Framing Diversity and Inclusion for Court Managers: The Path to Justice for All

The Challenge

For most court managers, the saying “Justice for All” is more than a T-shirt slogan. It is at the core of what the court system does every day. Court managers oversee and support complex services and activities, which are essential toward fulfilling that mission for all those within our communities, especially when they experience uncertainty or times of upheaval.  The National Association for Court Management recognizes that to achieve justice for all, court managers must have organizational and managerial skills enabling them to recognize and respond to demographic and other pertinent data, which impact court systems and services. Diversity and inclusion frequently require the attention of court managers. Understanding current trends and best practices lies at the heart of learning how best to handle the issue and to manage matters related to it.

Diversity is the ability to recognize different needs from, and expectations on, the judicial system from people of different races, religions, genders, abilities, and other identity groups, cultures, and communities. Diversity differs from inclusion in that inclusion is the work to develop practical plans resulting from an appreciation for diversity. Inclusion considers all the diverse needs and expectations of people and seeks to create a court system people can access without experiencing offensive behaviors from others because of race, religion, gender, abilities, and other group, cultural, and community identities.  

The following scenario is an example.

The issue of courthouse restrooms has appeared on a court manager’s desktop repeatedly in recent months, such that it requires a multifaceted analysis extending beyond the question of where the women’s and men’s restrooms are located. The court manager began by reviewing current demographic data, along with identifying trends. This helped quantify the diverse needs. The next step is inclusion, which means asking and answering such questions as where wheelchair-accessible restrooms should be located, whether a father can access a changing table in a lavatory as easily as a mother, how to respond when court staff are asked to provide directions to facilities for a non-cisgender user, etc. Most court managers do not have a court administrator’s guide filled with answers about restrooms. Many find their good intentions and personal worldview will only get them so far. Undeterred, court managers research and assemble resources, which begin to formulate a path forward.

In this scenario, advocating for changing tables in all restrooms and seeking multiple restroom designs for employee and public areas may be important when building a new judicial center. In the process, a court manager may also come up with something important but unrelated to the initial inquiry, such as reminding an architect that a mother’s lactation room should not be adjacent to the janitor’s room as fumes from commercial cleaning agents may cause potential harm to lactating mothers. The court manager may decide to set aside money in the training budget and secure a speaker from a local LBGT+ affiliated group to train staff to speak inclusively and respond appropriately when requested for directions. This means that inclusivity developed while addressing a diverse need in one area (i.e., restrooms) expands inclusivity plans in another area (such as minimizing the general use of gender-based terms at the counter).

Addressing diversity and inclusion is on a court manager’s daily court operations schedule. Rather that ignoring it or becoming confused and overwhelmed, court managers recognize diversity by evaluating changing demographics and other trends and by harnessing data to develop an inclusion plan and strategies, which ensure the justice system respects and serves all court users and court staff from various racial, gender, ability, religious, ethnic, and other cultural and community identities.  Court managers are essential in creating a path forward and operating courts where justice for all is more than aspirational.  

Changes in Demographics

Changes in demographics and in community and cultural identities impact the group makeup for jurors, judges, attorneys, court staff, and court users. Data show significant and rapid changes are occurring in American society. As a starting point, court managers look at national changes to learn more about possible future court personnel and court users. The American workforce is currently over half female, and women are more often college-educated than ever before. More individuals identify as LGBT+. A significant proportion of the population identifies as foreign-born or first-generation descendant of foreign born. “Minority,” to mean nonwhite, may be redefined within our lives as the projected future trend is a greater proportion of the U.S. population who will identify as being of color. These changes are attributable to increased globalization and demand for additional rights by traditionally underrepresented groups in society and to changing perceptions about gender and gender identification.

