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Executive Careers: Don’t be Fooled by Celebrity Diversity

Sonia Sotomayor, as nominee for US Supreme Court Justice.
AP
Sonia Sotomayor, as nominee for US Supreme Court Justice.

Hispanic America is celebrating Saturday’s swearing-in of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice.

African-Americans are happy that both the Attorney General of the United States and the man in the Oval Office are black like them.

And much of Caucasian Nation is breathing a self-satisfied sigh of relief because diversity has flowered and our country’s long-standing, race problems are behind us.

Not so fast, friends.

In the trenches, while diversity has improved, minorities still have a long way to go. Since we are on the subject of law, celebrating the success of three Ivy League law school grads, let’s examine that industry in particular.

Just a couple months ago, 14 Fortune 500 senior legal execs and a number of law firm MP’s formed the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) to address what they perceive to be a shortage of women and minorities in law firms across the country. We’re talking about companies like Walmart , General Mills , Coca Cola , Microsoft , American Airlines and Bristol-Myers Squibb whose senior legal execs want more data on law firm hiring and employment practices to measure success (and shortfalls) and to help eliminate impediments which may preclude minorities and women from having “a full and fair opportunity to perform, to succeed and to lead.”

Last week, my company (full disclosure: a career information company which partners with LCLD and others to promote diversity in the workplace) sponsored a career and job fair for minorities in the legal profession. It’s our fourth year with this event, and as you might expect – in this economy – there were fewer law firms recruiting than in ’08, not to mention 2007. And not surprisingly, there were more candidates attending (law students and experience attorneys too.)

Here’s what’s interesting: while there were fewer law firms, we saw increased participation from government agencies and companies looking for top diversity candidates with advanced education – from the US Navyto Goldman Sachs . So while law firms have been cutting back on hiring in this recession, there seem to be other opportunities in less obvious places.

Secondly, the quality of the candidates and the number of older candidates has increased dramatically. While a law degree was the constant, the backgrounds of the candidates were startlingly diverse and their passion for opportunities and creativity about their career was on display.

As hiring officers and as careerists, the evidence continues to mount that we are in different times which require all of us to think and operate more openly and creatively. With the right attitude, these can be seen as exciting times of great opportunity.

But no one should be resting on any laurels, no matter how much progress we see at the top of the pyramid with the likes of Obama and Sotomayor.

More Executive Strategies Including:

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Erik Sorenson is CEO of Vault, the Web’s most comprehensive resource for career management and job search intelligence. Vault provides top talent with the insider information they need to make critical career decisions. An Emmy award-winning media industry veteran, Erik served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel through 2004. His experience spans radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Web.
Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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