Sharon Jones on why Black Lawyers Matter

Chancery Lane Chats

02-11-2020 • 30 mins

Sharon Jones graduated with honours from Harvard Law School in 1982 and, yet, during her time as US federal prosecutor she felt she was met with the assumption of being an incompetent lawyer by virtue of not being a white man.

“Why aren't they pleading guilty? And the answer is that the defendant’s attorneys assumed I had no skills, that I didn't know what I was doing, and that they could go to trial against me and win,” she recalls.

Black, female role model

Defeating the structural biases she faced because of her gender and race, Sharon is now a leader and role-model to black and female lawyers around the world.

“There were very, very few black women federal prosecutors in Chicago. At the time, there were probably two others. And maybe the office had 100 lawyers. And in history, there had only probably been a few others... less than five,” Sharon describes.

With ‘intention’ and a sharp business and legal mind, Sharon went on to become a highly successful in-house lawyer with Fortune 500 Corporations, a co-founder of Black Women Lawyers Association of Chicago and the Chief Operating Officer of the Chicago Urban League. She is now CEO of diversity consultancy, Jones Diversity - advising businesses, including leading global law firms, on diversity and inclusion strategies.

A history of anti-racism protects

Through the decades, from the protests surrounding Rodney King’s police beating in the early 1990s to the protests surrounding George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Sharon provides insight into the similarities, differences and the search for racial justice in America.

On the similarities, the morbid fact is that ‘year after year’ there have been similar numbers of racially motivated murders by the police, with George Floyd’s tragic killing being the ‘final straw’.

The difference between the 1990s and the 2020s protests, however, are the allies coming out in support of the Black community.

Across the world, from London to Berlin, all ages and all ethnicities have banded together in the present day to fight in this battle against racism, injustice and inequality.

“You see all people, of all ages, but primarily young people, but all races. That's significant because in the Rodney King days you did not see white people marching with black people,” Sharon explains.

Implicit bias

In discussing the patterns of  ‘unconscious, implicit bias’ which arises from largely living and socialising within our own ethnic groups, Sharon identifies how the work place is the point at which ethnicities meet.

“The difference is – white people have all the power,” she points out.

And then asks the sobering question, “how many white, powerful men mentor a black person?”

Becoming an ally

With the answer to that likely to be few, if majority communities want to contribute to dismantling a system built on racism, and sexism, Sharon advises it is about opening your eyes to racial and gender disparities, educating yourself, speaking up and being ‘willing to push for changes to limit the disparities’.

Montfort Communications is proud to provide pro bono support to a range of initiatives that encourage diversity and inclusion including: 100BlackInterns, The 30% Club, The Taylor Bennett Foundation and the Gray's Inn Mentoring Scheme.

Discussed in this podcast episode

  • Introducing Sharon Jones, founder and CEO of diversity consultancy, Jones Diversity
  • Assumptions of not being qualified for the job as a female
  • Rodney King attacks, the history and the reaction
  • Differences in anti-racism protests from 1990s to 2020
  • Lack of black leaders – unconscious, implicit bias
  • Business and majority responsibility to use their power for diversity
  • Montfort Maxim on becoming an ally