Diversity and inclusion expert Sheri Crosby Wheeler and host Jill Francisco walk through what differentiates diversity and inclusion. Listeners learn how to take advantage of opportunities to be influencers and how to be effective allies for those whose voices are being overlooked or drowned out.
Wheeler shares what young professionals and their employers should be looking for to make the right career choice and be sure they’re creating an inviting, inclusive culture.
What’s coming in 2021? Wheeler predicts an emphasis and microscope on written and unwritten policies that create barriers to diversity. She also explains why firms and companies will need to pay attention to new platforms grading employers on diversity and inclusion.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler is VP, Corporate Social Responsibility for Mr. Cooper.
The Paralegal Voice
Stand Up, Speak Up
Jill I. Francisco: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining me for another exciting and informative episode of the Paralegal Voice on the Legal Talk Network. I’m Jill Francisco, an advanced certified paralegal, past president of NALA, the paralegal association, and your host of this episode of the Paralegal Voice. I have over 22 years of paralegal experience and I am so excited to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for the paralegal profession with you. We have a wonderful guest for today’s show. But before we welcome her, we’d like to thank our sponsors.
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So, I am so very excited today to have Sheri Crosby Wheeler as my guest today. Sheri is the VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at Mr. Cooper. Mr. Cooper is the largest non-bank mortgage servicer in the country. In this position, she is primarily responsible for diversity and inclusion strategies and integration for the entire company. She also works on government relations and state and community relations. Sheri is going to be discussing ways for you to become involved and move diversity, equity, and inclusion forward at your organization. She is going to be giving us some very valuable tips today that you don’t want to miss.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Hi, everybody. It’s so great to be here with you all today and just sharing a little bit about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I guess I will start with telling you a little bit more about me and my background. So, I am a — some people say, “Oh, they’re a recovering lawyer.” I’m not a recovering lawyer. I still am licensed to practice in Texas. I have not let that law license go and although I am in the corporate realm, I still keep one foot firmly grounded in the legal realm. I still keep up those networks, I still talk to colleagues, I still volunteer, I still speak with groups of legal professionals like I am getting a chance to speak with you all today. So, I am super excited to be here and to just talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It’s also what I do day in and day out, diversity, equity, and inclusion, so excited.
Jill I. Francisco: Thank you so much. And like I said, I’m really — I think it’s interesting to our listeners because they wouldn’t know, I guess, that you are an attorney. And so, like I said, you’re deeply connected and familiar and still keep that connection with the legal field. So, although this is for paralegals, all legal professionals really, we have a lot of positions and things, but we will focus — I like to focus on the law office and the environment that most paralegals and other legal professionals work in.
So, personally, I love this topic too, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m super excited to have you on today. I hear people talking a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and there’s a lot of different definitions that are always flying around and are they the same, are they different. I mean, please give our listeners, if you can, just a little bit of insight on those terms and the definitions that we should be familiar with.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah. So, here’s the thing, a lot of times when people hear the word “diversity”, I think everyone has a picture that forms in their mind about what they think that means, what they think that is, and I want to maybe — this might be new to some people or it might be a refresh, but in the diversity, equity, and inclusion realm, all three of those are separate topics, and you might be surprised to know. So, diversity, what we hear about, it is representation. It’s the factual pieces of who we are, what makes each of us unique.
And there’s all these different dimensions of diversity. All these different slices, if you will, of a person that makes them unique. Now, a lot of times, you’ll hear people think about diversity and just think race and gender, and it’s more than that. It’s more than race and gender, it’s sexual orientation, it’s physical and mental abilities, it’s your background. Were you in the military, are you married, do you have children, what’s your socioeconomic status, what is your religion, did you grow up in a rural area or an urban area, where are you now. Like all the different unique things that make you who you are, that contributes to your diversity.
