For Women in Law By Women in Law

Diversity needs to be the Default

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From time to time I like to draw on experiences from other professions as it brings diversity into our blog but it also provides a different perspective on the same issue. Today I am sharing a January 3, 2022 article by Dr. Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu, psychiatrist and STAT’s columnist, titled “What racism in medicine takes from us”.

I can never pretend to understand the deep seated suffering that results from racism, but I found this article reflecting upon the cyclical pattern that has developed at the hands of systemic injustice had a profound effect on me. Dr. Okwerekwu offers a unique way forward providing some reflection on how we might fight for acceptance in our own profession.

Dr. Okewerekwu writes of how education she received not only in high school but even in medical school robbed her of her own history. Her training in western medicine, she writes, concerning itself with mostly white bodies excluding black or brown skin, for example, in dermatology texts or black fetuses in obstetrical texts. She notes the story of the first Black female orthopedic surgeon at Duke, Dr. Erica Taylor, who in pursuing a career in orthopedics succumbed to the fact she need to “buckle up and put on your armour”. Wondering out loud how much time and energy and talent was wasted going to war like this every day. A war not related to treating patients, but a battle to defend herself against systemic racism.

She reflects on the obvious and cyclical pattern of racism that exists in the fight to become a Black or Brown professional to go on to provide care in the underserviced and marginalized communities.

Dr. Okwerekwu asks why this injustice continues, proud yet angered by those professionals that have to come up against it daily. The chronic and extraordinary effort it takes is of great cost to those who are faced with it and she contemplates a different way forward.

Dr. Okewerekwu writes:

“… Justice will be achieved when diversity in the physician workforce becomes the default and when the field divests itself of racism. Caring for all people should be a core principle of our profession, not a side project.”

I expect this story will resonate with many lawyers who have had the same struggle and are tired of the cycle and frustrated with the outcome. Nothing seems to change even with the attention brought to the issues by the creation of diversity committees and focus on biases. I postulate that the same approach in the practice of law could help us move forward. Dr. Okewerekwu is right in that we need to build strength not in a way that centres on the failures of those that built the establishment. We need to develop a “strengths-based” approach. Diversity simply needs to become the norm not a buzz word.

About the Author

Kim Jakeman, QC is a partner at Harper Grey and – in case this is your first time here – also the co-founder of Life in Law. Not only is Kim a skilled mediator, she also maintains a busy dual practice focused mainly on litigation in the area of medical malpractice, and regulatory work involving professionals facing disciplinary proceedings before a variety of regulatory bodies. Kim is almost as passionate about biking, her new love of surfing, and working out as she is about supporting women in the legal profession. A master of her own balancing act, when Kim isn’t busy with work, she spends coveted time with her family and friends.

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