By Celine Aka • February 26, 2017•Ms. JD, Conference
2017 Ms. JD TIM Initiative Award
The following questions were formulated based on Alan's profile.
1. You served on the American Bar Association’s Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission; you are an active member of the National Association of Women Lawyers and helped found its NAWL Challenge Club program; and you are a board member of DirectWomen. You are involved in many other organizations aiming at the advancement of women in the legal profession and you have received several awards attesting to your dedication to diversity in the legal profession. As a man, why is it so important to you to engage with all of these organizations?
While it may be important that I am a man who engages with these organizations and initiatives, I prefer to not think of it in those terms. It is important to the profession, and all in it, that the missions held by these groups be advanced. I am deeply privileged to work for a company where the principles of diversity and inclusion are engrained in the culture. At Walmart, one of our bedrock principles is respect for the individual. That means all individuals. It would not be possible for me to do what I have done without the understanding and support of my company and its leadership. Then again, that support is an outgrowth of our mission to serve our customers, from all walks of life, equally and the best we can.
That said, there is an importance. As a man who speaks on retention and advancement of women in the profession, my hope is to lead other men to follow not just in simply understanding the issues but also to get involved in discussing them. For men, often in positions of authority and influence, to truly lead they must undertake a responsibility to act toward gender parity in the profession. That is what’s best for the profession. It starts by speaking on these issues, by being mentors, by being sponsors, by creating those visible female role models through targeted and purposeful succession planning. These actions, and more, are where men can show leadership. I guess you could say that is why I feel it important to engage -- because I want other men to engage.
2. What is most rewarding about being part of these organizations?
The opportunity to make a difference on a large scale. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that every day actions are what really change the situation, the organization, the culture, and even the world, for the better. I have spoken several times before about the “little things” that can make a big difference. It nevertheless has been most rewarding to be given an opportunity, through these organizations, to give a broader (and male) voice to the issues surrounding recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in the law.
An equally rewarding aspect is to see and hear the success stories. When I know that some action we have taken as an organization, or something I did personally, has a positive impact on a person or group, it gives me great satisfaction. My company, Walmart, has a very simple slogan: Save Money. Live Better. That is a short mantra based on core beliefs of our founder, Sam Walton, but to me they are profoundly deep in what they express and what literal effect they have when put into practice. We can make a difference in lives by helping people save money. In the same way, when I can do or say something small that provides or enhances opportunity or advancement for someone where it may not have been possible, the potential for or actual impact in that person’s life gives me great personal satisfaction.
3. Why do you think a lot of men are not active members of organizations such as the ones you are involved in?
I am not sure. The easiest answer would be zero-sum mentality – the belief that advances for women correspond with declines for men, and that the same occurs on the individual level. I think it a short-sided view of these issues. I believe in this not only because it is the right thing to do but because it is the best thing to do. Ensuring that everyone has a voice and an equal opportunity, making sure that you are utilizing your available talent to the fullest capacity, and extrapolating the incredible value of different perspectives all lead to better results in whatever you are doing. It is a benefit to the project, the case, the organization.
But I think there can be less complex reasons. For instance, I would imagine there is a certain apprehension of some men to enter into these conversations either from the fear of not knowing how to address them or maybe looking insensitive to the issues. What I caution and coach is to not worry about going into these conversations knowing all there is to know. In fact, to that I say, just show up and listen. Men should start by listening and learning what prevents women from moving forward to parity in the profession, as a start, and then move forward with remedial action. Also, I think there can be a certain feeling of apathy or belief that these things do not concern me or my world, so I need not be a part of it. To that, I say look at where I started above. Failure to diversify your teams, organizations, problem-solving, and ways of thinking affects the ability to get the best results, so it is an issue facing us all. Finally, it may be much simpler, such as one or more of the above things combined with time. We all need more time and some men might believe there to be little ROI if giving their already pressured time to these organizations. Again, I think if you want to lead on a broader scale you should understand and engage in these issues and much more.
4. Do you think the number of men involved in women focused organizations will increase?
It will increase if it is up to me, and in part, I do feel that it is up to me and other men to see it increase. First of all, we will never change the landscape for women in the law unless we get men in the room and involved in the conversation. The proverbial “echo chamber” is real and it demonstrates the difficulty of resolving issues with less than full perspective. As a practical matter, the majority of leadership positions in organizations are held by men, and involvement of those leaders in this conversation is critical to its resolution. That is the starting point.
That said, I would also answer your question affirmatively because of the generational shift going on and the changing ways we think about work and living our lives. In a sense, I am referring to the generation of so-called “Millennials” that are moving into the workforce as the Baby Boomer generation moves out. With them, there is a new way of thinking about how, when, and where we work, and with whom. That, coupled with the fact that in today’s world and economy, you have more two-income households than you did 20 or 30 years ago, and the seeds of changing how we work and what part work takes in our lives is ripe for sowing. Add to that technological advances that are rapidly changing our workforce, how we work, and the skillset required to work, and that is also a recipe for change. Those changes in attitude and actuality will only benefit women in the law and cause more men to recognize the importance of this conversation. I think – or at least hope – that also leads more men to get involved in women-focused organizations.
5. What advice would you give to young male attorneys who want to be part of organizations targeting the professional development of women, but who believe they do not have a seat at the table?
Summon the courage to get outside your comfort zone. In any endeavor toward success, that is the only way you will grow. Remaining where it is safe and what we know does not teach us anything in life, which I believe should be lived to the fullest through different experiences. This willingness to take calculated risk is also a requirement of anyone who wishes to lead.
That’s my broad view. How does that advise young male attorneys? Well, it takes getting outside your comfort zone for a man to get involved in an organization solely focused on the advancement of women, but it will be well worth it. That is not only in the organizational sense I described above. It will lead to individual growth by giving you greater perspective that will shape how you move forward in your career and life.
But let me take a moment to proselytize not only the young male attorney who might read this, but also to give word to women attorneys who are part of these organizations. It is up to you to make this happen, too. I have been the only or one of few men in the room when the discussion seemed to turn to men as the problem. That is not the approach to take. Offering a welcome environment and free exchange of ideas, as well as differences, is the only way to change the status quo and make it long-lasting. Working together, men and women will solve problems better than either of those collective groups working alone.
Click here to get information about the 2017 Ms. JD Conference!