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November 3, 2022

Do You Really Mean Diversity, Equity, Inclusion? A Review of Partner Track, Netflix

A Review of Partner Track (2022, Netflix)

Converge is releasing a new blog series consisting of media reviews in the world of arts, culture and entertainment from an intersectional and anti-racist perspective.

In the post-George Floyd corporate world, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are being widely embraced in order to boost external relations and public reputations. Even in some white male-dominated sectors like law, tech, and finance, firms are eager to declare having anti-racist policies in place. Often the reality could not be further from the truth.

The Storyline 

Partner Track depicts a competitive world of young lawyers working for top Mergers and Acquisitions law firms. Many of these young professionals graduated at the top of their classes from Ivy League universities. The competition for the annual promotion to the partner rank could not be more heated. 

On the diversity side, although the firm is marching in the direction of promoting DEI, everyone can see that management and leadership are dominated by white men. Swimming among these sharks is Ingrid Yun (played by Arden Cho), a first-generation Asian American woman whose capabilities are never in doubt among her peers.

Despite the overt misogyny and subtle microaggressions, Ingrid continues to believe that she will be the first woman of color in making partner among them. She also finds confirmation in being asked to lead a new diversity initiative. 

In this work place, Ingrid also bonds with two other lawyers, including Tyler Robinson (by Bradley Gibson) who is a gay African American attorney. Tyler is on his way to becoming a partner on the Intellectual Property team of the firm. 

Among the competitors is also the firm’s golden boy Dan Fallon (played by Nolan Gerard Funk), an arrogant, entitled white lawyer who enjoys pranks and inappropriate jokes around the office. 

One day, in the coffee room, when Tyler is sharing with co-workers about how much work he has put into one case, Dan responds jokingly that Tyler now has a better chance because he is both gay and black. 

When Tyler confronts Dan for being racist, the latter denies and the interaction becomes quite hostile. The Black lawyer then offers to educate his colleague about what “white fragility” is. To Tyler’s surprise, Dan ends the conversation with a long, blank look and a “Thank you.”

Days later, at a firm party, Dan performs a stand-up comedy routine which includes some offensive racial stereotypes. His performance ends with a sarcastic take on “white fragility.” He jokes that when a white person is charged with such a term, the only adequate response can only be “Thank you.” 

To those in the audience who are people of color, this seemingly “anti-racist” routine iss in fact deeply provocative and racist. Afterwards, even the HR manager who is a white woman proposes to put Dan on probation which would disqualify him for partner this year. Senior leadership at the firm also pulled Ingrid into softening Tyler’s strong demand for Dan’s behaviors to be held accountable. 

The story takes an unfortunately but predictable turn when Dan only receives a reprimand and is even promoted to become partner, instead of the more competent Ingrid. Tyler quits with a YouTube protest video against workplace racism at this firm. Ingrid’s dreams are dashed and she also decides to quit. 

This 10-episode TV show is adapted from a best-selling book by Asian American novelist Helen Wan, who is now a DEI consultant. Wan herself previously worked as an intellectual property lawyer. 

The Harm of Inauthentic DEI Work

Looking for a DEI-related movie to share and unpack with your team? Partner Track may be a good resource. Among the many themes this TV series tries to dramatize is the lesson that inauthentic DEI work does more harm than good. It certainly leaves the impression that top law firms are challenging places in which to implement social justice. Authenticity is what makes or breaks the deal. Below are a few guided questions for leading a team discussion:

  1. How should leadership of an organization commit to diversity, equity and inclusion and execute it in an authentic way?
  2. What do  you think of the practice of leadership picking the only person of color to lead the organization’s DEI work?
  3. How should we approach DEI work without making employees of color feel tokenized?
  4. What roles do HR and other departments play in aligning with an authentic DEI initiative?

Many DEI programs end up dashing people’s hopes because the companies fail to change in a fundamental way. Without a consistent stance on anti-racism, DEI programs only produce demoralizing effects. Lip-service DEI work may make matters worse. After all, DEI messaging is only as valuable as it is authentic.

Converge Consulting recognizes the necessity of authentic anti-racism work. We lead with Racial and InterSectional Equity. What does authenticity mean for racial and Intersectional equity ? We believe that organizations need to face the ugly truth of their current state. That is why we always begin with a research-based ground-truthing work with our clients. Authentic DEI work begins with truth-telling. 

Watch the Trailer