Once informed on the national level, court managers find it beneficial to dive into demographics and cultural changes and trends within their local jurisdictions. This additional information aids in preparation for the more probable and immediate impact. Current U.S. Census data can be broken down by county or municipality to identify ethnicity, gender, age, education, and income data. Many case management systems capture languages spoken by court users and ability to navigate in English. Public-satisfaction surveys and complaints complete the picture of needs for services, gaps in services, and satisfaction with services. A court human-resources department will track workforce and hiring, training, turnover, and retention demographics. Court managers should inquire to discern employee engagement and satisfaction and the specific reasons for leaving court employment.  Finally, community sources like local bar associations, interest groups, and college and universities provide another perspective of what court managers need to know. Back to the restroom scenario, who better than the local women’s lawyer association to share frustrations about young mothers expressing milk in cars or courthouse restroom stalls when considering designated lactation rooms for attorneys, jurors, and the public?

Exploring diversity is not only about looking without. Changes in demographics and community and cultural identities, changes in technology, talent and skill availability, and employee expectations demand more diverse and inclusive work environments. There is a call for remote capabilities for judges, staff, and the public, as evidenced by e-filing and other remote technology. There is also an ongoing challenge inherent to recruiting and obtaining talent for court employment vacancies, which may in part be a reflection of a traditional nine-to-five, all-bodies-in-seats work model. Populations of court users and court employees are becoming more diverse. Court mangers are required to lead a more inclusive workforce and to provide diversity-informed services.

The Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion

Harvard Business Review and the Academy of Management confirm that the corporate world built a business case for diversity and inclusion based on higher profits being realized, the enhanced performance and production of diverse teams, and a more competitive advantage in global markets.1

Although profits are not motivators for courts, dollars and cents and budgets still matter. The amount spent on human resources is one of the largest budget expenditures for courts. The Society for Human Resource Management published in its 2017 Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Report:2

  • Recruitment Expenses: 15 percent of all HR-related expenses are due to recruitment costs, including third-party agency fees, background checks, advertising costs and more.
  • Selection: The average time to fill a position was 36 days in 2016.
  • Cost per hire: The average cost per hire was $4,425 in 2016.

Filling staffing vacancies is expensive. Additionally, courts need to provide engaging work environments for multiple generations, genders and gender identifications, and other cultural classifications of employees. Court managers need to ensure the well-being of employees so employees can concentrate and deliver quality work performances. Failing to do so results in quantifiable measures of resources (both time and dollars) spent on responding to internal grievances and complaints at various levels, as well as external EEOC complaints, civil-rights complaints, and lawsuits based on claims of discrimination, hostile work environments, and harassment.

Research shows innovation occurs most often when teams are diverse and team members are welcome to share their views. In the absence of that environment, the court loses out on the team’s innovativeness and creativity.  Aside from reduced costs and increased innovation, National Center for State Courts’ (NCSC) President Mary Campbell McQueen underscores the nexus between employment engagement and public trust in the NCSC’s Trends in State Courts 2019: “The attitudes of court employees also affect access to justice, as well as public perceptions of the justice system. Engaged employees tend to be more efficient and devoted to the mission of the courts.3

Courts rely on public trust. Public trust is built upon public expectations and perceptions that courts are just; that they appear to be just and timely resolve disputes; that they explain court processes and are transparent; that they consistently apply court procedures and provide information regarding court processes, court services, and mechanisms for accessing them; and that courts treat everyone with dignity and respect. Courting Justice, the 2016 listening tour funded by NCSC and other partners, has provided insight on the erosion of trust between the courts and community.4 Building trust involves a team of court judges and staff who are representative of the community they serve, who encourage positive court interactions with the people in the community, and who demonstrate shared community values. As communities become diverse, diversity and inclusion are not things to add to the to-do list. Diversity and inclusion are inherent in most, if not all, things court managers do and must be given priority for courts to maintain, improve, or restore public trust.

Responding to demographic changes and other trends presents significant challenges as change occurs rapidly. Rapid change is uncomfortable for most people. Policy changes may challenge traditional perspectives and values and are usually met with equally strong opposition. Therefore, it is important that court managers are prepared and lead with the positive contributions which diversity and inclusion offer.  

