Celebrating Our Differences and Embracing the “New” Diversity: The Business Case for Being Yourself
By Brianna Williams
I’m different. And today, that’s a good thing.
Diversity, in its most inclusive sense, encompasses much more than sex and color. Instead, the concept of diversity has evolved to embrace and appreciate various dimensions and offerings that transcend the usual trappings of protected classes. The combination of life experiences, culture, and perspectives that define us as individuals – characteristics that make us different from our colleagues – are fast becoming the “new” diversity.
It comes as no surprise that many companies, both large and small, have begun to realize that to compete in today’s rapidly changing world, a diverse workforce is no longer an option but a necessity. The business case for diversity recognizes that a complement of professionals with a rich variety of unique viewpoints provides a distinct advantage in the marketplace. Understanding the needs of the myriad of individuals we serve necessarily requires the perspective of a diverse team working together.
I celebrate my personal diversity – the insight I’ve gained through my life’s journeys. Although these experiences may have initially been shaped by my race and gender, the outcomes are my own. This collection of distinct ideals defines who I am; my rich history makes me a better advisor and a more valuable colleague. From my mother’s difficult decision to send me away from California to an all-girls Catholic School in New Orleans to expand my awareness of various cultures, to the creamy deliciousness of my grandmother’s bread pudding sprinkled with her sage advice, my diversity is not premised upon genetics. Instead my diversity is defined by the life I’ve led, the paths I’ve embarked upon, and the gems I’ve picked up along the way. Today, the “new” diversity means much more than just the color of my skin.
In addition to being an attorney, I’m a single mother of two boys, a freelance designer, a jazz pianist, and a self-confessed tech junkie. My work as a programmer has appeared in the Chemical Physics Letters, I have credits as a designer and performer on nationally released CDs, and I regularly volunteer with the Boy Scouts. On any given day, you may find me advising a major hotel and restaurant chain on its legal rights, designing artwork for a creative professional and teaching him/her how to protect it, helping an educational institution settle a contractual dispute, camping in the wilderness with a rowdy group of young boys, or fronting a jazz band after work. Beyond the fact that I’m an African-American female, I’m different.
It is these differences, however, that make me a valuable member of the team. Indeed, my diversity has directly resulted in measurable value for my firm and our clients. For example, when I took the lead in drafting an employee handbook for two of the most recognized hotels in the world, I produced not only a top-flight legal document, but channeled my experience as a designer to deliver a fully-designed print-ready product for distribution. Having been an entertainer in the lobby of an upscale New Orleans hotel prior to entering private practice, I knew exactly how to relate to these employees because they used to be my colleagues.
Likewise, I frequently listen to jazz with one of our clients – and occasionally even sit in with the band. Not long ago, during an informal discussion while listening to the music we both love, this client asked that I prepare a proposal to provide legal services pertinent to a business meeting we had earlier in the day. I readily obliged.
While these examples represent only a microcosm of the myriad of opportunities I’m regularly presented with to integrate my personal formula of diversity with my career as an attorney, I can readily see how leveraging my diversity – that is, being 100% me 100% of the time – has yielded measurable results. I’m different, yet I celebrate my diversity and have become a witness to the unlimited potential created by being myself. This new diversity is quickly becoming a best practice – and before long, companies will wonder how they had ever done business without requiring their employees to be themselves all the time.
Brianna Williams is an associate at Stokes Roberts & Wagner ALC. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @creativelawgirl.
"I can readily see how leveraging my diversity – that is, being 100% me 100% of the time – has yielded measurable results."