While we may disagree about the best ways to achieve, manage, and value diversity and inclusion (D&I), one thing is clear: Law firms and companies worldwide now recognize that D&I initiatives are beneficial. In fact, D&I has become a strategic opportunity and leadership imperative, according to a 2019 McKinsey study entitled, “Answering Society’s Call: A New Leadership Imperative,” which found that 90% of companies consider social purpose and equal opportunity in how they run their business.
National leaders are weaving stronger diversity and inclusion practices into their business plans to strengthen their organizations, build their customer base, and become better equipped for the future. In a recent PwC survey on global diversity and inclusion, more than half of respondents said they have policies that promote diversity and inclusion either “strongly” or “very strongly,” and another 31% promote diversity and inclusion “moderately.” Only 3% do not promote D&I initiatives at all.
The drivers of D&I initiatives fall into four main categories. For some, D&I is mainly about fairness and justice—ensuring an equal chance for members of disadvantaged groups. For many, however, increasing D&I is a way to guarantee a large enough talent pool in the future. Still other companies are interested in mirroring their customer base and thereby improving understanding of their customers and delivering decisions that are based on a broader palette of considerations. A fourth group cites legal compliance. Naturally, these categories are not mutually exclusive; companies typically have multiple reasons for promoting D&I.
D&I – A Leadership Imperative
Beyond the complex task of defining objectives and methods to achieve diversity, business leaders face a variety of internal barriers when it comes to implementing programs that promote a more inclusive workspace. By its nature, hiring, promoting, and integrating a critical mass of employees from diverse backgrounds changes the nature of the interactions within a company. If efforts are to succeed, the company’s culture must itself undergo fundamental changes. One of the main barriers to D&I is cultural resistance.
Many believe that opportunity barriers no longer exist; that LGBTQ, women, and minorities have moved up; and that any lingering inequality is a function of different capabilities, commitment, and choices. However, as studies indicate, the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. It is important to recognize that being a good person and being averse to diversity and inclusion are deemed mutually exclusive. Consider this: We spend one-third of our lives at work. But do we take the time to get to know the people around us who seem vastly different than we are?
Expectations for accountability, responsibility, and transparency of D&I efforts are at the forefront of doing business and have become a new benchmark of leadership. It is time to approach the conversation of D&I with an open mind, and desire for greater knowledge on the issues.
Best Practices for Successful Programs
The following is a list of best practices and recommendations that have emerged from law firms and companies that have put these strategies in place to make their D&I programs more robust:
Support your diverse membership through attendance at, and sponsorship of, national and local minority/women/diversity associations whose programs and meetings they find beneficial in their business-development efforts.
Engage diverse partners in management beyond D&I committees and hiring committees. Clearly articulate in the business strategy why D&I is vital to the company and its customers.
Make a meaningful impact by tracking your efforts and results. It is also helpful to ask questions and get employees involved at every step. This can also allow you to identify the measures that employees from underrepresented groups value the most.
Consider adopting internal policies wherein upper management shares direct responsibility for D&I efforts. Add an element to your efforts for all employees to build and deepen their inclusive skills.
Implement business development strategies that emphasize personal contact such as one-on-one meetings, e-mail, virtual meetings, and telephone calls rather than scattershot, mass marketing approaches.
Evaluate whether your organization uses objective skill data to identify high potentials, deploy talent, improve performance, and facilitate career progression instead of relying on subjective assessments that have biases embedded in them.
Communicate diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and policies to employees and spell out what actions the organization is taking. Consider dedicated spaces for employees to talk about social injustice and inequality at work.
Give leaders and employees the skills, training, and tools to help create a more inclusive workplace and support D&I within an organization.
Train your workforce to have a broader awareness of how D&I of thought plays a major role in the ongoing success of the company internally and with customers. Ensure clarity regarding the business case and what it means: How are employees’ lives going to improve?
Explicitly state your company or firm’s stance on inequality and give regular updates on how you are following through on your commitments beyond lip service.
Become an ally. Allies play the important role of magnifying the voices of marginalized groups. Because of the inherent privileges that come with being in the majority—more access to leadership, less fear of discrimination or retribution, sheer volume of voices—allies have the unique ability to make the needs of the marginalized more visible to the eyes and ears of decision-makers.
Understand your implicit biases and acknowledge them. We all have implicit and subconscious biases that we carry around daily. However, awareness of these allows us to check ourselves and make sure that we are not acting on them and carrying out behaviors solely because they align with a certain bias.
Provide opportunities for diverse attorneys to become a part of key legal teams, and provide diverse lawyers with leadership training and case assignments on primary firm matters.
Setting D&I as a Core Value
The path to positive transformation for your company does not begin with nice gestures, but with foundational work, commitment, and a plan to execute the visions of true champions of diversity and inclusion.
Additionally, companies that build successful initiatives should create a management infrastructure to support them. This consists of both the existing hierarchy and permanent, dedicated groups, such as employee networks with top-level backing.
Many companies and law firms appoint diversity committees of organization leaders who are stakeholders with financial muscle to collect and respond to the views of specific diversity groups, such as women or minorities. It is imperative that these diversity committees include the heads of major functions such as human resources, finance, and accounting. These leaders are important to ensure the right message is sent throughout the organization, and to help design specific initiatives for promoting D&I beyond lip service. That top-level commitment is critical to success.