Equality Committee Multnomah Lawyer Articles

May 2010 Multnomah Lawyer article

Diversity Roundtable: Fostering Open Dialogue

By Dina Glassman and Gabby Richards

Perkins Coie's Portland office has been hosting regular diversity roundtables for its attorneys and staff for almost three years. This is a rather simple activity, which has made a positive and important impact on the office and its people, current and future.

The discussions were intended as awareness-raising tools, but have also created a sense of community and, hopefully, reduced bias. To date, Perkins Coie has tackled many sensitive topics, including generational diversity, GLBT issues in the workplace, physical disability, religious traditions, racism and the role of gender in the workplace, to name a few.

Inevitably, the 60-90 minute discussions, often including attorney and staff panel members from colleague firms, only begin to scratch the surface on the profound topics the group is broaching. Notwithstanding, the forum brings people together to start conversations that may otherwise appear too difficult or awkward.

Gabby Richards, one of the firm's past diversity fellowship recipients and future summer associate, shares her thoughtful impressions about the benefits of such open dialogue.

Among the topics in my Professional Responsibility class at Lewis & Clark Law School was bias in and out of the courtroom. It was a compelling and candid discussion, uncomfortable at times, that reflected a broad array of backgrounds, cultures and experiences. The topic triggered a host of concerns, including how to address situations where bias hinders professional growth opportunities or imposes an unwelcoming working environment.

One thing upon which we all agreed is that fostering an open dialogue with colleagues is critical to preventing, addressing, and resolving bias issues. My experience as a summer associate have benefited from such a dialogue.

As a summer associate for the past two years at Perkins Coie, I attended one diversity roundtable and was a panelist on another. The latter was a discussion about disability in the workplace, and I embraced the opportunity to talk about my experiences as a wheelchair-user in a forum that facilitated candid conversation about tough issues.

The roundtable was part of a dialogue that started nearly two years ago when I began applying for summer positions. I had frank conversations with Perkins Coie from the outset about needs specific to my disability, and the firm responded by creating an environment that is nothing short of full inclusion - from the addition of automatic openers on all internal doors in our offices to ensuring that professional and social events are fully accessible and free of barriers that pose logistical problems.

My Professional Responsibility professor queried whether bias was a topic worthy of discussion in future courses. I enthusiastically suggest that it's a topic worthy of discussion every day.

Dina Glassman is the Director of Attorney Development at Perkins Coie, where she previously practiced as a labor and employment associate.

Gabby Richards is law student at Lewis & Clark Law School. Gabby is spending a third consecutive summer with Perkins Coie, where she was the recipient of the firm's 1L diversity fellowship in 2008.