Sometimes I feel like we’re shopping for lipstick. Is this the season for blush pink, raging red or muted mauve? And what’s the most alluring finish: high gloss or matte?

Maybe it’s flippant to equate diversity efforts with lipstick selection, but I think the analogy is apt. Like many corporate endeavors, diversity is susceptible to fashion, always seeking the flavor du jour.

What’s trending is attacking diversity for the way it’s defined and measured. Ironically, the subtext is that diversity has become exclusionary—that something is being left out.

One popular argument is that focusing on gender, race and ethnicity is superficial. Instead, as the thinking goes, we should look beyond appearances to the realm of ideas. The other criticism is that we’re too obsessed with statistics and that the diversity problem goes much deeper than how many blacks or Latinx are partners at a law firm.

Both criticisms sound intriguing and appealing. But, oh, where are they leading us?

I’ve sounded the alarm before about putting ideas and thought into the diversity basket, but it seems to be gaining traction. The argument is this: How people think is far more important than their ethnicity, because it’s ideas that promote creativity and change.

My colleague Paul Hodkinson, editor of The American Lawyer affiliate Legal Week, wrote that “though great progress may be made regarding race, gender and sexual orientation, law firms are seemingly blind to a variety of diversity issues.”

And how many times have I heard that the minorities who fill the ranks in top colleges, law schools and major firms are “bougie?”

The suggestion is that minorities who are part of rarefied institutions and professions such as the law aren’t that different from the majority. Their social and economic statuses render them just another shade of white.

How ridiculous. And ignorant.

Though some minorities might come from middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds (or appear to), I bet their looks affect how they’re treated. They wear their ethnicity on their face, and the world responds to them accordingly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so self-conscious, but as an Asian American, I assume people notice my difference. And there’s no doubt that people project certain stereotypes about me from time to time.

What’s pernicious about elevating idea and thought diversity at the expense of race and ethnicity is the underlying assumption that minorities are already integrated and that it’s time to move on. I can’t speak for all minorities, but I’d call that a white man’s delusion.

As for the charge that law firms and corporations are too number-focused—interestingly, that often comes from women and minorities. They argue we’re not addressing the systemic problems that hinder women and minorities in their careers. (I know I sound like a broken record, but remember women make up just over 20% of all equity partners in Big Law, while for blacks it’s barely only 2%.)

Rather than that being so fixated on stats, the argument goes, we should be toppling existing mindsets by instituting unconscious bias training, rejiggering mentorship and sponsorship programs, and mandating open, honest discussions about sexism and racism.

Recently, Meghan Hottel-Cox, an associate at Goulston & Storrs, wrote on Law.com that “only by becoming aware, accepting and addressing our implicit biases can we start to counteract those biases and improve organizational cultures to value inclusivity and belonging.”

I couldn’t agree more. But that requires an exercise in soul-searching that I’m not convinced many lawyers will do. Some simply have no time for it; others just aren’t interested.

The firms that invest in programs like bias analysis are not the ones with the worst track records. The best way to get the attention of firms that are truly lagging in diversity is to publish their crummy stats. The deep dives into culture, attitude and other intangibles can follow later.

I’m not buying all those new shades of diversity. I guess I’m just not fashion-forward.

 

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.