Research Project Summary Report
At ADR Vantage, we help people work better together by improving communication and collaborative decision-making at the intersection of multiple fields of practice. Our team includes over 160 professional practitioners who are experts in the fields of Conflict Management, Organization Effectiveness, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)[i]. When the theories and practices of one field are applied to another, they highlight opportunities for greater development and lead to more comprehensive and effective approaches to organizational challenges.
Inspired by the outpouring of calls for social justice and events throughout 2020 that further illuminated long-standing systemic inequities in the United States, ADR Vantage partnered with Dr. Yunzi (Rae) Tan, Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Science Program in Negotiations and Conflict Management at the University of Baltimore, to explore the relationship between diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and the practice of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) from the practitioner’s perspective.
Specifically, we created and conducted a survey focused on the connections between DEI and ADR, an area of practice that spans both Conflict Management and Organization Effectiveness. Through the survey, we hoped to better understand practitioners’ experiences in which DEI factors or issues might have played a role. Additionally, we wanted to uncover their personal reflections, observations, and insights about DEI-related issues in the practice of ADR.
159 people from among ADR Vantage’s broader roster of professional ADR practitioners were invited to participate in this survey. 43 people completed the survey (27% response rate), and on average, had 24 years of overall ADR experience. While the data collected in this survey is limited to those who self-selected to participate, their responses do present insightful perspectives that warrant further consideration and the need for possible future research. The ADR-DEI Survey questions can be found at the end of this article.
We highlight five key findings below:
1. Inherent tensions between recognizing supporting DEI and the practice of ADR
Within the practice of ADR, the principles of impartiality and neutrality are of utmost importance. To simplify both concepts, neutrality means that the ADR practitioner does not take sides or favor one person at the expense of another, and impartiality means that the practitioner does not advocate for specific solutions, but instead assists people in making decisions for themselves.
The survey revealed that there are underlying tensions in how ADR practitioners navigate between supporting DEI values and practicing the principles of neutrality and impartiality in the ADR process. For example, some practitioners considered whether, and how, their own implicit or unconscious biases might have influenced their ability to maintain neutrality and/or impartiality during the ADR process. Others noted that their own personal characteristics or their clients’ identities might have shaped the parties’ interactions and outcomes.
“I always am conscious that participants might perceive my allegiance to one side or another based on similarities between my visible demographics and those of one or more participants. Additionally, I acknowledge that due to unconscious biases, in practice, my own neutrality might not be as immutable as I believe and hope it to be.” – Participant 10
Several respondents also observed structural or systemic issues that might be maintaining or reinforcing norms of exclusion, oppression, and marginalization within the ADR profession and the field more broadly. Such issues include the persistent lack of practitioners of color on ADR rosters and the absence of DEI language and guidance in existing ADR ethical standards and practice guidelines.
“The fact is that the [ADR] standards were created, in large measure, by privileged people (myself included). I’m not certain how those standards, well-intended and thoughtfully constructed, might not meet the interests and concerns of those who have a different cultural, racial, and economic background to mine.” – Participant 35
2. Greater awareness of DEI dynamics and challenges among ADR practitioners and clients
Many ADR practitioners described that they perceive greater awareness around issues involving diversity, (in)equity, and inclusion, either within themselves or among their clients.
“Clients have been more explicit about issues of race, racism, and inequities at the mediation table.” – Participant 8
Some of these comments also pointed to a degree of “discovery” or “awakening” about one’s identity, biases, privilege, and “limited perspectives.”
“I will say that these [recent] events have impacted my thinking on the impact of both real and perceived institutional racism has on how parties and their counsel approach, participate in and evaluate their experiences in ADR.” – Participant 27
Many (or some) described a heightened sense of curiosity and eagerness to better understand and examine how structural forces of inequity, justice, and privilege influence and shape their ADR practice.
“Since the summer, the murder of George Floyd, I have taken a deep dive into educating myself. My friends and I (all White) formed a book club to read books related to racism and to explore ourselves through this lens.” – Participant 17
3. Need and desire of practitioners to enhance their own DEI understanding and skills in ADR training and continuing education
81% of the ADR practitioners conveyed a strong interest in enhancing their understanding around DEI issues in their practice.
“ADR facilitators have to be willing to get uncomfortable themselves and examine our own biases and assumptions and feel ready to facilitate these uncomfortable and difficult conversations. We have to not hide behind the cloak of neutrality or even impartiality if/when it simply reinforces the status quo. Or, at minimum, admit that this is what we’re doing.” – Participant 26
They also expressed a shared desire for more DEI content, resources, and opportunities offered in ADR training and continuing education to develop or strengthen their DEI skills and competencies.