And so, I think sometimes when people hear diversity, they’ll think, “Well, I’m –” some people will think, “I’m not a part of that. I’m not diverse,” and it’s like, “Yeah, you do have different things that make you diverse.” Now, what I will say is there’s certain aspects of diversity that we focus on more and I like to also — if you can put in your mind an iceberg. Think about an iceberg. There’s a part that’s sticking up above the water line and then there’s all this bigger part that’s below the water line. So, above the water line are the things of the diversity aspects that you can see, so you can see — well, you can’t see people on the podcast, but if you look me up, you can see that I’m an African-American woman. I am just turned 21. Look it up, it’s true.
Jill I. Francisco: exactly. I’ll vouch for that.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Exactly. You can see those things about me. But then, there’s all these things below the water line — remember all those things I was talking about whether or not I’m married, whether or not I have children, whether or not I was in the military, what my work background has been, what my level is at my company, those are things that are below the water line. There are also things that make you diverse, but you can’t see them. The only way you know about those is if you get to know someone, if you talk to them, if you ask them questions, or if they share that information with you. That’s how you know about that. So, the things that we see, they’re more visible, and that’s one of the reasons for that focus on diversity, the visible dimensions of diversity.
But another reason for that focus is that we know historically, there has been excuse in the workplace. In legal workplaces, in law firms, there still is unfortunately. And we know that we need to work on some of those dimensions of diversity to make it more fair, to make it more equitable for everyone. That’s why you hear about certain ones so much more because people are working on it, but there are all these different dimensions of diversity that make each and every one of us a diverse individual.
And so, then when you go to the next word, “inclusion”. So, remember diversity is a fact, it’s all these different factual unique things about you. When you go to inclusion, that is an action, so you can’t just sit back and be like, “Yes, I’m inclusive,” and you’re just sitting there. It takes action, like you have to do something to make someone feel included.
Now, here’s what can happen and I’ll bring in one more word, but you take an action to make someone feel included and we all know what that means, you go into — a brand-new employee comes in, a brand-new paralegal comes in to work, and they may not be on your team, do you make them feel included? Do you go up and you speak to them and, “Hey, how you doing? I’m Sheri, what’s your name? Welcome. We’re so glad you’re here.” That is an act of inclusion to make them feel a part of the organization, a part of what is going on. You have to do something. Now, you make a choice about inclusion. You can just sit back and let it ride, or you can go and you can actually do something physical as it pertains to —
Jill I. Francisco: Action.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah, it’s action. And then equity. And this one, you hear it a lot in the diversity room. Equity is giving people the support that they need to excel in a workplace. And we’re talking about a workplace, but you could also talk about society. Different people need different things to experience the world the same way or to experience a workplace the same way. So, for instance, having equity in a law firm, there may be a paralegal that has small children right now and we know what we’re going through, we know that it’s harder on those that have small children, so maybe their managing partner that they work with should take that into account, allow their schedule to be a little more flexible during this time. Now, everybody doesn’t need that, so everybody doesn’t necessarily need that support because maybe their children are older. Maybe they don’t have children, so they won’t need the same type of support.
So, equity, that’s what equity is, making sure that people get the support that they need. I was going to bring in belonging, but I’ll stop right there. You’ll have to reach out to me if you want to know about belonging.
Jill I. Francisco: Well, and I just want to say how many times — I mean, that clears up so much confusion, I think, for our listeners and makes it so easy to understand and I think you separated what’s what.
And I mean, how many times have, like you said, a new employee comes in and you come up to them and you welcome, like you were saying, use your action, make them feel included. And then, time goes on and maybe they’re late. Maybe they’re late every day, and so then you’re like giving them the side-eye and wondering like, “Why is this person late?” And then like you said, possibly dig deeper, maybe they have small children, maybe there’s some kind of situation that they have — even a health disability or something they have to deal with is making late for work, and it’s like you’re quick to make those judgments sometimes. And like you said, if you don’t get to know the person if you don’t reach out to them, you can make judgments about their work product, like you think they’re not a hard worker, you think they’re not doing their weight. And then here, it’s just — it’s something that’s totally acceptable. We all have different things, we all have different reasons that if you just take the time and, like you said, the action and get into that, that you get to know somebody and then here — maybe they’re trying above and beyond to just, like you said, get equal and to do their part.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Right.
