You would think that the issues the military faces in achieving its diversity goals would be completely different from those faced in the private sector, particularly a large law firm. But, according to Guy Rounsaville, Allen Matkins’ director of diversity, you’d be wrong.
Rounsaville was one of a small group of civilian diversity experts invited by the American Bar Association to participate in the U.S. Air Force Keystone for the Judge Advocate General, or Air Force JAG, program, held in New Orleans Oct. 18 and 19. The conference drew 600 attendees from around the world, primarily a mix of full-time and reserve lawyers and paralegals serving in the United States Air Force’s JAG Program.
In two “Fireside Chats” on leadership, diversity, and inclusion, Rounsaville was questioned on the pressing issues around diversity by moderator Joseph West, former assistant general counsel for Walmart and currently the president and CEO of the Minority Corporate Council Association—the premier diversity organization representing corporations. Then a Q&A session was opened up to each gathering’s audience of 300.
As a diversity expert in this setting, Rounsaville believes his role was to offer his experience in the private sector, including Allen Matkins, and then leave it to the participants as to how they could adapt those suggestions to their environment.
“The issues they face are like what other organizations face—retention, mentoring, stereotyping, and people not being sensitive to or valuing the differences between themselves and others,” Rounsaville explains. “You close your eyes and it could be any large corporation or law firm dealing with the same concerns. How do we recruit the best candidates possible? How do we retain the people we don’t want to lose? Do our people feel valued? Do they get exposure to good clients? Should mentoring be done by someone of the same race or gender of the mentee or someone with a different background? What is the role of the organization’s leadership? The issues aren’t unique but in order to address such issues, the Air Force JAG must deal with them in a manner that is tailored to and compatible with the Air Force’s own protocol, structure, and chain of command.”
Rounsaville points out that, in fact, uniqueness is actually common in addressing diversity in any organization because what works for one large law firm or corporation or arm of the military may not work for another, due to different people, structures, and goals. “The idea is to take diversity concepts and best practices and fit them in their own way to work in each distinctive environment.”
And, in fact, Rounsaville believes that this elite group gained a sense of comfort in realizing that they’re not alone in dealing with these issues.
Following the second Fireside Chat, Rounsaville had the opportunity to spend time with The Judge Advocate General of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Richard C. Harding. “He told me he felt this is one of the most important things he could be involved in,” recalls Rounsaville. “We always talk about the importance of leadership at the top and he clearly is involved and convinced me he wasn’t just putting in time—that he was sincere. I was very impressed.”
In thinking about his experience with the Air Force JAG group and hearing about their efforts—from recruitment to retention—Rounsaville came away believing that Allen Matkins is a worthy example of an effective and evolving diversity program. “I think we have in place a good structure of best practices, which I checked off in the presentation,” he says. “What I wanted to convey to the Air Force JAG group is that people need to embrace diversity and inclusion with sincerity and a commitment and follow through—they must view this as a journey and not a series of items to check off. It has to be part of your normal dialog and conduct.
“The process of having a good diversity program is not a top secret,” he emphasizes. “It’s really the passion and commitment you have and how you execute. That’s what we do at Allen Matkins. Being asked to participate in this very significant diversity event was an honor and reflects well on what we’re doing at Allen Matkins.”