Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
No More Box-Checking for California Lawyers Association
Sabrina L. Green
Famous filmmaker and publicist Ava DuVernay said when talking about her film Selma, “When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check…this reality must be deeply felt and valued by us all.” And I couldn't agree more.
As a partner in my own small law firm, it was an easy decision for me to join as an inaugural member of California Lawyers Association's Solo and Small Firm Section in 2018. At the same time, CLA, the organization we see today, was just opening its doors as a stand-alone organization, separate from the State Bar of California. It was a perfect storm to put Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) front and center of our formation as the leading organization representing attorneys statewide.
The ripple effect of initial DEI conversations happened overnight. The Board of Representatives dove head-first into incorporating policies throughout the organizations and defined the importance of having such policies in place for the sustainability of CLA. One of the first opportunities we embraced as an organization was ensuring diversity in our programs and speaker panels and striving for diversity in our section executive committees. But we didn't stop there—the executive board leaders and Chief Executive Officer, including Senior Leaders within CLA, reached out to industry partners to guide our policies.
Now, why did CLA choose to act? The answer is simple—because “ inaction creates nothing. Action creates success.” It was a simple decision to act, and the numbers proved what CLA knew was a problem. We, as an organization, saw nothing but opportunity, despite the roadblocks.
For example, although the Hispanic population in California is approximately 40 percent, only a shocking 6 percent of that population are attorneys. While 6 percent of the California population is African American, just half that number constitutes the attorney population in the state. Then the problem becomes more complex because while you want your organization to at least mirror the diversity of the attorney population in the state, it is clear that the attorney population is not representative of the state at all. This leads one down the road to why the attorney and professional populations are not representative of the state populations, which then leads to an overwhelming list of factors: lack of opportunity, lack of community support, lack of funding, lack of resources, failure to recognize and remedy, the list goes on and on. It’s hard to plot a path through a forest of inequities, and in the face of so much adversity, it makes you freeze and think, “How can we possibly ever make a difference?”
And this is why I am so proud to be a part of CLA. We didn’t freeze. There was intention behind our thought. We asked questions on top of questions. We listened, debated, and decided that the status quo would not be acceptable. We aspired to something more and set a new standard for others to follow. Because at CLA, we not only LEAD, we ACT.
I am proud that at CLA’s Leadership Conference in Monterey in January, CLA boldly approved efforts to diversify our association by enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion by unanimously adopting the first-ever diversity, equity, and inclusion appointments policy. To learn more, read the recap by Associate Executive Director for Inclusion, Outreach, and Strategic Initiatives Olga Diaz.
Our new DEI appointments policy is something all CLA members should be proud of. We saw a challenge and found a solution, as CLA is composed of doers. You may have already seen our work in action, recognizing Black History Month in February and celebrating Women’s History Month in March.
And colleagues, we are just getting started. Our DEI committee chair, Toni Jarmamilla, is working at full speed to implement the DEI appointments policy across all sections and committees. I hope that in years to come, actions like ours will make real, positive changes to everyone’s histories in the future.
Sabrina L. Green is Chair of California Lawyers Association's Board of Representatives for 2022-2023 and a former Chair of CLA’s Solo and Small Firm Section Executive Committee. She practices labor and employment and complex business law in San Diego.