Letter From The Executive Director Of The New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association

2014-01-10 10:52

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel,

Diversity Summit Blooms Into Inclusion

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”  – Maya Angelou

We at the Association of Corporate Counsel New Jersey Chapter (NJCCA) wanted to address diversity in a new way. We wanted to hold a Diversity Summit that would be unique,  positive and empowering. We wanted to give people an opportunity to work together and become a part of a process. We think we accomplished our goals and would like to share our story with you.

The NJCCA Diversity and Minority Bar Relations Committee received a grant from the Diversity Dollars Grant Program of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and gracious sponsors Lowenstein Sandler LLP and Princeton Legal Search Group, LLC helped host the event. Our plan was big.

The half –day Summit was held at the Hanover Marriott in Whippany New Jersey. We had spoken with or included folks from the Hispanic Bar Association, Association of Black Women Lawyers Association, Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association, MCCA, New Jersey State Bar Association’s Minorities in the Profession Section, Women in the Profession Section and GLBT Section.

We did not charge a fee for this program and included lunch and a cocktail reception. Our key note speaker was Lourdes Tango, of Tango Consulting, a Diversity Consulting Firm. Ms. Tango holds degrees from Upsala College, Pacific University, New York University and the Universidad de Madrid in Spain. Her work promoting diversity has been international. Our panelists were: Shirell Gross - Bayer Healthcare, Michael Clark - Actavis, Justin Ruaysamran – Prudential Financial, Florelee Wan – President Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey, and Darlene Lapola – Avis Budget Group. Valerie Camara from Merck was the moderator.

In a room that turned out to be the perfect fit and flow for this event, Ms. Tango broke the ice by asking each table to introduce themselves to each other by saying something about themselves that most people don’t know about them upon meeting. The key to this was, you tell me something about you that I can’t figure out just by seeing you and hearing your voice. Responses varied from “I sky dive” to “I’m not a lawyer” to “I have four children.” We then brainstormed ideas about diversity … and learned that it is just as much about how we are similar as it is how we are different. We talked about diversity of thought. Of education. Of character. Of culture. There was much discussion on unconscious bias. Small group discussions ensued and small group work brainstormed and listed how we could minimize bias in the workplace.

Ms. Tango had provided participants with pre-reading material on Unconscious Bias that was the basis of some of the discussion of the day. The title of Ms. Tango’s presentation was “Inclusion – A New View of Diversity.” Unique. She did not approach diversity as most other speakers do. It truly was a new view of a common topic. The vantage point was about inclusion.

We were then introduced to micro-inequities (non-verbal behavior or verbal expressions, or even the tone of someone’s voice), which can be so small they are often not even discussed. Being “too busy-looking" at the time, instead of really paying attention when speaking, is an example. Alternatively, a smile can make someone feel more engaged and respected. We talked about ways to combat and encourage these behaviors.

The panel followed and candidly answered questions posed by the moderator. After a full day, the entire room felt connected in a way that we certainly had not when we all arrived. Ideas were transformed, friendships were made, questions were answered, and more questions were brought to mind. We slowly walked out of the room where our Summit was held ,and many continued their conversations during our cocktail reception where we learned more about each other and shared more stories.

After the Summit, I surveyed members and participants and the overwhelming response was that our Diversity Summit should be an annual event. We had achieved our goal. It is a pleasure to work with people who are so eager to sponsor such valuable programs. We hope you will be a part of our next event and summit!

If you have additional questions about this program, or the chapter, please email me at leslie.wolfson@acc-njcca.org.


Leslie Paige Wolfson