Jill I. Francisco: But here, they have a challenge that they’re faced with and you wouldn’t know that without reaching out. So, I think that’s a great thing that you talked about that you do make a choice. You do make a choice, and you make a choice to reach out, get to know that person, make them feel welcome, get to know them, share your background, learn their background, it’s all a two-way street. So, I think that really clears up a lot of that confusion. So, Sheri, before we get into some more points on our conclusion, we need to move and take a little quick commercial break, so we’ll be right back.
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Jill I. Francisco: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. I’m Jill Francisco, and my guest today is Sheri Crosby Wheeler. And today, we were just starting to really get into the meat of our discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion and we’re going to start talking about what you can do to move it forward in your place of employment or organization. So, the one thing I did want to say just to kind of just wrap up what we were talking about, Sheri, is I work for Dinsmore & Shohl, so obviously, a national law firm. And I think we have a really good DE&I program and overall environment. I think they really are being purposeful and trying to do some of those strategies and value diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I’m proud to work at a place like that. I mean, it means something to me, it makes — I give them extra points, so to speak. There’s so many things that people look for nowadays in an employer and I feel like that’s something that I look for, I want that environment. I mean, obviously for myself, but for others, like it’s important to me that that’s there for others. And I think it’s also important that I feel that I see that they’re doing actions, not just speaking about it or, let’s say, posting on their website.
So, anyway, that leads me into my next question that I wanted to talk to you about. I mean, I know you have so many great ideas, so could you please give our listeners some really specific things that they can do within their employment, their place of employment, their organization, like you were saying, or just out in society to advance diversity and inclusion.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to touch real quickly on that last topic about inclusion. If you’re — remember how you said it’s a choice?
Jill I. Francisco: Yup.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: If you’re not purposefully including and making those steps to include, you may be accidentally excluding. And we all know how that feels. And so, think about that when you have the chance and the opportunity to take those steps towards inclusion. Because if you decide not to, you could be excluding someone and you may not want to do that, but that’s what’s happening. So as far as some concrete actions that paralegals can take in their workplaces, the first thing I want to say –
So, the way that we approach diversity, equity, and inclusion, it happens on two different levels: Practitioners working in a space, there’s the individual level, what individuals can do and then you have the systemic level, that’s what the whole organization can do, and that means policies, practices, procedures things that are in place so you can work on it from two different levels. So, I’ll touch on a couple of things. So, we already touched on one thing as far as individually, that was like one — there’s so many things you can do to advance it in your workplace. If you are a paralegal that has hiring responsibilities and capabilities, you have tremendous power to impact diversity and inclusion at your organization if you have that.
Jill I. Francisco: Yeah, varied opportunity.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: You are able to make sure that the process is fair. You are able to make sure that as many people — like cast that net wide and make sure that you can get as many different types of people to the table because that’s going to make your organizations better so you can have a diverse slate, if you will. Say, we want to make sure that the slate of candidates that we’re looking at is very diverse. It’s not all the same. It’s not all black women. I mean, I’m going to use myself, that’s not diversity. And some people think, “Oh, it’s black women, so it’s diversity.” No, it’s not. If every woman on there is a black woman, that’s not diversity because remember what we talked about. So, you want to have that slate — if you have the power to do this, try to have as diverse slate as you can, how can you do that and make sure again going back to the process being fair? There’s technologies out there, but you can also do this without technology. Have someone else gather the resumes and strip those resumes of things that would clue you in to bias. Take off names, take off dates of graduating from college, which can clue in to age, our age bias. Take off maybe even where they worked before because does that matter as much as what they did?
Jill I. Francisco: True.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Take that off, take off schools — sometimes people will be like, “Oh, this person went to Harvard.” Okay, that’s all well and good, but then you could have a bias towards that. So, you just want to know, do they have the requisite requirements, certificates, degrees or whatever it is the job requires?
