Beyond Optics: The Argument for a More Diverse Workforce
By Parag Shah
Early in my career, when I was a public defender in Atlanta, I recall a client of mine – a young African-American man – who was wrongly accused of shoplifting at a relatively well-known retailer. One could argue it was a case of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” But I am aware, as you might be, that if this man was a different color with a different socioeconomic background and from the “right” part of town, he would not have ended up as my client.
That singular encounter happens in some shape or form across our whole society, whether it’s how quickly a child of color will receive pain medications in an ER to which names get a job interview. The stark reality is that unjust inequalities persist, erecting barriers to socio-economic mobility for people of color and marginalized groups in the U.S. Addressing this injustice has been a constant thread in my journey, from a public defender, private attorney, judge, author, mediator, and now the leader of a growing ADR firm.
As the CEO of Miles Mediation & Arbitration, I view diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a method to make this change a part of our company’s DNA. While ethical reasons may be part of my motivation (it’s simply the right thing to do), the fact is a diverse workforce makes good business sense.
The Business Perspective
As a CEO, I have a vested business interest in helping my company grow and thrive. A diverse workforce, which for us include both employees and neutrals, is simply better for your business. A diverse workforce brings increased client satisfaction, greater innovation, and higher talent retention. These are very specific business metrics that motivate me and should motivate any business leader. Even if I didn’t have a moral imperative, the business imperative is enough to implement a DEI lens across your enterprise.
Looking ahead 10 to 20 years, the United States will become more racially diverse across the socio-economic strata. For instance, more than half of children under 18 years of age come from a minority background. When we think about gender diversity, more and more young adults are identifying as transgender or non-binary. These will be our future customers, so we all must rethink how we are able to effectively engage and deliver services to a population that doesn’t look or have the same priorities as the population 20 years ago. By ignoring cultural competency when providing services, we are leaving a customer segment off the table.
DEI in Action
Your workforce should reflect the society and the people you serve. The only way you grow is through encountering differing viewpoints, perspectives, and insights. But it doesn’t end at diversity.
I define DEI as:
- Diversity means inviting them in the room.
- Equity means they have power to effect change.
- Inclusion means giving them a seat at the table.
Some companies have a lot of diversity among their entry-level or frontline people but have few diverse employees at higher levels. If your diverse staff aren’t part of decision-making processes and do not have autonomy to make decisions, then equity may only be lip service.
One example of how we have tried to address this at Miles is we have created a board seat that is held by an employee in the company. We make it a priority that the person appointed to this position is someone who can provide a diverse perspective. Our current employee board member, who is a young African-American woman, now has a seat at the table; she has a voice; and her voice influences how decisions are made in the company. We are conscious of who has the power in our organization and working to ensure that more diverse voices move us forward.
We also implement this approach when thinking about our neutrals. Simply adding a number of diverse neutrals to a panel holds limited value without genuine commitment to investing time and resources in their growth. At Miles, we have a dedicated team focused on actively helping our neutrals advance their careers by creating opportunities where they have access to a broader client base, higher-value cases, and more complex cases. We’ve witnessed this transformation among our young, female and minority neutrals. I take pride in stating that our panel doesn’t just embrace diversity; it embodies equity.
Lastly, I credit John Miles, the founder of Miles, for choosing to invite me to the table and transferring leadership to me. I am conscious of the servant leadership mindset that John has set, and now I am intentionally using this power to make progress. We still have a long way to go, but acknowledging how systems of power disproportionately affect marginalized communities is the first step. By involving these communities in decision-making, we are not only making our society a better place but growing and strengthening our business.
ABOUT MILES MEDIATION & ARBITRATION
Miles Mediation & Arbitration, headquartered in Atlanta, is an award-winning alternative dispute resolution (ADR) firm. The firm specializes in mediation, arbitration, special master and all forms of dispute management and is known for its exceptional client service and reputation of delivering successful results. The firm handles all case sizes and types, including complex, multi-party disputes in areas of business, finance, construction, medical negligence, personal injury, wrongful death, trucking, real estate, insurance coverage, fiduciary, estate and probate, and premises liability. For more information, please call 888-305-3553.