John Laing has over 27 years of experience developing diversity awareness and customer service training programs, and is a graduate of Brandeis University. He has worked with the Department of Youth Services, Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement, and the Massachusetts Trial Court. He has served as a national consultant for Casey Family Programs, and as a facilitator and trainer for the Mass. Child Welfare Institute and the Mass. Dept. of Children and Families. He has been a curriculum facilitator for Nurturing Families and Nurturing Fathers and an advisor to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Mr. Laing also ran a successful family contracting business.
Q - What are your main responsibilities as Chief Experience and Diversity Officer?
Relative to the court ‘experience,’ it’s my role to think broadly about how our system works for court users. This includes helping Trial Court staff understand that, despite challenges faced at any given moment, our fundamental responsibility is to deliver justice and meet the needs of those who come to court seeking help. As an organization we must identify internal structures that can support or prevent positive interactions with our court users. For example, if a person comes to court with limited English skills, the Court has a fundamental responsibility to meet that individual’s needs, regardless of their ability to communicate with us.
As Chief Diversity Officer my primary function is to build capacity within the Trial Court, not only to accept the differences of people and embrace those differences whether those differences are race, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic differences. Another important part of addressing diversity is to develop, support and embrace a workforce that represents the communities we serve. It’s important for the people who use our courts to walk in and feel welcome. People should not feel out of place or unwelcome when they come to seek justice.
My role also involves the Trial Court’s compliance and consistent use of the Equal and Fair Employment Plan. I work closely with HR to ensure that the Trial Court follows laws and regulations in implementing practices that will improve the way the court serves the public.
Q - Can you talk about your background and work in the area of facilitation and engagement?
Much of my management experience over 27 years has involved helping nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and the communities they serve to better understand one another, and to have shared outcomes. My skills are in the area of communications and bringing groups together to identify interests and needs so we can accomplish a shared goal. I use personal examples from life and my work with organizations to help people understand and embrace shared goals or to bridge potential communication gaps.
I have worked as an advisor to the Commonwealth for a number of years and was a member of the senior staff of the Department of Children and Families for eight years. As a national consultant for Casey Family Programs, I identified best practices and helped states and jurisdictions to embrace and carry out engagement strategies, such as actively seeking feedback from families receiving their services. Even with the best intentions an organization’s choices can result in negative consequences when we don’t truly appreciate the perspective of the person we seek to help. I also have done extensive facilitation and training nationally and in Massachusetts.
Q - How would you describe diversity, and why does fostering a diverse, inclusive environment within the Trial Court matter – for judges and employees, and for those we serve?
To acknowledge diversity is to understand that we are all different and to respect the unique, individual differences that make up who we are. Diversity to me is the understanding that despite many shared experiences, there are many individual or cultural differences, dimensions, or norms of others that we may never truly understand. However, we can embrace those differences in ways that don’t deny or minimize someone because we come from a different background or life experience. Importantly, it is also the willingness to go beyond one’s comfort level to find something in common.
Q - What is implicit bias?
This concept is at the heart of our ability to build public trust and confidence in the court system. Bias reflects attitudes or beliefs that one consciously endorses. Implicit bias, on the other hand, is subconscious bias in judgment and/or behaviors. From stereotyping to discriminating, biased behavior or decision-making can occur when we’re completely unaware of it. To address this type of bias in the system we first need to first be able to recognize it in ourselves and in our own behaviors.
In the Signature Customer Training we discuss the importance of identifying our biases. It’s not possible to remove all of our biases, but it is important that we’re sensitive about eliminating those biases when we’re confronted with someone with a different appearance, behavior or cultural norms. For example, how someone dresses or wears their hair might trigger a certain negative reaction. It’s important to be self-aware enough to recognize such feelings. Perhaps we should ask others if they notice anything about our behavior that could impact our neutrality. We must respond in a neutral, non-defensive way if someone points out a bias they observe.
The key thing is to be open to considering where such a reaction comes from. Is it triggered by what we were taught to believe as children about another person, or something we’ve “learned” from past experience on the job – that we need to unlearn.
Past experiences can cause us to believe that every experience will be like the last. We need to stop and realize that every experience is different. So although the past and present experiences may feel similar, the individual now in front of us is different – and requires us to respond differently in that moment.
Q. What is the focus of the Trial Court Race and Implicit Bias Advisory Committee?
Each court department has been charged with identifying, promoting, and sustaining conversations related to race and implicit bias, as a means of strengthening our judicial system. The Chairs of each department’s efforts serve on the Trial Court Race and Implicit Bias Advisory Committee to collaborate in the development of best practices, and to provide advice to Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence on ways we can enhance our judicial system to support all people regardless of their identity, and to build and promote confidence and trust among those we serve.
My role is to support the Committee, which under Chair Judge Kenneth Desmond is working to identify systemic, as well as in-the-moment, issues that each department can work on, as we promote a system that embraces diversity and differences. So far, many of those issues have been about race and implicit bias, but are not exclusive to race. The Committee is working on ways to build capacity for local court leaders – Judges, Clerks and other managers – to address these different issues.
Q - How do your responsibilities intersect with Strategic Plan 2.0?
The leaders of the Trial Court want to streamline processes to make this system as accessible as possible. The Strategic Plan – and my role in supporting it – is to ensure that accessibility is not limited based on one’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, beliefs, or ideologies. Many of the themes outlined in the plan – Access to Justice and the User Experience; the Judicial Experience; Next Generation Technology; Organizational Decision-Making and Support; and Talent and Career Development – are particularly important in terms of fostering accessibility and promoting diversity throughout the organization.