Steps to Fostering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility
Court ADR programs can take a variety of steps to provide diverse, inclusive and accessible services. The following outlines a few of the steps a court ADR program seeking to implement DEI efforts can consider taking.
Form a DEI Committee
A court ADR program may find it helpful to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI Committee) to emphasize the importance of the principles that underlie DEI and to help ensure that DEI principles are followed. Ideally, this committee would include members who themselves are reasonably diverse. Diversity among the members of this committee allows for a varied collection of experiences and perspectives to be brought together to work on DEI issues. In addition, this committee should seek to have members who serve in various roles in a court ADR program (e.g., as lawyers, administrators, neutrals and judges).
Develop a DEI Plan
One of the first steps a court ADR program’s DEI Committee can take is to develop a diversity, equity and inclusion plan (DEI plan). The plan outlines the ADR program’s vision for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility and could include goals, strategies and accountability steps.
When developing a plan like this, it is helpful to have an understanding of what the court ADR program is currently doing with DEI and then develop attainable growth strategies from there. For example, a court ADR program seeking to implement a DEI plan may want to start by first assessing how the demographic profile of their current roster of neutrals compares to the profile of the parties who use it, how neutrals are recruited, and how inclusive the court’s language is (more on using inclusive language below). With that information in hand, the court ADR program can then develop action steps for the DEI plan. Once a DEI plan is created and implemented, the plan should be reviewed from time to time to assess how effective the steps have been and determine if changes to the plan are needed. (See Evaluate DEI Initiatives below.)
Conduct Activities Related to DEI
In addition to developing a DEI plan and overseeing the plan, the DEI Committee can also host events, programs and workshops to foster diversity and inclusion. For example, the committee could host a regular brown-bag lunchtime conversation series on diversity and inclusion topics, which staff, neutrals, lawyers and judges could attend. The DEI Committee could also consider adopting and managing a mentorship program for diverse staff or neutrals.
Share DEI Resources
In addition to hosting events, DEI committees may also want to consider regularly collecting and sharing DEI and accessibility related resources. For example, the Florida courts use a Fairness and Diversity Repository to share DEI resources. This repository contains a collection of articles, essays, training materials and a list of various associations and committees dedicated to diversity and inclusion. A well-vetted clearinghouse like this can be used to easily share quality resources with staff, judges, parties, neutrals and other courts. Additionally, courts may also consider using a repository like this to share their DEI plan with their community and regularly report on the results of these ongoing efforts.
Limitations a Court ADR Program May Face When Working on DEI
As court ADR programs consider implementing DEI efforts, they are likely to encounter limitations to what they can do. Of course, all programs must operate within the parameters of existing law.
The extent to which a court ADR program can address various aspects of DEI may vary greatly from program to program. One potential limiting factor is how much authority the ADR program has over staffing. Although the program will generally have at least some authority over who it hires for its staff, how it trains its staff, and what it expects of its staff, the amount of that authority can vary greatly. Similarly, the ADR program may or may not have control over any accommodations it can offer to its staff, mediators or parties, as those policies may be set by court policies, government hiring policies, etc.
Despite these limitations, there are still steps a court ADR program can take to foster DEI and provide accessible programs.