July 27, 2014

Florida Law - Of Counsel

The Florida Bar steps up its diversity efforts

Arnell Bryant-Willis, the Bar's first diversity initiatives manager, will help make it happen.

Art Levy | 3/22/2012

[Photo: Colin Hackley]

Arnell Bryant-Willis, 61
Diversity initiatives manager, Florida Bar

Background: Former diversity trainer and consultant at EW Bryant and Associates in Tallahassee

Bar Leadership: Served two terms on the Bar's board of governors as a non-lawyer member

Education: Master's degree in education from Florida A&M University.

When Florida Bar President-elect Gwynne A. Young looks at the board of directors of the Bar's young lawyers division, she sees a group that's "extremely diverse" and "very reflective of the Bar as a whole." But when Young, who becomes the Bar's president in June, looks at other leadership committees, she doesn't see the same level of diversity. "We need to figure out how to encourage and get more diverse members to be involved and to apply for important roles in the Bar," she says.

It'll be up to Arnell Bryant-Willis to help make that happen. Bryant-Willis, 61, became the Bar's first diversity initiatives manager in September. Here's what she's working on:

» The Bar has scores of sections and divisions that represent specific attorney groups or types of law. "Many of the sections already have diversity programs, but they are not all tied together," Bryant-Willis says. "One of the things that I will be doing is being that center point, if you will, looking at what everyone is doing and making sure we all know what's going on in the different sections and helping to build continuity."

» One challenge she faces is getting dependable data. The Bar knows that 65% of its 93,117 members are men, but not much beyond that because members aren't required to reveal much more. Among the attorneys who volunteer the information, 86% are white, 8% are Hispanic and 3% are African-American. The rest identify themselves as either Asian or other. She says once the Bar better understands its makeup, she'll be able to establish goals.

» The elected board of governors has 52 members, including 41 men and 11 women. There are four African-Americans and one Hispanic. Among 1,972 committee members, an overwhelming percentage are white (83%) and male (62%). Bryant-Willis sees an opportunity to change those numbers in the coming months, when Young appoints lawyers to fill about 500 slots that are due to come open. Attorneys have to apply to get appointed, however, and that's why Bryant-Willis is traveling the state to encourage a diverse group of lawyers to apply.

"We'll make every effort to change the face of where we are right now by increasing participation," she says. "The leadership is not interested in just extending an invitation to the party. We want to ask everyone to dance also."

Tags: Politics & Law, Government/Politics & Law

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