Breaking: Black Woman Angry About Something

Posted in Dumb Ideas Girls Have on January 25th, 2010 by bl1y

As you may already be aware, The Deep End on ABC aired to almost universally bad reviews.  But, Natalie Holder-Winfield, a “diversity lawyer” (whatever that means, I think she just tells you to hire blacks to avoid law suits) has managed to complain about the one thing the show got right: diversity.

“While I can toss out most of the show’s antics as hyperbole — for starters, no partner would allow a first year associate to go within 20 feet of a client–the show is 100% correct when it comes to life at a firm for blacks and Latinos. For the most part, we do not exist.

Scenes like the one where Dylan, the first year associate who is described as a Boy Scout, is tapped for mentorship, help explain why associates of color only account for 15% of law firm associates. Rowdy Kaiser, a partner who drives a smoking Porsche, actually appoints himself as Dylan’s “secret mentor.” And, he lives up to his promise. Behind the scenes, he coaches Dylan and even helps him to navigate a difficult case where the firm would have lost a potential client if Dylan made one false move.

However, there are rarely secret mentors for associates of color. Many of the associates of color I interviewed for my book, Recruiting & Retaining a Diverse Workforce: New Rules for a New Generation were treated like outsiders. They were not invited to social functions with partners and they certainly were not tapped for secret mentoring. Yet, study after study shows the importance of mentoring in any profession.

Now, technically, the show has two black people: Susan Oppenheim (a named partner in the firm) and Malcolm Bennet (a first year associate).

Yet, when Susan is introduced to Malcolm, she literally closes the door in his face. She disregards him and is more concerned with the firm’s politics, i.e., how he was hired, rather than eying him as her secret mentee.

The white associates in the show were given so much access and support. While they commiserated about the same old things that annoy all associates, they could at least dream about a future at the firm. They were a part of the firm.”

I can’t say for sure that I follow Ms. Holder-Winfield’s complaint.  Is it that the show doesn’t have enough black people, or that real law firms don’t?  Well, she can’t just be complaining about firms not having enough black people, because she otherwise wouldn’t need to talk so much about the show.  So, I guess her complaint is that the show is too accurate in this regard.

What’s worse about her complaint, aside from being confusing, is that she acknowledges that there are indeed black people working at the firm.  So far the show has 9 main characters, 3 partners, 5 associates, and 1 paralegal.  Of those 9, one partner and one associate are black.  I’ll let you do some thinking about what percentage of the United States is black.  Blacks are 12.4% of the population, but 22% of the people working at the firm; 25% of the attorneys.  They’re overrepresented by a factor of 100%!  And Holder-Winfield is complaining about discrimination by the firm?  What a jackass.

Just to make Holder-Winfield’s comments even more ridiculous is that she completely misrepresents how the white characters are treated:

Dylan (white) is intentionally given a start date 10 days late to put him into a reputational hole that he’ll now have to dig his way out of.

Addy (white) is given assignments by two different partners that, due to time constraints, cannot both be complete.  She is shut down when trying to explain this and is berated when she finds a solution by getting help from a fellow associate.

Beth (white) is talked down to by her lawyer-father for not being aggressive enough to survive in the legal world, and is then passive-aggressively taunted by a client when she allows her convictions to collapse.

Doesn’t really seem like the whites were given as much access and support as Holder-Winfield imagines they are.  Not only that, but law firms aren’t as all-white as she imagines.  At my firm there were 7 starting corporate associates.  3 were white, 3 were hispanic, and 1 was some sort of ambiguous Near-East/Indian blend.  One of the 3 white people was a French national, and I think counts for some diversity points.

But I digress.  What’s really obnoxious about Holder-Winfield is that she thinks partners ought to select their mentees based on race.  She wanted Susan to mentor Malcolm simply because they’re both black.  At that point in the show, Addy has been working for Susan and just proven herself to be very intelligent and capable.  Susan selects her to second chair an important trial.  So, it looks like Susan has just chosen a mentor based on the content of her character, but Holder-Winfield wants Susan to throw that away and choose Malcolm based solely on the color of his skin.

Ms. Holder-Winfield, you are what is wrong with this country.  And, just to counteract how incredibly wrong you are, here’s something that’s incredibly right (though so very far from earning diversity points):

BlaireBlaire

PS: Malcolm already has a partner in his corner.  One of the (white) partners goes against established firm hiring procedures to bring in a hand-selected associate.  I guess he technically doesn’t have a secret mentor, but isn’t a public mentor, going to bat for you on your very first day of work a whole lot better?

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