When Workplace Diversity Becomes a Trade Secret We All Lose

Portrait of a businessman holding a mask in front of his face with his colleagues standing alongside him in an office
In order to be competitive, companies are trying to claim ownership of their approach to diversity and inclusion, especially in recruiting.

IBM is suing Microsoft for hiring its former chief diversity officer, according to a recent Seattle Times story. It’s a move that has some employment lawyers puzzled; non-compete agreements usually aren’t enforced over positions not tied to a company’s core product or business. As the WSBA’s Diversity and Inclusion specialist, I find it interesting to think about the idea of “IBM’s diversity trade secrets” and how the market intersects with the values and goals of diversity. In order to be competitive, companies are trying to claim ownership of their approach to diversity and inclusion, especially in recruiting.

Judging from my own experience, much of the legal community seems to be willing to think of diversity, inclusion, and equity as a collective goal that advances the profession — and the public — as a whole. They seem eager for transparency and to share best practices. Here at the WSBA, we regularly put on free Legal Lunchbox CLEs and Beyond the Dialogue town-hall events to discuss, with humility and transparency, the challenges that face the legal field and to share strategies that various legal entities are successfully using. And it doesn’t stop at us.

The Race Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI) invites legal and community organizations to sign on to a commitment to racial equity in the law; then it provides resources and support to those who are interested in furthering these efforts. Minority Bar Associations often partner together to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts without competition or fear of losing diverse talent to different firms or organizations.

I feel lucky to be part of a field and state where there are so many opportunities to work cooperatively towards this common goal. Thank goodness, as there is no shortage of work to do!