MCCA Launches "Workplace 2020"

Monday, February 28, 2011 - 00:00

Ms. Richardson recently announced that MCCA is launching a new set of initiatives titled Workplace 2020. These initiatives will focus on the changes that the newest generation entering the legal workplace - Gen Y (a.k.a. Millennials) - will bring to the legal profession. Nextions will serve as a consultant to MCCA on the research and training programs developed as part of Workplace 2020.

The mission of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) is to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of diverse attorneys in legal departments and the law firms that serve them. MCCA furthers its mission through the collection and dissemination of information about diversity in the legal profession. MCCA's key services include publishing research on achieving diversity and on best practices in the legal profession, honoring innovative diversity programs and assisting diverse law students through its Scholarship Program.

Editor: Why has MCCA, which is focused on the hiring, retention and promotion of minorities in the legal profession, moved to the subject of generational differences?

Richardson: When it was founded in 1997, the organization's main focus was on increasing the number of race and ethnic minorities in the legal profession. Like many organizations at that time, MCCA looked at diversity through a very narrow lens. But when I took over as executive director in 2001, I decided that MCCA's definition of "diversity" needed to expand for the organization to earn true credibility as a knowledge leader on diversity in the legal workplace. Almost 10 years ago - and far ahead of any other bar association - we issued a research report on the challenges faced by gay and lesbian attorneys in the profession, including a set of recommendations for employers to help lessen those challenges. And just a few years ago, we issued a similarly thought-provoking report on the challenges faced by disabled attorneys. MCCA was among the early advocates to expand the diversity dialogue to include generational issues. For example, as we look to the next 10 years, tens of millions of the early wave of Baby Boomer retirees will transition out of their jobs, which will create workplace succession- planning issues for many employers. MCCA intends to help legal managers be forward thinking and get ahead of the issues that this generational sea change will trigger. MCCA believes it's time to start thinking about and planning for the changes in workplace culture, policies, compensation, benefits and incentive programs that will be necessary to attract, motivate and successfully manage Generation Y.

Reeves: MCCA's leadership on diversity and inclusion provides a great example for organizations to look beyond the traditional categories in order to create sustainable change in workplaces. In many ways, generational diversity is not a type of diversity but rather a lens through which all other categories of diversity can be viewed. Younger generations look at every traditional diversity category in such different ways than older generations that, without a generational diversity lens, it can be difficult to make sense of diversity and inclusion.

Although many have a perception that there have always been generational differences in the workplace, it is important to note that rapidly advancing technology has widened the usual gap between generations. For example, the definitions of a great number of words have completely changed from one generation to the next because of technology - words such as spam, text, viral and net - which creates communication gaps far exceeding lexicon shifts that have occurred in the past.

Editor: How does focus on Generation Y and the generational diversity lens advance your mission of increasing overall diversity in the profession?

Richardson: Generation Y is a lot more diverse than its predecessor generations, and that increased level of diversity is reflected in today's law school classes. All studies indicate that Generation Y is far more adept and comfortable living, working, and learning alongside people who are not like them. In fact, I believe this generation will do much to ease our society's discomfort around issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and culture. MCCA wants to engage this next generation of lawyers and encourage their active participation to make the legal profession truly diverse and inclusive. It's imperative for MCCA to support and advance the professional development of Generation Y lawyers. So, as a first step, MCCA intends to be more proactive in both soliciting their views and perspectives and amplifying their voice by reporting our findings back to the professional people who manage firms and corporations, thereby exerting a lot of influence over how people experience the legal workplace.

Editor: How does MCCA plan to gather this information?

Richardson: MCCA will capture the views of Generation Y attorneys through a survey and a series of focus groups. The survey will explore the values, aspirations, likes, dislikes, ambitions and frustrations of Gen Y, and we will dig deeper into survey findings through focus group dialogues. We will ask Gen Y not only what they want from their workplaces, but how they plan to lead these workplaces as they advance into the leadership vacuum that retiring boomers will leave in their wake. MCCA members and supporters will weigh in on the research design process as we finalize the survey and seek a high response rate. In addition to Dr. Reeves, I have asked Lori Garrett, MCCA's managing director based in Atlanta, to play an integral role in the development of MCCA's Workplace 2020 initiatives. Lori heads up MCCA's scholarship program and professional development services so she works a lot on career counseling for Generation Y law students and young lawyers. Lori's perspectives will be instrumental in shaping these initiatives.

Editor: Once you get these responses, what will be the end product?

