NOTE: This is the sixth in an intermittent series of posts about the professional values I did my best to live by and communicate as expectations to court staff in order to provide excellent public service (more on how I did so with staff in the upcoming Part 2 post). The topic of Diversity & Inclusion is particularly relevant in this moment of widespread protests about, and attention to, systemic discrimination in our justice systems (and beyond). I originally wrote my “Valuing Diversity” value statement in 2002 — what follows is an updated version that reflects my current thinking. A key addition is an emphasis on “Inclusion” as the way to give true value and authenticity to diversity.
Valuing Diversity and Inclusion in 2020
Diversity is “otherness” – those human qualities which are different from our own and different from the groups to which we belong. Diversity has multiple dimensions. The primary dimensions we are most familiar with are those that are usually noticeable by others. These include characteristics like age, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. But these are not all. Other, important dimensions include education, geographic location, socio-economic status, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, and work experiences. Generally, diversity is the quality of being made of the many different elements, forms, kinds, or individuals that represent all of these dimensions. In a workplace context, diversity focuses on the representation of a variety of backgrounds, as well as approaches, perspectives, attitudes, and practices.
We live in an era of accelerating change in almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Valuing diversity helps us move beyond stereotypes and prejudices, to use our differences as assets. When we prize a wide variety of backgrounds, points of view, and skills, we not only create an environment of acceptance, respect, and open-mindedness, but also develop a superior capacity to craft alternative solutions.
Diversity in our court is critical to our success in meeting the challenges of the future. People are our most important resource, and when they are diverse, our collective differences strengthen the organization. The fact that clerk’s offices can be quite complex, both individually and organizationally, sometimes is regarded as an impediment to progress, yet that very complexity ensures a diversity that often contributes to the best approaches and solutions to challenges.
Diversity helps us recognize more easily the assumptions that can limit opportunities. Diversity increases the number of ideas. Without diversity we would all be alike, crippled in our ability to think of new solutions, even to the point of becoming stagnant. Diversity also reflects the society in which we live, and a diverse office thus strengthens the public’s perception of us as representative of the people we serve.
To truly cultivate diversity, we need to work to understand ourselves and what our differences are, then build on that knowledge. In recent years we have come to better understand that everyone has biases that inform our beliefs, attitudes, associations, and actions. Such biases may be explicit (conscious) or implicit (unconscious). Biases are often exhibited by stereotyping that results in discriminatory behavior, both intentional and unintentional. We must overcome our biases and foster an environment of acceptance of differences, where we do not prejudge and do not accept intolerant behavior.
But, achieving diversity without inclusion is a hollow victory. Inclusion is what makes diversity meaningful. It is not enough to have a diverse workforce — we must make sure that everyone is comfortable to express their ideas and viewpoints, ensuring we give everyone equal value and consideration. To do this we need always to solicit, involve, and listen to input from as wide a variety of people and functions as possible, and promote diversity as a key element of success in all we do.
Fundamentally, valuing diversity and inclusion requires us to have a deep respect for the differences that surround us, taking everyone seriously, caring about everyone’s needs and desires, and acting upon these principles in our daily work lives. Diversity and inclusion are the result of actively honoring the legitimacy of the basic principles of decency, respect, equality, and justice — where everyone lives free of discrimination to pursue their dreams.
Valuing diversity and inclusion strengthens our capacity to achieve other critical public service values: accessibility, effective communication, quality, teamwork and cooperation, and innovative practices. Valuing diversity and inclusion is fundamental to our providing excellent service and fulfilling the public’s trust in us as public servants.
This value statement challenged me then and now to do better professionally and personally and thus make the courts and our world better. I have learned that to make Diversity & Inclusion a reality, one must be aware and acknowledge the issue, understand its dimensions, honor the value of making positive changes, and take action. Now, I ask you to think about what you can do to increase Diversity & Inclusion in your personal and professional lives. In the next Vantage Point blog post I will explore actions that court administrators can take to make Diversity & Inclusion a reality in the administration of their courts.
Special thanks go to the diverse group of colleagues who provided me with extremely valuable insights and comments which went into updating this value statement. I recognize that I come from a privileged, white male point of view, and your help has helped me learn and grow. I hope I have met your expectations in this updated version.
Meanwhile, comments are always welcome – especially those that will improve this value statement and educate me further!