“…ADR professionals would benefit greatly from education/training in unconscious bias, racial discrimination/justice, pay inequity. Not that we as ADR professionals should form an opinion or come into a mediation loaded with sense of injustice, but to wake up, become aware where many of us (myself included) are a bit blind.” – Participant 17
“I think ADR training should be expanded on being mindful of systemic inequities, social justice issues, demographics, and socio-economic statuses of everyone.” – Participant 20
4. Need to integrate DEI considerations into ADR standards and structures
Many practitioners also highlighted the need to better integrate DEI considerations into existing ADR standards, guidelines, policies, programs, and practices. Such considerations might involve including guidance around cross-cultural competence and bias awareness in existing ADR standards and guidelines, recruiting more ADR practitioners of color and expanding their access to ADR opportunities in the field, and ensuring greater diversity among those who create and administer ADR policies and programs.
“Recruit minority neutrals.” – Participant 31
“…[T]he ethical guidelines cover the importance of neutrality but could be improved by using specific language related to cultural competence and implicit bias.” – Participant 7
“ADR programs should have practitioner rosters that are equally as diverse as the populations they serve.” – Participant 10
“State offices of the courts that have ADR commissions need to require DEI training when approving trainers of ADR. And mediators need bias training to maintain their listings of approved mediators.” – Participant 44
5. Creating and seeking opportunities for DEI education and dialogue in ADR practice
Several respondents described their own active efforts at creating opportunities to either better educate themselves about DEI or to engage in DEI-related discussions with their clients as part of their ADR practice. Others sought out existing information and resources about DEI, including books, articles, podcasts, programs, online courses, and web-based content and initiatives offered in other contexts beyond the ADR field. Some also worked on deepening their DEI understanding by having direct interactions and conversations with people different from themselves.
“I believe one thing that will be helpful is lots of exposure – discussions, readings to broaden my understanding; then learning from and contributing where I can to best practices for DEI in CR.” – Participant 36
“First, locate people in the profession who are unlike ourselves, who are unfamiliar to us, and seek their counsel. Be curious, demonstrate a genuine interest in learning more.” – Participant 35
At ADR Vantage, we are committed to assisting organizations in their efforts to create more collaborative processes and more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. Research and the expertise of our practitioners continue to inform and strengthen each area of our practice. In the coming months, ADR Vantage plans to host a panel of DEI and ADR experts to discuss these survey findings and to offer strategies for reinforcing DEI values in our work. We look forward to sharing more updates and insights soon
Online survey conducted in December 2020.
1. Please briefly describe your professional background, journey, and experiences as an ADR practitioner.
2. In your own words, please describe how you define these three terms: diversity, equity, and inclusion.
3. Given your definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), how, if at all, do these issues come into play with your ADR practice?
4. In what ways, if any, have your own and/or your participants’ demographic and socio-cultural identities influenced the ADR process or outcomes?
5. In light of recent events around systemic inequities and social justice, how, if at all, have these events/issues related to your ADR practice?
6. In your view, what are some gaps, if any, in ADR training and education (related to DEI) that should be addressed to improve/enhance ADR practice?
7. In your view, what are some gaps, if any, in the ethical guidelines, standards, and/or practice norms (related to DEI) that should be addressed to improve/enhance ADR practice?
8. What are some resources, if any, that might help you better navigate issues relating to DEI in your ADR practice?
9. What suggestions, if any, do you have for conflict resolution researchers/scholars that could help bridge gaps (related to DEI) between existing ADR theory/research and practice?
10. What other comments or thoughts, if any, would you like to share with us regarding the topic of DEI when it comes to ADR theory, research, and/or practice?
Author’s Note: These findings, and the featured quotes, are only a subset of the survey results, and a more detailed report of the survey research is currently being prepared for future publication. If you have questions about the survey, please reach out to either ADR Vantage (email@example.com), or to Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Science Program in Negotiations and Conflict Management at the University of Baltimore, Dr. Yunzi “Rae” Tan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
[i] ADR Vantage has adopted the phrasing of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) that aligns with the recent Presidential Executive Order Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Government. Although ADR Vantage has a long history of incorporating accessibility into its definitions and services related to DEI, the ADR-DEI survey referenced in this summary report predates the introduction of Executive Order phrasing. In this document we refer to DEI as it relates to the survey and its findings and refer to DEIA when speaking generally about the subject.