This issue of The Practice explores the sometimes unexpected research and methods organizations use—or should use—to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev note in their lead article, “Getting to Diversity: How democratizing career systems can open opportunity,” many “symbolic interventions” that are commonly employed throughout corporate America, such as diversity trainings, impede progress. What works? Changes to the status quo around recruitment, mentorship, job training, and work-life support. Drawing on data from 800 companies across four decades, as well as interviews with professionals across industries, Dobbin and Kalev use a simple metric to understand what progress means for DEI: “whether innovations change the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of corporate managers during the years those innovations are in place.” They compare dozens of different features of career systems and diversity initiatives side by side—programs such as targeted recruitment, flexible scheduling, mentoring programs, diversity task forces—to see if they actually live up to their promise.
We complement Dobbin and Kalev’s lead with stories on driving change within the legal profession and a socio-legal scholar’s exploration of what causes bias and discrimination. In “Pledging Action,” we document the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity initiative, Leaders at the Front, which challenged 400-plus leading law firms and in-house legal departments with making public pledges to build a more inclusive and diverse legal profession. In “Researching Diversity Discourse and Action,” we profile Jamillah Bowman Williams, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, whose work centers the gap between what people say they believe about diversity and what they actually do when presented with the opportunity to create change. As a law professor and a trained sociologist, Bowman Williams’ interdisciplinary research focuses on outcomes, both debunking the business case for diversity and seeking to understand where and when the law can be an aid to inclusivity—and when it impedes progress.
We conclude this issue with two Speakers’ Corners. In “Investing in Economic Justice,” Center on the Legal Profession faculty director David Wilkins interviews Zeynep Ton, professor of the practice in the operations management group at MIT Sloan School of Business, about what constitutes a “good job” and why “DEI should include economic justice.” In “Tone at the Top,” associate editor Dana Walters speaks with Lori George Billingsley, former global chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at The Coca-Cola Company, about the role of a C-suite executive charged with diversity initiatives and what it takes to be successful in that role in the corporate landscape. The secret? Leadership sets the course. “If you don’t have buy-in at the top—if the chairperson/CEO is not really a champion—then there’s not going to be any real action,” she says.