A diverse and inclusive professional workforce and judiciary is a goal the legal profession strives towards. While much progress has been made over the decades, the legal machine is still far from achieving its optimal state of diversity and inclusion.
Leaders who aim to contribute to the legal profession’s diversity and sense of inclusion have generally focused on two specific areas: job creation and creating a culture where everyone of any background could achieve their potential and succeed.
In evaluating your team’s diversity and inclusion efforts, consider the following:
• Do you have the proper initiatives in place to broadly appeal to a diverse talent pool (from law students and lateral hires)?
• What opportunities or incentives are you providing to those joining you who may carry a greater financial burden (law school loans, relocation expenses, caring for an elderly parent or child)?
• How socially mobile are members of your team? Are you noticing unintentional circles forming that seem to exclude others? Though everyone’s role or title might be different, does each person feel like they are a contributing member to the team?
• What tools are available to help traditionally underrepresented attorneys and staff to contribute and climb the ranks?
After an honest evaluation of your team, consider taking the following steps:
First, lower the barriers (where appropriate).
Some firms evaluated candidates to interview without looking at their academic GPAs or name of their law schools. This put employers in a position where they had to evaluate a candidate’s experience and background. The result has been increased access to a talent pool of individuals with a greater range of backgrounds.
Second, identify role models to serve as mentors.
Although mentor relationships sometimes form naturally, firms have found that a formalized effort from the top-down (going as far as pairing people together) not only increased morale, but also empowered high-performers to serve as role models and oversee junior team members’ careers to the next level.
Third, facilitate interactions amongst multiple generations.
There is an increasing divide in the legal profession that is exacerbated by new technology and dwindling law school applications. In lieu of a mentorship program, some firms have successfully implemented “apprenticeship” programs to connect millennial students with more senior attorneys. They are experimenting now with “returner” programs to connect the younger generation of attorneys to attorneys who have retired, but want to remain connected with their former practice.
Fourth, invest in training.
Building inclusive leadership skills of all team members is key to truly creating an inclusive environment. Workshops and training that provides tools to be aware of behavior and to help recognize unconscious bias have been successfully rolled out in many firms and corporations. It also gives all members of a firm a same set of vocabulary and terms to communicate and resolve issues.
Fifth, emphasize the value of diversity and inclusion: it has a commercial advantage.
An inclusive, diverse team is key to developing a lasting competitive advantage. It’s the diversity of opinion and perspectives, nurtured within an inclusive culture, which drives innovation and unlocks new services for clients. Now, more than ever, to drive inclusive growth that reduces inequality, responsive and responsible leaders must make diversity and inclusivity a top priority.