Florida Bar President-elect Pettis: ‘What now?’ about diversity
The diversity movement of the past several decades has led to widely accepted inclusion, but despite the early celebration of gains made there is more to be done, says The Florida Bar President-elect Eugene Pettis.
"The question comes now that we have accepted diversity. What now?" Pettis asked attendees of the "True Diversity: Beyond Appearance to Substance" symposium Thursday at Florida Coastal School of Law.
Pettis, a shareholder in the Fort Lauderdale firm of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm, will be the first African-American to serve as The Florida Bar president when he succeeds Tampa attorney Gwynne Young in June.
Pettis said now that diversity has become commonplace acceptance, people need to strive to break past the term as a buzzword and instead embrace it.
"Don't be drunk on the celebration and lose sight of the real goal," Pettis said. "Otherwise there is no lasting change."
For the legal workplace, that means moving past the "hired" phase and proceeding to becoming experienced or having "playing time." He used the analogy of a sports team consisting of a diverse, multitalented group but only the starters receiving an opportunity to shine.
"We must honestly examine ourselves" to determine the commitment to ensuring opportunity for all," he said.
"We must move to that next phase and focus on the efforts to make sure that all of our members are getting the opportunities to participate at every level in the job market, getting the job opportunity and once they are hired, getting the quality of work opportunities," he said. "It's not enough just to get hired."
Pettis said he spent time in Tallahassee reviewing The Florida Bar's standing committees and made some "radical changes" to leadership of organizations. He said he would announce the changes once they are complete.
Pettis also discussed the changes he has instituted to The Florida Bar Leadership Academy, an initiative designed to enhance the skills of a diverse group of attorneys from across the state that will help them become leaders throughout the Bar and profession, according to its website.
Pettis said some internal changes include dropping the fees required to attend the sessions and securing scholarships and partnerships to offset travel and lodging expenses, which will help inclusion efforts.
Submissions for the program are due April 1.
"I think if we are truly serious about diversity and inclusion, we need to develop some essential skills to succeed," Pettis said.
After Pettis' presentation, State Attorney Angela Corey, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronnie Carter and Owen Schmidt of the Office of Public Defender were featured in a panel discussion regarding diversity within their offices.