Brown addresses race issues in the workforce
On Tuesday, April 29, the Student Union Senate Social Justice and Diversity Committee hosted Paulette Brown “to discuss and gain advice regarding social justice and diversity in the law industry,” according to Senator-at-Large Naomi DePina ’16 during her introduction of the program. Brown is slated to be the first African-American woman to become resident of the American Bar Association, if approved by the association’s House of Delegates this summer.
The program began with an invite-only lunch with Brown, fostering table discussions about entering the law industry—and the greater workforce in general—as a woman or minority.
The program then moved to a formal speech delivered by Brown about her professional road to becoming the ABA’s president, and concluded with a robust question-and-answer session.
Brown, who has been a lawyer for over 38 years, is now a partner at the New Jersey law firm Edwards Wildman Palmer, specializing in labor and employment law and commercial litigation. Brown is a certified mediator for the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey and, earlier in her career, was a former municipal court judge in Plainfield, N.J. She earned her law degree at Seton Hall University School of Law and her bachelor’s degree at Howard University.
Senior Vice President, Chief of Staff and Chief Legal Officer David Bunis ’83 introduced Brown, saying that “she has been recognized by almost every award imaginable for lawyers, including being one of the 50 most influential lawyers in the United States.”
Brown began her speech by discussing her childhood and education, and the complete lack of racial understanding she experienced. “When I was growing up, there were only two races, white and black. If you weren’t white, you were black.” Brown even recalled a story of a woman who told her that “she shouldn’t feel bad if she flunks out of law school,” as if it was expected.
Brown then turned her speech then turned toward the inherent biases that people have, ones that they may not even be aware of, she said. She called the students in the room to action, saying that “it’s up to you guys, especially the women in the room, to expose to people the biases they may have in the workplace. We, as a society, still have a ways to go, even with all the progress we’ve made.”
The program concluded with a question-and-answer session. “How do you get across to your own community the need to branch out and embrace diversity of other? People aren’t always going to be able to stay within the bubble of their own community, how do we show our peers this?” asked DePina of Brown.
Brown responded by first explaining that everyone is different. “But most people don’t like to be told what to do. Instead of forcing their hand, try asking them if ‘they’ve considered’ doing or thinking differently,” she said.