Reeves: The findings will be summarized in a written report and shared with members of the MCCA network through briefings and presentations at upcoming MCCA educational events; thus, leaders in legal departments and law firms, along with the HR professionals in their organizations, can make better-informed decisions about their workplaces. The written report also will serve as a starting point for developing a robust curriculum for training programs that help leaders understand how their workplaces should look and then get necessary skills to transform their workplaces and maximize the talents that Gen Y offers.

Richardson: MCCA intends to host a series of briefings to spotlight the findings, and we'll host these in several U.S. regions. Lori Garrett will work closely with Dr. Reeves to coordinate and manage these briefings.

Editor : What are some of these other initiatives?

Richardson: We have one initiative that Dr. Reeves is working on called "Leading Four Generations in One Direction." The target audience for this is managers who oversee a mix of generations - the remaining traditionalist, baby boomer, Gen X and Gen Y attorneys.

Armed with research we gather from the younger attorneys, we will assist managers with their leadership strategies and skills for managing multiple generations that make up their law departments and law firms. I'm really enthusiastic about the work MCCA will undertake with Dr. Reeves.

Editor : Dr. Reeves, would you explain more about this initiative?

Reeves: The "Leading Four Generations" program will feature a half-day facilitated workshop with presentations, personal assessments, panel discussions and small group breakouts. Materials will include a manual that allows participants to leave the workshop with immediate action plans. Nextions has a unique "Learner-Centered Model" that was developed to teach people the skills they need to implement change, and we will apply this innovative learning model to MCCA's curriculum, creating a powerful tool for today's and future leaders to manage the increasing complexity of generational differences in the workplace.

Editor: What will you do to educate those who may not understand or believe that the new generation of lawyers needs a different management style?

Richardson: We are developing another program called "Turning Skeptics into Supporters" for diversity directors or diversity committee chairs with responsibility for leading change efforts. We plan for this to give these leaders strategies to engage in, connect with, and invite skeptics into the inclusion dialogue.

Reeves: Structured similarly to "Leading Four Generations" - a half-day facilitated workshop with a mix of presentations and discussions - the concepts presented in this program would include differentiating skepticism from opposition, leveraging productive conflict to increase awareness, facilitating effective dialogue to engage skeptics and developing interpersonal strategies to create inclusive workplaces. We will use data from the survey and the focus groups to guide the curriculum while employing our innovative learning tools to transfer knowledge and skills efficiently and effectively.

Richardson: Our final initiative is for a Leadership Academy, envisioned as a one-year program for high-potential attorneys. This leadership development program builds leadership skills, deepens personal and professional networks, and expands the pipeline for talented, diverse attorneys to enter into leadership positions within the legal profession. Each class would consist of a maximum of 35-40 individuals who are selected from nominations.

Editor : How would this program be structured?

Reeves: It would be an intensive leadership development program that includes three in-person meetings and monthly web conferences/conference calls with all of the participants. The nominees and their organizations would need to agree to the time commitment in advance of being considered for the academy.

The curriculum will include extensive personal assessments and foster the discovery and development of personal leadership styles and strategies. There will also be interactive instruction and facilitated discussions on leadership models and execution. The class will learn together and also complete assignments for review by their classmates. We anticipate that the intense interaction will deepen the relationships and ties between the members of each class. The critical component of this academy is to use our research about Gen Y to teach them how to become effective leaders as they strive to impact their workplaces.

Editor: When do you plan to start rolling out these initiatives?

Richardson : We are already hard at work. In fact, the survey instrument is in its final developmental stages. Honestly, it has been so much fun working with Dr. Reeves on this project that I have to force myself to step back, stop tinkering and let it go!

Reeves: MCCA's Workplace 2020 initiative will add critical data on Gen Y's perspectives, which is currently lacking in our understanding of legal workplaces. This initiative packs a powerful triple punch, consisting of research for awareness, training for skills and empowerment for the next generation. It is the kind of comprehensive approach to change that MCCA has always executed.

Editor: Any final thoughts for our readers who may want to help or participate in the survey? What would you like for them to know?

Richardson: MCCA is looking to connect with those heads of young lawyers divisions and of other young attorney networks who are willing to partner with MCCA to ensure a broad distribution of the survey. The power of the data will be largely dependent upon achieving a really robust and significant level of participation. We need help to spread the word, and I invite those who are interested in learning more to contact us at info@mcca.com and visit MCCA's website at http://www.mcca.com/, including our magazine, Diversity & the Bar, for announcements. Lastly, I would encourage your readers to follow MCCA on Twitter@mcca_law.

Please email the interviewees at vetarichardson@mcca.com and arin@nextions.com with questions about this interview.