Legal Innovators is African American.  I co-founded Shearman & Sterling’s Diversity Committee 30 years ago and my legal practice has been highly international, causing me to work closely with people from a multitude of nationalities and cultures.  But we all see the world through our own lenses, and I have rarely been excluded or unheard.  I’m ashamed to say that this has led me to be insensitive to the hurt, anger and powerlessness of exclusion.

My wife and daughters have opened my eyes.  At the dinner table, on family vacations, and on long car rides, they have forced me to confront the assumptions I take for granted.  They have expressed their feelings of not belonging and the frustration and anger they feel when persons of power fail to acknowledge or understand their points of view. 

I’ve also learned how these feelings are exacerbated when persons at the highest places of power in our government and society reinforce the message of exclusion.  I have learned to process some of President Trump’s rhetoric through the lenses of my family members and those they represent.  Whether it is labeling Neo-nazis as “good people”, overwhelmingly siding with the police in the killings of black Americans, berating Colin Kapernick, demonizing Mexicans,  referring to African and Latin American countries as shit holes, or opposing the diversity objectives of educational institutions, the President’s rhetoric tells my family members and those they represent that they do not belong.   

They do belong.  Their views and sensitivities do matter.  This transcends politics and enters the domain of basic civil liberties.

Inclusion works in all directions.  It must span racial, gender, sexual preference, geographic and socio-economic differences.   It must encompass the views of the many members of our society who have felt left behind by globalization and urbanization and ignored when sectors of the economy of which they have been a vital part, sometimes for generations, have evaporated. 

In light of the polarization of our times, it is all the more important that we in the legal and business communities double down and embrace inclusion as a priority. 

It is vitally important on a personal level.  I don’t want my children to continue to experience the pain of being minimalized and marginalized. 

And is vitally important to businesses and law firms.  We exist in a multicultural world.  Accounting for the different perspectives of all our employees and stakeholders leads to a more stable and satisfied work force.  It creates a safer haven for our important employees and colleagues, particularly when they feel more threatened by the outside world. 

It also leads to better legal and business decisions.  It should never be an excuse that we “did not know” or “understand” or “appreciate” the impact of a decision or how it would be perceived by people who are different from us.  We must know, understand and appreciate.  

At the end of the day it is no more complicated than this:  If the sum is greater than all its parts, the more the parts, the greater the sum. 

Jonathan Greenblatt is the Co-Founder and Chairman of Legal Innovators. Jon and his Co-Founder and CEO Bryan Parker are changing the way the law approaches hiring, pricing, diversity, and inclusion of today’s junior legal talent. How do you view inclusion and diversity in business and the law today? Email Jon with your questions or comments at jon@legal-innovators.com