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July 1, 2012
Initiative invites all members 'to dance'

Inclusion Logo A path leads upward over multi-colored squares, and the words proclaim: "Inclusion . . . The Path to Unity."

The Florida Bar’s new diversity initiative logo was unfurled at The Florida Bar’s Annual Convention, debuting in banners and posters on display in high-traffic areas, with mini versions included in each participant’s packet.

Even though her title is diversity initiatives manager, Arnell Bryant-Willis said, “What The Florida Bar is really seeking is inclusion of its members. So the poster represents inclusion of all members. It’s a path to unity. We are on a road where we are trying to unify. The bottom of the path is very wide, because we are trying to capture everyone. And if we ever get to the top, we’ve made it.”

While diversity is one thing we have in common — our differences — the goal is to be inclusive, bringing members together, so everyone has a chance to fully participate in the Bar, she said.

And, Bryant-Willis said, the Bar’s inclusion effort goes far beyond just ethnicity and will also encompass practice area and geographic diversity; sole practitioners; women; persons with disabilities; and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

“We don’t just want to be invited to the party. We want to be invited to dance,” Bryant-Willis said. “When we are unified, we are all dancing, participating, celebrating, and all serving in capacities in the Bar that you just know that everybody is represented.”

Rather than members just paying Bar fees and sitting on the sidelines, the Bar leadership hopes more lawyers will get in the pipeline and become more active.

“Inclusion is like a group hug,” Bryant-Willis said. “It’s a total embodiment of the legal community.”

Detailed in the Bar’s Strategic Plan, Objective V reads: “Continue to encourage and promote diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the profession and the justice system.”

Among the action steps listed in the Bar’s strategic plan are to execute a grassroots contact program with minority bar associations and to develop a communication plan that lets minorities know about what opportunities exist and the Bar’s priority on minority inclusion.

“It’s important that everybody knows from December 1 through January 15, on the Bar’s website, there is a call for lawyers to apply for committee appointments,” Bryant-Willis said.

The communication plan is still in the works, she said.

“We’re very ambitious, but we will be taking strategic steps.”

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee met June 20 at the Bar’s Annual Convention in Orlando, after this News went to press.

Bar President Gwynne Young said, “We need to figure out how to encourage and get more diverse members to be involved and to apply for important roles in the Bar.”

She hopes to take the diversity displayed by the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors and spread it to other leadership committees throughout the Bar.

Many judicial nominating commissions are not as diverse as they should be, Young said, and it is to a large degree attributable to the lack of diverse applicants.

“We must actively reach out to encourage women, minorities, and other diverse groups to apply. Finding points of entry to Bar involvement and actively encouraging the involvement of all members is something that we must continue to vigilantly pursue.”

In his last video message in June, outgoing President Scott Hawkins said: “A diversity initiatives manager, Arnell Bryant-Willis, has joined our staff to work on ways to enhance minority initiatives across the state with a view to helping more Bar members access leadership opportunities.”

One of Bryant-Willis’ challenges is accumulating solid data. Of 93,117 members of the Bar, 65 percent are men. But because members are not required to report race, the following data is voluntarily given in Bar surveys: 86 percent white; 8 percent Hispanic; 3 percent African-American; and 3 percent Asian or “other.”

Bryant-Willis said she would like to encourage Bar members to voluntarily report their race — so that she can better gauge progress in reaching goals — but currently there is no vehicle at the Bar to do so.

[Revised: 04-15-2014]