Court managers must be inclusive leaders who are committed, courageous, cognizant, curious, culturally intelligent, and collaborative.6 They handle opposition whether it manifests as benign ignorance or strong intolerance. They communicate the need for diversity and inclusion from the perspectives of both employer and provider of services, identify direction and needed changes and monitor progress, provide staff training and attend to those who have difficulty with the change, model behaviors that align with diversity and inclusion, are mindful of personal and organizational blind spots, and build networks of support that keep diversity and inclusion moving forward. Inclusive court managers recognize the justice system must be intelligently designed to be inclusive and that employees will need more direction than simply to act professionally and be respectful. Respect and professionalism are defined by court users’ experiences.

Like companies, courts with a workforce diverse in age, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, ethnicity, and perspective are positioned to have work environments where employees engage and thrive and can provide services that work for a heterogeneous population of court users. The court system can reap the same benefits corporations across the country have discovered with diversity initiatives—namely, fresh ideas from people with different experiences and backgrounds, increased productivity among workers, increased credibility among diverse constituents, and an enhanced ability to hire qualified diverse workers.6

The Goals

Armed with organizational awareness, the knowledge of demographic changes and trends, and an understanding of why diversity and inclusion matters, court managers can develop a plan with specific goals, strategies, and quantifiable measures. A comprehensive plan consists of many elements. Court managers tailor plans to serve the needs of their courts.

Here are some elements and thoughts for court managers to consider:

  • Develop vision and mission statements that include diversity and inclusion language. Committed organizations actively make it known that diversity and inclusion are a priority.
  • Develop civil workplace policies and procedures. These policies cover discrimination, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, and workplace violence. Court leaders must ensure they are published and followed when there is an infraction. Leaders must guard against allowing unwritten rules or negative work cultures, which will undercut civil workplace policies.
  • Establish expectations for leaders. Senior leadership involvement is needed to plan and promote efforts. The leaders have the power and influence to shape the employee and court user experience. They must be educated about diversity and inclusion, and they must be engaged. Some leaders may not naturally know what is needed or how pervasive the impact of exclusion may be.  The YouTube video Inclusion Starts with “I” is a three-and-a-half-minute reminder of the extent and emotional impact of exclusion caused by oversight and inconsiderate remarks and actions. Additionally, to have at least one person given formal responsibility of diversity and inclusion also helps ensure success. If the responsibility is not included in someone’s job description, it is easy for no one to assume the responsibility, and it will falter. Courts may not be in the position to hire chief diversity officers, but the responsibility for diversity and inclusion can be included in the job descriptions of court managers and other court leaders. Diversity and inclusion are not simply window dressing.   
  • Provide relevant training opportunities. A good starting point may be implicit bias training as everyone carries subconscious bias. Humans are wired that way. Other topics may include overcoming stereotypes, respecting differences, and cultural competency. Organizations may also provide opportunities to learn about specific cultures and relevant issues, which may intersect with court programs and services.  Leaders may need training on how to initiate and handle uncomfortable conversations which arise. One-off training will not be enough to sustain a change.
  • Provide opportunities for court representatives to be involved in the diversity and inclusion community through state bar committees and initiatives, state or national diversity councils, and other organizations. Some organizations even have global and international partnerships, such as the one between the National Association for Court Management and the International Association for Court Administration, which includes discounted membership and conference attendance rates.   
  • Encourage and support staff member affinity and cultural conference and membership opportunities.
  • Establish employee resource or business resource groups.  These are voluntary workplace groups employees join based on shared characteristics, life experiences, or interests. Some popular groups include people with disabilities, veterans, LGBT+ employees, women in the workforce, and single parents. Organizations have used ERGs and BRGs as means of introducing and promoting diversity and inclusion. (See R. Bastian, “How to Foster Workplace Belonging Through Successful Employee Resource Groups,” Forbes, February 11, 2019.)
  • Develop and implement quantitative and qualitative measures to gauge the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Develop strategies to prepare, recruit, hire, engage, promote, and retain diverse talent. Outreach is critical, especially if the court does not have a reputation for having a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. Ongoing outreach is more likely to establish and cultivate relationships that will result in applicants from diverse populations. Moreover, courts may be able to build pipelines to employment, using high-school and college internship and externship programs. Court managers can help eliminate the negative concept that there are no qualified applicants of certain backgrounds, and if there is a limited talent pool, identify ways in which they can help increase it.
  • Incorporate diversity and inclusion in everyday things. Ensure physical surroundings reflect the communities served. For example, signs are posted in various languages, including braille, and posters, brochures, and pictures have positive multicultural images. Leaders should ask, “Is there diverse representation at the table when issues are discussed and are all in attendance welcome to share their opinions and perspectives?” When it is safe for team members to take risks and present opposing thoughts, engagement and better performance result. The established physical environment and daily interactions are often the most telling evidence if a court is diverse and inclusive.
  • Develop community involvement and engagement initiatives. Establishing connections with communities is one way to become more inclusive and build public trust. The courthouse and court staff can be less threatening once communities learn about court processes and provide feedback. Court staff should learn about the community it serves. Court managers may want to schedule outreach and public education for groups that have been traditionally underserved.
  • Celebrate diversity. A court’s diversity calendar highlights and explains various cultural holidays and observances. Staff and open-house events also can offer exposure to and the experience of various people and cultures. Law Days, newsletters, and annual reports are some additional ways to draw attention to these events. The Third Circuit Court hosted the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibit “Creating a Community: The Early Women of Lansing” to commemorate Women’s History Month in 2019 and hosted a portrait unveiling of Lila Neuenfelt, the first woman elected to its bench. Bar presidents and their members and members of the public, as well as staff and jurists, had an opportunity to participate in the celebrations.


