PLLIP Inaugural Diversity Summit: Keynote Explores Challenges and Steps to Achieving Genuine Equity and Inclusion

By Douglas Southard, Research and Reference Services Manager at WilmerHale

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section of AALL held their inaugural Diversity Summit on Friday, February 26th.  The below post summarizes and reflects upon the keynote address, and we’ll follow up with more coverage of this insightful and thought-provoking program.  Many thanks to the Summit Committee for planning this well-received event.

Michelle Silverthorn kicked off the AALL Diversity Summit for 2021 with a powerful keynote speech, exploring the challenges we face in achieving equity and inclusion in the workplace. Silverthorn is the Founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation, a diversity consulting firm based in Chicago. Silverthorn spoke for 60 minutes on the prevalence of unconscious bias and how it blocks us from achieving equity in our society. 

Michelle opened her talk by identifying the obstacles to racial equity in the workplace and in society. She argued persuasively that racism and unconscious bias continue to be prevalent in our society, resulting in the numerous microaggressions that people of color encounter in their daily lives. Unconscious biases are rooted in the ways we think; we look at the world through two systems of thought: Stage One thinking and Stage Two thinking.  Stage One thinking is automatic and unconscious, while Stage Two is slower and more rational. We spend most of our time in Stage One thinking, which is when our unconscious biases take over, and we are at risk of accepting stereotypes at face value. 

The speaker demonstrated the power and prevalence of bias using powerful personal stories and thought-provoking exercises, though I did find the exercises difficult to complete in the Zoom environment. She related her life history, coming to the US from the Caribbean. Her effective storytelling really held the audience’s interest. She spoke, for example, about the countless times that she has taken her children to playgrounds on Chicago’s North Side and been mistaken for a nanny by white mothers at the playground. She drove home how painful and exhausting it is to face these microaggressions on a daily basis. This section of the talk really resonated with participants, judging from the comments in the chat window.

Silverthorn explained why diversity matters, showing a slide with detailed statistics on how the country has changed demographically. The Depression and WWII-era generation, who she refers to as “traditionalists,” was 80% white. Each succeeding generation has been more racially diverse; The Baby Boomer cohort was 72% white, Generation X was 61% white, and Generation Z (which includes those born in the 21st century) is only 44% white. For children growing up right now, the US has already become a white-minority country. She also emphasized other ways the country has become more diverse, for example the increasing number of people identifying as nonbinary. This is the world of our clients, and we need to embrace it if we are to serve them effectively.

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