A few days ago, former Miami Dolphins football coach, Brian Flores, sued the National Football League (NFL) and three teams alleging discrimination in the course of his interview processes with two teams and his termination by Miami. Among the allegations in the 58-page lawsuit, Flores describes a situation in which he was scheduled to interview with the NY Giants, but days before the interview, received an inadvertent text from former boss Bill Belichick congratulating another candidate for already getting the job. When asked about the incident, the Giants said they were “pleased and confident” with their hiring process, and that they seriously considered Flores.
The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 to correct inequities in management roles by requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies. Nearly 20 years have passed since the creation of the rule, and today, we have only 1 black head coach in a league where nearly 60% of the players are black. The data speaks for itself, and the NFL is just one of many examples where people from historically marginalized communities are denied equal opportunities. The legal industry is no exception.
Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in my own profession of intellectual property law. For example, the American Bar Association reported that only 5% of attorneys in the U.S. are Black, and only 1.7% practice intellectual property law according to a survey by the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Only 21% of patent practitioners registered with the patent bar identify as female even though women account for more than 50 percent of law school entering classes. The numbers are bad, but the lack of progress is just as alarming.
Extensive research has shown that diverse teams are better in every way – smarter, more innovative, and more effective at solving problems. When you have people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, it facilitates greater cognitive diversity which produces better solutions. For global companies like my employer, a more diverse workforce is better able to design and ship inclusive products that meet the needs of its diverse global user community.
So if diverse teams clearly deliver better results, what’s stopping us from hiring them? Here are a few reasons why I think progress has been so slow in my profession.
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