by Art Levy
Updated 11 months ago
[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:
» 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."
The takeaway: Companies shouldn't consider weight when making personnel decisions beyond ensuring that employees are able to perform the physical requirements of their jobs. Towzey adds that supervisors would be wise to not even mention the issue of weight.
"Isolated comments can be used later on to show that the supervisor and the company as a whole had a bias against people who are overweight," Towzey says. "People better not make jokes anymore, like 'Oh, we better get an extra dozen doughnuts —?Joe is here today.' Joe might file a lawsuit."