Diversity panel explores maintaining personality in the workplace

Diversity panel explores maintaining personality in the workplace
November 20, 2014
Hartford, CT

Faculty, students, and panelists convened in the William R. Davis ‘55 Courtroom for a discussion on maintaining individual personality in the professional world of law. The UConn Law Diversity Committee hosted the panel, "Bridging the Gap Between Personality and Professionalism", to explore student fears, questions, perceptions, and realities about the cross-over from law school to lawyering but all-the-while being true to oneself.

Dean Demeola gave a passionate welcome, telling her story about the respect and happiness she has working here at UConn without fear of expressing her true self. Current 3L, Samem Jabarkhail ’15, then told his own story about the fears he had going into his first job interview about maintaining his identity but also fitting the ‘mold’ of a lawyer. These stories set the scene for the panel discussion about diversity today – how it meshes with the workplace, how to be who you are and maintain professionalism, and changing perspectives.

The panel discussion featured two notable alumni, Cheryl Sharp ’93, Deputy Director of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and Mark J. Sommaruga ’91, Pullman & Comley LLC and author of Understanding the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act and Access to Public Meetings and Records, as well as Meghan Freed, Freed Marcroft LLC, and Asker Saeed, Day Pitney LLP. Professor Richard Pomp moderated, and let the diverse panel speak for themselves about their backgrounds and views on diversity and personality in the workplace.

Discussion included the topics of LGBTQ, gender, race, and affinities. Panelists shared personal stories about the struggles they experienced and the barriers they broke to get to where they are today. What each panelist shared in common, though, was that each felt comfortable with their personality and its compatibility with their work. Some ideas which were expressed include: if you find the right niche then you won't find a struggle between what work you're doing and who you are; in a large firm there are more people and you're bound to find someone similar to you; while at times you have to tone down your opinions or rephrase what you are thinking to remain professional, that doesn't mean you have to change how you think or what you think just to fit a certain mold. Overall, it was a very positive discussion, leaving the audience with the knowledge that you can be who you are and still be a lawyer. It's all about finding the right balance between your beliefs, goals, personality and the work environment you choose, and finding that balance for you.

Indeed, the struggles the various panelists went through have paved the way and laid down great and sweeping changes. Professor Pomp's chilling tale of "Women's Day" when he was in law school.  On "Women's Day", his contracts professor had one of the 20 women in the 500 student class read out from their brief and endure an enslaught of derision from the other students.  The depiction seemed horrifically distant; something out of an awful nightmare, so unthinkable that no one in the room could even envision it. Today, the workplace is much friendlier, the panelists assured us—even when it doesn't seem so kind. Still, we musn't forget what it was like, nor lose sight of the long journey ahead to improve it.

The Diversity Committee is a committee under the UConn School of Law Student Bar Association and acts to ensure and protect the open and inclusive nature of the law school community. The Diversity Committee works to hold events like this panel, and features Diversity Week each Spring to promote the inclusiveness of all in our community. This event was cosponsored by the Muslim Law Students Association.