By Gary Blankenship
Following recommendations from the Program Evaluation Committee, The Florida Bar is overhauling its diversity efforts, including creating a new Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.
The Board of Governors, at its recent Key West meeting, approved a dozen recommendations from the PEC, including adopting a definition of diversity, transferring functions of the Member Outreach Committee to the new committee, and creating a Florida Bar diversity grant program for local bars.
After the meeting, Bar President Jesse Diner said he had asked for the PEC review of Bar diversity efforts.
“The Florida Bar has been for a number of years and should continue to be fully committed to diversity, and part of that is enhancing it as creatively as we can. That’s why I thought it was important to get a fresh look at it,” he said. “Because we had been doing very similar things for a number of years, we needed to examine our approach and see what else we could do to be as effective as possible in the diversity effort.”
That includes setting up the grant program, which has been funded with $50,000 for the coming year.
“We wanted a fresh look at the entire diversity program and to reach further out to the voluntary bars to get more work done at the local level,” Diner said.
PEC Chair Gwynne Young told the board the changes will not only help promote diversity but let Bar members know what has already been done.
“We know here at the board all of the things we have done in this area, including that there is now significantly larger participation by diverse members in our committees and sections, but our membership is not as aware of that,” she said.
The new special committee will be initially authorized for one year and charged with developing guidelines for the diversity grant program, the continuation of the Bar’s diversity efforts, and defining its continuing role, Young said.
This is the definition of diversity approved by the board: “The term ‘diversity’ has a dynamic meaning that changes as the demographics of Floridians change. Apart from differences in race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, and geography, to mention a few, the public and our profession will experience changes in thought, culture, and beliefs. These demographics are constantly in flux. Defining ‘diversity’ based on current differences would limit its application to future changes, and likewise restrict or limit The Florida Bar’s consideration of and response to such changes.”
The board action also provides that the Bar is, according to the PEC’s report to the board, “fully committed to the enhancement of diversity within the Bar, the legal profession, legal education, and in the justice system, and affirms its commitment toward a diverse and inclusive environment with equal access and equal opportunity for all.”
Young said the grant program “is going to be a wonderful addition to our diversity efforts.”
The program will support conferences, seminars, training, and dialogue through efforts at local and specialty bar associations.
Other recommendations approved by the board include:
▪ Having some type of diversity program at each Bar Annual Convention.
▪ Increasing communication to sections, committees, divisions, voluntary bar associations, and Bar members about Bar diversity efforts.
▪ Having the Bar president-elect tape a video for Bar members on the Bar’s committee appointment process and the necessity of having diversity and inclusion.
▪ Creating a Bar staff role focusing on diversity matters.
▪ Making sure that diversity and inclusion goals are reflected both in Standing Board Policies and in the Bar’s strategic plan.
▪ Having the PEC review the Bar’s diversity efforts again in the 2012-13 Bar year.