Jill I. Francisco: Or skills, yup.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Strip all of that off in that first pass. In that very first pass, let them give it to you and you’re — and this is another strategy you can use, slate of interviewers like not just one interviewer, have multiple perspectives that are looking at the process who are putting their input in there. I know some companies do this already, some law firms do this already, but if you don’t, you should. And in that first pass, look at just the skills, look at the skills of this person, what have they done, does it meet the objective criteria of what you need for the role? And then obviously, at some point when you meet them or you see them on Zoom, you will learn some things about them. You’ll see some visible dimensions of diversity. But through that first cut, you had an opportunity to cast the net so wide and to mitigate any bias that you might have. So, that’s something that you can do, especially if you have hiring responsibilities.
Another thing that you can do that’s concrete, maybe if you don’t have hiring responsibilities, maybe if you’re in an organization that’s not like Jill’s organization that’s already on the road that they’re moving forward, your organization may be a little earlier on in their journey. So, what you can do is reach out and pay attention to who else in the organization may be a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion and get together with that person and talk about, okay, here’s what I think that we can do better here, not saying just go straight to the top to the manager, partner right off the bat, unless you have that relationship, you might. And so, if you do, that’s great. But if not —
Jill I. Francisco: Sometimes you got to get your ducks in a row.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Right, right. If not, then get some people together with you who are like-minded and say, “Here’s what we would like to start here.” It doesn’t have to be anything big, some huge splash, just get started on whatever it is whether it be affinity groups, some companies call them affinity groups, we call them employee resource teams just to get started with one, but it takes that one voice. And if you don’t feel comfortable just all on your own going to the powers that be, grab a couple of other people that are like-minded and you can listen, you can find out, you know who they are. Find them, link arms together and then work together to start building things. So, that’s another concrete thing I would say.
Another thing I would say is start learning, learning as much as you can because your knowledge — when you have the opportunity to share your knowledge you are influencing people around you.
You are, believe it or not, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s moving as quickly as you would like, when you learn knowledge — like everybody who’s listening to this podcast today you all are learning and then you can take that back, you can start sharing it just dropping little nuggets here and there. That’s another thing you can do. So, it doesn’t necessarily change will not happen quickly, it takes time. But believe you me, if you are sharing your knowledge, you are affecting change, and that’s powerful. And so, I would encourage everyone on this podcast to think about that and think about the power that you have to affect change. I’ll stop right there because I don’t want to go too long or I could just keep going.
Jill I. Francisco: Well, there’s — you’re right, you could keep going because there are so many things, and I think one of the messages that I’d like — our listeners to take away and I know it’s what you’re saying is you don’t have to have anything. Like you said, you don’t have to do all the job today, you can start out and just be thinking to yourself and then kind of gathering some ideas to yourself and then you’re thinking, “Okay, well –” I think that this person, like you said, you reach out, you learn about your co-workers, you’re like, “I think this person might be interested in what I’m interested in, so let’s collaborate.” And then you kind of get — and then that expands to more ideas. And it just kind of I think I mean snowballs into so many things and here, you thought to yourself, “I can’t do anything. I can’t make a difference.”
Because I think I remember when I listened to your presentation that you did for NALA, your awesome webcast, I remember talking to Carla and talking to you about like well, I feel like I don’t have that power to hire, so what can I do? And it’s like you can still encourage. And like I’m trying to encourage our firm right now to have a board of paralegals be involved in hiring new paralegals because then I can talk about, like not only skills that I think are essential to paralegals and to be successful, but also encourage diversity, like encourage them to not have us all the same. Like you said, not just by race, not just by — but everything, background and so many other things like don’t — because honestly, I think that — and I hope law firms are going this way, but I think they realize that’s not how the client gets the best service. You have all the same people in the same room with the same thinking and the same ideas, that’s not going to be the best work and services that they’re going to get because all the clients aren’t the same. I mean, everybody — they’re all — it might be a client that has a bunch of offices all over and they don’t just want one little perspective or one little — cornered when you have the same like-minded individuals doing stuff —
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: I need to be interviewing you for this podcast because you are dropping knowledge.
Jill I. Francisco: Thank you.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: But you are right, you are absolutely right.
Jill I. Francisco: Thank you, thank you. Well, it’s just how — like I said, it is very important to me and it’s how I see it, and I just think that you can do small things and they add up to be big things before you know it. I mean, I’m always surprised when I think, gosh, I didn’t think this was going to work and then, bam, and there you are. Okay, so we got that and I think we’re getting some valuable information. We got to take another little break to do a commercial, so we’ll be right back.
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Jill I. Francisco: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. I’m Jill Francisco, and my guest today is Sheri Crosby Wheeler. And we were just talking about and kind of wrapping up our — we were having a great discussion on what you can do in your organization, your place of employment, I feel like I want to include like Sheri does, it’s society to just move these initiatives of diversity, equity, and inclusion forward.
So, the next thing that I want to talk about is very — like, Sheri, you were saying things that this is near and dear. It’s very near and dear to me. This is something I’ve strived to do. Even before, I feel like there was a term for it or at least before I knew there was a term for it is allyship.
And being an ally, I love it when somebody tells me that they appreciate me doing that, like seriously it’s one of the biggest compliments to me because sometimes I feel like, “Am I doing — am I doing it right?” I mean, you love when you think about that like, “Am I doing this right? Am I making a difference? Am I doing what I intend to do?” And so, when somebody tells me that I feel like, “Okay, I am.” It’s like, “Yes, I’m doing it.” So, basically, what does allyship really mean and how does it look in the workplace? How can we relate that into our workplace?
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: So, that’s so interesting that you say that, Jill, about when people come to you and say, “Hey, we appreciate you and appreciate what you’re doing.” Because that’s one of the hallmarks of allyship. It’s not something necessarily that we, as allies, to different communities that we get to say — I mean, we do say it, but when it really resonates and hits home, we’ll say, “I’m an ally.”
Jill I. Francisco: Yeah.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: But when somebody comes to you and they point out to you that they see you as an ally to their community because of what you have done, then you know now you’re cooking with grease like for real —
Jill I. Francisco: Yes, yes.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: — because they’re seeing your works. And allyship is about more than just a statement or a title, it’s about action, going back to that action. Just like inclusion is about action, so is allyship. Not only is it action, it’s continuous action. It’s on and on. So, you have sometimes people are like, “I’m an ally,” and they’ll pop up and then you won’t see them anymore like, “What happened to ally?” But somebody who continuously is stepping in and standing with a community of people, that’s an ally. Some people are lifelong allies, some people are allies for a sustained period of time, you know, years. They’re just really going in there, but they have that sustained continuous action when they’re being an ally. And when they know it is when the community that you’re trying to help, when they tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, good job,” that’s when you know you’re really, really doing it.
And so, I mean allyship, another thing to remember about it is that yes, it can take effort, it can take work, but guess what, you just stand alongside those that you’re trying to help and you say, “Hey, how can I help you? How can I be in support? How can I be with you?” The ally is not out in the front, the ally not all the way to the back, the allies standing shoulder to shoulder.
Jill I. Francisco: Yes.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: And sometimes, an ally can speak up in ways and in spaces and in places to different groups of people, they can speak up in a way that the person they’re trying to help can’t. They don’t have as much risk when they speak up. When they say, “Hey, wait.” That’s not right or, “No, let’s think about this,” versus if the person that’s in the group that you’re allied with says it, it may not be received the same. So, there is tremendous power and I say a privilege in allyship when you do it — when you step in and you say, “You know what, I want to help out, and what can I do? Tell me what I can do.” I’m going to go over here and I’m going to learn, that’s another thing allies do. I’m going to learn for myself. I have some ideas. Now, what can I do? Are any of these ideas good? Tell me how I can help you. And if you’re the type of person which I think, Jill, I don’t know you well-well, but I think I’m seeing from you that you’re the type of person that likes to help people.
