Our Plan to Improve Diversity and Inclusion at the Attorney General’s Office and in Our Government
The makeup of the Attorney General’s Office does not reflect Missouri. That’s true of the wider legal profession too.
The Attorney General’s Office has the opportunity to lead on improving inclusion in our state, especially given the office’s long history of training highly capable attorneys who occupy leadership positions in our courts, law firms, and corporations. Not only is inclusion the right goal, not only is it necessary for the legitimacy of our public institutions, but multiple studies have shown that diverse workplaces are more productive ones. Our biases are harming people and wasting taxpayer money.
America is in crisis. It’s a crisis that could have been avoided if our leaders had done their jobs before this moment. It’s a crisis that must bring change to our society, change in how we address racism in our institutions, change in how we continue to neglect and ignore entire communities. America can’t work this way.
Our justice system is a particular flashpoint, and, when addressing it, we cannot fail to look internally at representation and the legal profession as a whole. Public institutions often are able to lead on issues of diversity and inclusion, but our Attorney General’s Office currently isn’t.
According to the most recently published information from the Office of Administration, here is the demographic breakdown of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office:
Although data is not readily available, it also appears that the highest-paid members of the Attorney General’s Office reflect even more exclusivity than this graph.
For comparison, Missouri is 83% white, 12% black, 4.3% Hispanic or Latino, 2.1% Asian, and 0.6% Native American.
Many government offices are even worse. In the same report, the Governor’s Office reported having only white employees. Some of that can be explained by the smaller number of employees; the Governor reported having 27 employees, but the Attorney General’s Office reported having over 330.
This is a big problem, and one that won’t get fixed overnight. It starts early, from birth to elementary school to our employers, but it’s well beyond time for real leadership in our state.
We must take serious and intentional steps to eliminate racism and inequity of opportunity in our systems.
Here’s what we’ll do:
- Remove barriers to employment that discriminate against minority candidates. Currently, the Attorney General’s Office asks for top test scores from candidates for employment and internships. Unfortunately, these achievements are much more readily available to students who have grown up with stronger educational and financial supports. Test scores should be considered, but they shouldn’t be used to exclude, especially from the interview process. Many of the nation’s best attorneys did not have excellent grades. As Attorney General, I will eliminate the exclusive language from our job postings and encourage all lawyers and students to apply.
- Improve recruiting. Not only should the office remove barriers to employment, it should actively recruit and encourage diverse candidates to apply for positions. That means connecting with student groups in our state’s law schools and colleges, developing partnerships with the different bar associations in Missouri, and offering more ways for staff members to provide input to the office’s leadership and refer people for jobs.
- Start earlier. The Attorney General and staff should be reaching out to our students in college, high school, and even in our kindergarten classrooms. Older students can participate in internships, and younger ones need to learn about the importance of the office and be encouraged to one day serve the state as a public attorney. Far too many people in our state do not know what the Attorney General does, and, by increasing engagement, more students from all backgrounds will aspire to become public servants.
- Pay interns. Paid internships open opportunity to folks who cannot afford to go without income. These resources can come through partnerships with law school scholarship programs, developing a supportive Attorney General alumni network, and reallocating the office budget especially when it comes to the top-paid attorneys. The office needs to be more intentional and more inclusive when it comes to its intern program and use it as a pipeline for employees. The office can learn from similar programs in the private sector.
- Develop an Attorney General alumni network. Former Attorneys General go on to serve in many leadership roles and can be a great source of support and referrals for candidates. Further developing connections to the office increase ownership, decreases turnover, and helps improve the office’s culture. Beyond the office, the alumni network can become instrumental in furthering inclusion in the entire legal field in Missouri.
- Implement implicit bias and intervention training. The Attorney General’s Office is a law enforcement office. It makes decisions that have big impacts on people’s lives and on state policy. Implicit or unconscious bias is a major problem in so many professions, the legal profession included. Although America has some way to go to find the right training, it appears those experiences that are most engaging, counter stereotypes, and provide trainees with tools they can use in the workplace are most effective. Managing attorneys especially need to be trained on how to teach the attorneys they supervise to identify bias. Dealing with bias must be an ongoing process, not a one-off activity.
- Partner with law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, and other state agencies. The Attorney General needs to work with other agencies in the state to share best practices, resolve issues early as they arise, and train staff together where appropriate to reduce bias. Right now, we do not have enough interagency interaction, especially when it comes to sharing ideas and preventing poor outcomes. By focusing on prevention, we can make sure the state better serves Missourians and reduces legal liability (and the subsequent taxpayer bill).
- Provide a process for employees to lead initiatives at the office. The best ideas come when everyone is included. The Attorney General’s Office is full of Missourians who are choosing to forgo big paychecks in order to serve the public. We need to trust them to lead and provide ways that everyone can take ownership of the office.
- Increase access to the Attorney General for employees. Employees should have direct access to the Attorney General to voice concerns or provide ideas. The current Attorney General reportedly doesn’t even keep an official email account so that he can avoid Missouri’s Sunshine Law. That’s unacceptable. As Attorney General, I’ll be present and available. The buck will stop with me.
- Show up. The Attorney General needs to show up in communities around our state, and not just during election season. We need to be actively listening, partnering, and working on these issues every day.
- Create a Civil Rights Division at the Attorney General’s Office. Many other states have one, but not Missouri. We need to protect our civil rights, enforce the law, and ensure that Missourians are treated fairly. We’ll provide a detailed plan on this Division soon!
The Attorney General’s Office must view itself as an integral part in improving our state’s inclusivity, especially when it comes to the legal profession. We need smart policies, not the same failed ones that perpetuate a cycle of violence and destruction. It’s beyond time for reform in our state, and we can get so much done with an Attorney General who shows up and is here for us.
You can join our effort to make our government work for We the People at EladGross.org.
To see more of our plans, visit www.EladGross.org/solutions.