By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Law firms and legal departments continue to lag behind when it comes to racial diversity. Based on several indicators, the legal profession is still among the least ethnically and racially diverse professions in the United States. Those who do the hiring in legal fields are well aware of this gap and doing what they can to close it. The reasons I most often hear for increasing diversity in the fields of law come down to client expectations and a general sense of ethical responsibility. Both are obviously well worth paying attention to, but social science points toward an even better reason for seeking to build a legal team with greater racial diversity: That team will be a better and a more effective team.
We have written before on the tendency for teams with greater racial diversity to do better on tasks because they're more likely to avoid groupthink. Because they are talking across subcultural lines, they make fewer assumptions and more fully vet their reasons and their options. That diversity advantage applies to juries and to legal teams as well. But a new story from NPR's social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, points to another advantage as well, extending beyond small group decision making. Noting an unusual recent finding (Ananat, Fu, & Ross, 2013) that racial wage gaps are actually wider in bigger cities than they are in rural areas, the story discusses the ways lower levels of diversity may be impacting companies' bottom lines. The article ends with the intriguing suggestion from lead researcher Elizabeth Ananat that "code-switchers," or "people adept at talking across differences and who relate well to those from other groups" are likely to provide a business development advantage to the company. This post looks at why that would be true based on the research, and adds a note on why code-switchers are likely to be better persuaders as well.