Jill I. Francisco: Yes, for sure.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: So, it’s easy for us to slip into that allyship role because we’re like, “What can we do? How can we help? We want to help.” And so, if you’re a type of person like that, which a lot of people are, being an ally, you can get into that role. And so, in the workplace, here’s what it looks like in the workplace, you’re sitting in a meeting, maybe you all are — if you’re a paralegal, that’s a litigation paralegal, you all are having this case meeting, you have a colleague, another paralegal that works, on the case, somebody — the lawyers are talking, they cut that paralegal off whenever they’re speaking. You can be an ally to that person. You can — and maybe they are in a marginalized group. Maybe it’s a male attorney that cuts off a woman attorney. You can say, “Hey, I think that, Jill, still had something to say. She was still speaking.” That’s allyship too. Again going back to it, it doesn’t have to be big and grandiose and — I gave a million dollars like it doesn’t have to be that.
Jill I. Francisco: No.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: It can be stepping in into spaces and doing something as simple as that, that’s allyship. Speaking up and giving credit where credit is due. Whenever you see that maybe someone is taking someone else’s credit or you see that that person may be more reserved and they won’t speak up for themselves. When you step in and say, “You know what, actually, it was John that wrote this brief. It wasn’t me. I wrote this brief that helped us win or whatever. I drafted the first draft of it.” That’s allyship.
Jill I. Francisco: Yup.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Even something as simple as that. And it’s just something — I just want to remind everybody it’s not something to be taken lightly. If you’re going to be an ally to a group of people —
Jill I. Francisco: You need to be committed.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: You need to be committed. And nobody is saying you have to. But if you’re going to do it, then do it right. Be committed, be all in.
Jill I. Francisco: Yes.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: And I tell you it will — it’s kind of like giving.
Jill I. Francisco: For sure.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Just general, when you give — the person that’s giving to me, I give just — I receive just as much when I’m giving. And so, being an ally, you’re helping, but I think you get just as much from helping and being that ally as you do from stepping into that space and helping another group.
Jill I. Francisco: I totally agree with that and I love how like — clearly, we connected. I know how awesome you are and wanted to share all your knowledge, but I love how we’re connecting on these points. I’m not playing, I’m not playing. Just like you said, we’re just feeling it. Because I want to tell you and the listeners a little story about when I really wanted to start the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative for NALA and get that moving, of course I went to someone, because that’s what you do, you think, “Okay, this is what I want to do, but I’m not going to be able to do it myself, and as you know, that’s not how it works on a board of directors anyway no matter if you are the boss. But I’ll never forget in a downtime I went to this person and I talked about what I wanted to do and I talked about why and I even questioned like, “Why hasn’t this been done before?” Like, “Why didn’t –?” Past leaders do it because there seemed to me there was opportunity that they could have and it resonated with what you just said that this person said to me because was of a class, was of a different race, and said, “Jill –” and she knew me. I mean, she knew me well like you just said, but she said, “Jill, I cannot tell you how this will be coming from you as compared to if it was coming from me or the others that I thought should have started it.” She talked about people judge you and think you have a hidden agenda because you’re in a class or you’re of a certain type or you’re of — so, then they think, well, they’re just doing it because that’s what they are and they want to do it.
And so, then coming from me, it’s like, “Oh, well –” and she said, “The power that you will have and the influence that you will have –” and I love that, but I’ll be honest with you, I wish you could say, I’m getting goosebumps. I’ll be honest with you, it hurt me. It hurt my feelings.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah.
Jill I. Francisco: Because she was telling me this. I mean, because clearly, I know that things are like that in this world, but it hurts when — I’m like, “Oh, no, because you’re awesome.” And you could get it done and you could do it, and it’s like she just knew, that’s reality, that she just was like it was not going to work. Coming from you though, you can get it done. And so, when you said that when people tell me that and when people say stuff like that, that is why I’m doing this today, that’s why I want you on my podcast. It’s why I’ve done things before is because it’s very important and it’s not personal. It changes things and it makes you feel, like I said, you get the feeling of giving and of being helpful and being kind. You get some of those being charitable, all those things to me resonate when you’re talking about doing this.