It is critical for court managers to know how to deliver judicial services that earn and maintain public trust and confidence. Public trust is built on individuals interacting with the court system and determining the court was prompt, fair, and respectful in those interactions. The court manager is responsible for both the court user and court staff experience upon which public trust is predicated.  As the population rapidly grows and diversifies, the court manager’s challenge is how to stay current with the shifts and be responsive to the demands such that those who seek services, as well as those who provide services, conclude they too are included in the promise of “Justice for All.”

When court managers focus on diversity, they recognize differences with acceptance. Inclusion in justice is not an individual commodity—it belongs to all. Justice for all can only exist if those responsible for the delivery of judicial services ensure that all people who seek those services have access to them and that services are delivered in a culturally competent manner. Court managers who hold “Justice for All” dear can equip themselves and prepare for this challenge.


Zenell Brown currently serves as the executive court administrator for the Third Circuit Court, the largest Michigan trial court and among the 10 biggest courts in the nation. The Third Circuit Court proudly points to its many successful strategic projects and high public-satisfaction rating as evidence that its court leadership is moving in the right direction. As a court administrator, Brown is a team builder, leader, and organizational strategist committed to excellence in public service. A self-professed lifelong learner, she continues to add to her current credentials of Juris Doctor (Wayne State University Law School), Public Service Administration Graduate Certificate (Central Michigan University), Court Administration Certificate (Michigan State University), and Certified Diversity Professional (National Diversity Council-DiversityFirst).

  1. See Michelle Kim, “Compilation of Diversity and Inclusion ‘Business Case’ Research Data,” Awaken blog, Mar. 26, 2018.
  2. 2017 Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Report,” Society for Human Resource Management, December 2017, p. 4
  3. Mary Campbell McQueen, “Preface,” in C. Campbell and J. Holtzclaw (eds.), Trends in State Courts 2019 (Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts, 2019), p. 1.
  4. Recorded broadcasts from the tour may be accessed at
  5. Juliette Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, “The Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership,” Deloitte Insights, April 14, 2016.
  6. Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness, Creating a Diverse Workforce in the Pennsylvania Courts: A Manual for Success (Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness).