On February 1st, 2022, the first day of Black History Month, former Miami Dolphins head coach, Brian Flores, filed a class-action suit against the Miami Dolphins and the National Football League (NFL), alleging racial discrimination in its hiring and firing process. Examples of the alleged racial discrimination include: a “sham interview” with the New York Giants to comply with the Rooney Rule, a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Flores was fired by the Dolphins after leading the team to its first back-to-winning seasons since 2003. The basis of his termination was alleged poor collaboration. Flores refuted this claim and said he was fired because he refused his owner’s directive to purposely lose to receive the first pick in the NFL draft. The lawsuit by Flores could jeopardize his opportunities to become a head coach in the NFL again. The media have pointed to the similarities between Flore’s actions and the protest of Colin Kaepernick who never played in the NFL again after he kneeled during the national anthem at the start of NFL games in protest of police brutality and racial inequality in the United States.
Those close to Brian Flores say his lawsuit against the NFL is in keeping with the sense of moral rectitude he learned from his mother. Dino Mangiero who has known Flores for many years and was his high school coach at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn said that “Flores has long had a finely honed sense of moral purpose.” Mangiero described Flores as “serious as a heart attack” and “a man of principle who, if he feels something’s not right, he’s not going to stand for it.” Ron Rivera, one of the league’s five current minority coaches stated, “First of all, I think what Brian is doing is courageous and it really truly is bringing everything to the forefront and to the light.” Personally, Brian Flores’ courage has helped me come forward to share a story in which I had an opportunity to speak up against an injustice of equity I experienced in my career. I was presented with a platform with the right person in my organization and apprehensively chose not to speak up. As we strive to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession, my Black History Month protest is to boycott silence. Like Brian Flores, let us have the moral rectitude and courage to speak up for equity to ensure there is a proportional representation of opportunities for everyone.
February 26, 2021, I attended the first-ever Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals (PLLIP)/Black Law Librarians (BLL-SIS) Special Interest Section (SIS) Diversity Summit. Our keynote speaker Michelle Silverthorn, best-selling author, keynote speaker, and Founder & CEO of Inclusion Nation, delivered a keynote speech and worked with participants in an interactive workshop to “identify the challenges to equity and inclusion in our own workplaces and communities, including racism, bias, and the persistent belief that “I don’t see color and I don’t see race” and help us “design solutions to the challenges we see to get us all started on implementing real, sustainable change for good.” In the workshop she asked a simple question, “What is your ‘why’?” To help participants develop our “why” she asked us to choose a diversity, equity, or inclusion-related challenge and do the Five Whys exercise, a repetitive questioning method used to explore cause-and-effect relationships. She stated our goal was to “determine the root cause of a problem by repeating the questions ’Why?’ and using the answer to form the source of the next question.” She provided this challenge as an example.
Challenge: There is a lack of Black representation in senior roles.
Why? Because we do not have experienced Black employees.
Why? Because there is a high level of attrition of Black employees.
Why? Because Black employees are not receiving access to quality work.
Why? Because there is no structured assignment system in place.
Why? Because of managers’ preference for working with the people they want to work with.
This challenge resonated so much with me because of similar circumstances I experienced in my career. In my scenario, I sent a memo to my manager, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), and the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) to request a promotion and compensation adjustment. In the memo, I requested a meeting to discuss my proposal. I also provided support on why I should be promoted, and my compensation adjusted. Due to unforeseen circumstances the previous year, staff did not receive raises or promotions. My manager had shared that the organization was going to do promotions at the beginning of the following year, and he was going to recommend me for a promotion. At the beginning of January, promotions came out and my name was not on the list. There were managers from other departments that had been at the organization the same amount of time as me. Those managers were promoted to director. The circumstances prompted me to write the memo to my manager, the leadership of my department, our CIO, and our CHRO. In the memo, I provided reasons why I should be promoted and requested a meeting to discuss the proposal. I later met with my manager and the CIO, and I was told that I would not be promoted, and my compensation would not be adjusted. I did not hear anything back from our CHRO. The only explanation I received from the CIO was that the role I was in at the time was not the role that he envisioned for me in the future. I was very disappointed and hurt. The day I heard the Five Why challenge from Michelle Silverthorn, it brought me back to the same feeling when my proposal was declined. What is ironic about Michelle’s example challenge is that I disproved most of the Five Whys provided in her challenge example.
Challenge: There is a lack of Black representation in senior roles. This was true in my organization at the time. There was only one black director in the professional staff, and she was one of two minority directors for the professional staff.
Why? Because we do not have experienced Black employees. This was not true for me. I had over twenty years of experience in my field. I spent the last four years as a manager and within the last two years I had absorbed the responsibilities of a senior manager and director.
Why? Because there is a high level of attrition of Black employees. I had turned down numerous opportunities to leave the firm because I thought I would be recognized for my performance, accomplishments, and commitment to enhancing the firm culture.
Why? Because Black employees are not receiving access to quality work. I had recently led a project working directly with the executive team that resulted in saving the organization a significant amount of the budget. I also worked on organizational initiatives in diversity, equity, and inclusion, innovation, and firm culture and received recognition for my efforts.
Why? Because there is no structured assignment system in place. There was a structured assignment system in place and during my evaluation, it was noted that I exceeded expectations in this area.
Why? Because of managers’ preference for working with the people they want to work with. This was the one “Why?” I did not disprove. The CIO was new to our organization, and I felt that played a role in my not being promoted. Also, the fact that I never heard back from the CHRO or anyone in the HR organization really bothered me.
After my proposal was declined, I decided to look for new opportunities. I interviewed for a new opportunity and was offered the job. My new role was a lateral move but provided everything I was looking for in the next step in my career. I decided to leave my organization and allow them to present a counteroffer. My manager was surprised when I gave my resignation and said he would talk to management to see if they would make a counter. Ultimately, he advised that the organization decided not to counter. I got a call from our CEO who was out on vacation when I gave notice. He asked if there was anything he could do to prevent me from leaving and asked if I would consider staying at the organization. During that conversation, I could have let him know that my intentions were to never leave the organization and that I felt that I was not being treated fairly in the handling of my proposal. I had an opportunity to point out that there was inequity in how the organization attorneys versus professional staff. The organization was very proactive in improving diversity, equity, and inclusion with attorneys but did not put forth the same effort amongst its professional staff. I felt like I was not given the same opportunities as colleagues who had started at the firm around the same time as I and had experienced a similar career trajectory. I also wanted to let him know that I did not want to force the organization to promote me by taking another job offer. Lastly, I wanted to remind him that at the organization holiday party the previous year, he expressed to me and my wife how important I was to the organization. Ultimately, I chose to stay silent and say I would listen to an offer the firm could make.
The next day our CEO called and advised that the firm would not make a counteroffer and wished me the best with my new opportunity. Although I was disappointed the organization chose not to counter, I was more disappointed that I remained silent about the inequity I experienced. I often ask myself why I did not say anything. Was I afraid the organization would not choose to make a counteroffer? Did I not want to burn any bridges in case there was ever an opportunity to return to the firm? Was I worried about this reflecting badly on my manager? I believe it was a combination of those thoughts, but moral rectitude requires being honest and transparent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Albert Einstein stated, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” So, in this month of black history, I challenge you to protest by boycotting silence.
Challenge: Now is the time to boycott silence.
Why? Because silence leads to complicity against the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
Why? Speaking up and not remaining silent provides venues for organizations to review their diversity, inclusion, and equity policies and make changes.
Why? Making changes will provide opportunities to underrepresented individuals in organizations to create diverse leadership teams.
Why? Numerous studies have shown a clear correlation between organizations with diverse leadership teams and business success.
Why? Business success leads to improved financial success. A Mckinsey report, “Why Diversity Matters”, showed for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity amongst leadership, earnings rose 0.8 percent.
How do you do this? Michelle Silverthorn offered ten actions to help you lead change. For this conversation, I will focus on these three takeaways.
SPEAK UP – When you see something, say something.
DO NOT SECOND GUESS YOURSELF – If something does not seem right, it is not right.
LEARN FROM DISCOMFORT – Be willing to do uncomfortable things.
For more information about the PLLIP/BLL-SIS Diversity Summit, I recommend an excellent article in the July/August 2021 edition of AALL Spectrum written by the 2022 Diversity Summit Co-Chair, Christina McKennerney, titled “Scaling Mountains Together: From Difficult Conversations to Collaborative Action.”
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.