And sometimes I think — like at first, I didn’t really even make that connection. You don’t really until you really dig deep and you get, like you said, those responses from people. You’re like, “Oh, wow,” and I mean, it meant so much like I thought I was just like doing a good thing because it was the right thing to do. I mean, I’ll be honest with you I don’t know why people didn’t think it was the right thing to do, but I thought it was the right thing to do. You know what I’m saying? So, I was like I got —
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Whole other pack, yes.
Jill I. Francisco: That’s right. I got to get this going and it was — I was just doing what I thought was right and here, it meant so much more and on another level to somebody that, like you said, was in that certain group, was in that certain class, was having the struggles and couldn’t do with themselves. When you step up and you step to those people and you understand, it’s amazing. That’s all I can say.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah, it just involves so much more risk on their part.
Jill I. Francisco: Yes.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: And so, for you to step in and not that it wasn’t a risk for you, but maybe a little bit less.
Jill I. Francisco: Yes, I’m with you. And so, I really like that we connect on that because it shows what you’re saying is — I mean, it’s real-life examples. I’m definitely with you so.
So, lastly, I’m sad that we’re going to have to wrap it up, but I want the listeners because thank goodness, that we got year 2021. I mean good lordy. We’re in the downhill thing here that we got another year 2021 is coming on the horizon for a brand-new, better, can I say it again, better —
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Hopefully.
Jill I. Francisco: — year. What do you think will be some of the important issues on diversity and inclusion in 2021?
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: I think one of the main things — remember how I alluded to systemic and individual interventions?
Jill I. Francisco: Yeah.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: I think a lot of law firms and companies are focusing on that systemic piece of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They’re understanding that to make –you’re working on both pieces, but a lot of times, we’ve been working on the individual. And now you really have to get — if you want to see change, real change, you’re going to have to get into the systemic. And I know that word right now is a little late and some people are like, “Systemic, oh.” They don’t believe it. But again, systemic is policies, practices, procedures, unwritten policies, written policies. Taking a look at those, and there’s organizations that if you’re really serious about this and there are a lot of organizations that are, they’re going to be taking a look at how they operate and what they’re doing so that they can make their law firms more equitable, make their law firms more representative of the clients.
You said something, I mean, you are right. How can you serve your clients well if you don’t have as much thought — all the different thoughts coming in there? Somebody might have a super outstanding thought and they’re not even at the table. And so, that is important to clients, for law firm clients. And I think law firms, they’ve been thinking about it and I think it’s still going to be in their mind in 2021 and you’re going to see more focus on that systemic work.
I think you’ll still see the focus on representation and trying to increase it. In particular, you’ll have with respect to — I know in the paralegal ranks, going back to when we did our presentation for NALA that the paralegal ranks are not as diverse when you’re looking at gender as it could be. So, that’s like, well, I mean —
Jill I. Francisco: We do need some men.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Right. Is that something to work on. Some of the best paralegals I worked with, there were some gentlemen. There were only a handful of them, and I was like, “Where are you?” They were good though, but there were only a handful of them. So, that’s something that could be worked on and that’s a representation piece in the paralegal profession. In law firms, all up and down, they have gender work to do, they have race work to do, they have differing abilities work in that space to do just — there’s a lot, so there’s going to be that continued focus on representation.
I think another thing that’s going to start happening is you’re going to see — because I know there are some platforms out there right now, so you have like glass door that you can go on and you can say, “This is what’s going on with my company.” And there’s this rise of new platforms that will start to grade employers on their diversity, equity, and inclusion work and we haven’t really seen that before. And now they’re coming in right at this time when there’s a lot of focus.
And so, some employers are going to have a light shined on what’s shown on what they’re doing and they’re going to be like, “Well, wait a minute,” because there’s all these —
Jill I. Francisco: I wasn’t ready.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah, there’s all these technology platforms that are coming onboard right now and I think that’s the next — that’s some of the next wave that I think law firms and corporations should get ready for. If you’re not already thinking about it like, “Okay, we’re going to be graded on some of this externally.” Like people are really looking, we can’t just keep it to ourselves anymore. We’re going to have to work on it and it’s going to have to be something that’s real substantial, not just we put it on our website and we’re not doing anything else.
Jill I. Francisco: No, I agree with you and I think too it may even play into nowadays competitive like when you’re looking to go somewhere. I mean, especially you’re out of law school and you’re like thinking about where you want to go. It’s like looking at — I think that’s what people are going to start looking at because you can only — insurance, time off, pay holidays, all that stuff only goes so far.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Right.
Jill I. Francisco: I think companies are offering more and more things and I think this is a place. And one thing I love that Dinsmore does, we have a chair of course of the — like you were calling, the affinity committee and stuff and they’ll have quotes so that he’ll circulate things. And the one thing that I love, it’s like he talks about how it’s really changed the culture of the firm and it’s not just — you’re not just talking the talk, you’re walking the walk, and it really is making a difference because they can see the people that are coming and wanting to work there.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah. And let me tell you, I still talk to law school students. I mentor them and I told them the ones that are interviewing, I’m like, “Ask them. Ask them what they’re doing in this space, look at the law firm, see how the people who are interviewing you, answer the questions.”
I mean, because, especially if they have multiple places they could go, if they’re really good students, then this might be something that makes the difference and the talent that you bring in. So, I’ve been telling them, “Hey, ask them the questions. You’re interviewing the law firm too.”
Jill I. Francisco: That’s right it works both ways. And like I said, you can tell by the people that are coming that want to work there and then also, they feel welcome. I mean, that’s why they’re wanting to work there is because that’s already been projected. The firm is already changing the culture, changing and projecting that culture. And also, on the other side, what they’re doing, but what they’re not going to be tolerating, what’s not going to be tolerated, and what they’re not going to be promoting. It’s really interesting I think where we’re headed and I all the things that you said that’s coming up because on the horizon for 2021, I think I love that. I had not heard that about the grading. You know how it is every time somebody steps up and there’s going to be grading, as soon as you get that rating on Google, you’re —
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah. I’m telling you, it’s happening.
Jill I. Francisco: It makes a big difference. It makes a big difference.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Yeah.
Jill I. Francisco: Well, that’s all the time that we have for this episode. Sheri, thank you so very much —
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Thank you.
Jill I. Francisco: —for being my guest today. I mean, you discussed so much valuable information and I love how you gave some little teasers that people can reach out if they would like some more information. Because let me tell you, folks, I know that Sheri is full of very useful information on this subject and many others, I’m sure. But if the listeners would like to get some more information, follow-up, get in touch with you, what is the best way that they can contact you?
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: I’m an avid super user of LinkedIn, so that’s how you can reach me.
Jill I. Francisco: Wonderful.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: I check it every day and I would also say too if you’re in a law firm that has like Jill’s law firm already has diversity things happening, get involved. And if you’re at one that doesn’t, start to think about how you can get it going. If you’re at a law firm that has a chief diversity officer or a partner that works on diversity and inclusion or a head paralegal or whatever the case may be, start to talk to them and get involved, raise your hand and get involved. I promise you your effort will be worth it because you are making the workplace a better place, you’re making your law firm a better place, you’re making the world a better place. And I’m not saying it’s not — that’s not something cheesy, that’s true, you are.
Jill I. Francisco: No, that is.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: So, get involved.
Jill I. Francisco: Thank you so much. That’s great advice and like I said, thank you so very much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. And I make my little list of people that — so, I’ll be bothering you again.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Any time.
Jill I. Francisco: I am sure, I am sure. So, thank you so much again.
Sheri Crosby Wheeler: Thank you, Jill.
Jill I. Francisco: And thank you so much for all our listeners who tuned in today. If you have any questions or comments for me, please contact me at [email protected]. I hope you will join me for our next episode. I’m Jill Francisco for the Paralegal Voice signing off