The author is an attorney/mediator in San Francisco. He serves as a neutral for a number of organizations including the American Arbitration Association, the U.S. Office of Equal Opportunity, the U.S. Postal Service, the University of California and a number of courts in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently a board member of the Northern California Chapter of SPIDR and the Mediation Society. The following is a speech written for the California State Bar Conference which took place on Sept. 15, 2000 in San Diego.
When I consider the question of when race, gender, or culture should be a factor when choosing a mediator, I come up with this answer: When the parties believe that the consideration of the race, gender, or culture of the mediator would help resolve their dispute.
Mediators understand that while it is true that the process belongs to the mediator, the dispute and its resolution belongs to the parties. Therefore, the success of the mediation rests with the parties. It is this empowerment of the parties that makes the process work, and if the parties or their advocates believe that the race, sex, and gender of the mediator is important, then it is important.
Still, is it that simple? Some of us mediators, who were educated in the 1960s in community development concepts, remember theories about basic human needs. One that stands out for me is George Herbert Mead’s hypothesis: “I am what you think I am.”1 More often than not, these dynamics are at work as it relates to how the parties perceive the mediator.