Unacceptable Excuses for Firm Diversity

May 9, 2017 Legal Industry News

In a response to the question of when she thinks there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said

“When there are nine…there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Diversity and representation matters in the legal community and legal profession (and frankly, it matters in any professional team, which is why diversity is important to us at the RMN agency). While tremendous progress has been made, many practices and firms have hit obstacles that have impeded their efforts for a more inclusive and diverse team and have ceased pushing these initiatives and efforts forward. Here are some of the top “excuses” that we should not be acceptable, and what can be done about them.

“There just aren’t enough qualified candidates to choose from.”

This excuse is often a symptom of a very homogeneous company—that is so homogeneous that candidates who deviate from the makeup are discouraged from applying. This often results from a narrow stream of applicants trickling in from a small pool of applicants. Often times, these teams assume that their metrics are completely objective and infallible, and do not recognize some of their own inherent biases.

A way to combat this is first, to broaden the application pool. Diversify the number of schools you recruit from, from example.

Then take a look at your firm or team’s network: is it also homogeneous? Hiring into your network, while expedient, might be perpetuating the problem. So take steps to diversify your network as well.

Second, after the pool is expanded, create a formal evaluation methodology that gives individual recruiters objective evaluation criteria to combat unconscious biases.

Third, implement some form of unconscious bias training.

“We take a holistic view of inclusion and diversity.”

If you are just talking the talk but your numbers aren’t walking the walk, all this shows is that you don’t really know what to do about the situation (in which case, it is better to seek help to address it rather than assume you are doing all that you can). Simply tasking diversity to HR or pointing to a single (or mere handful) of diverse team members doesn’t help (it may even make your firm look like it’s just parading a few “tokens” for show). To combat this, understand that this is an effort that requires an effort from the top down. A diverse and inclusive team should be part of the firm’s strategic planning and mission statement, and every supervisor and partner should be expected to contribute to the effort. Once goals and plans are set, everyone should be held accountable for meeting them.

“We do not have a diversity problem”

This is the common thread to all of the excuses above. Whatever prompted this response is a sign that you can do more.  Remember that teams and organizations are complex ecosystems. Decisions ripple; and what may appear like fairly harmless choice can affect attitudes and perceptions well beyond the walls of your firm. Pointing to the fact that you have a “head of diversity” who is diverse when your senior partners are all homogeneous does not mean there isn’t a problem. The fact that you the firm is 50% female when over 80% of all females are junior staffers doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

Frankly—it means that you might need to take a closer look and bolster your efforts. To combat this, the most important step is to acknowledge the issue and embrace the methodologies above. Firm leaders should learn to reject these excuses, look deeper, and take the proper steps to build inclusive and diverse teams that can outperform the in the long term. Read more about recruitment strategies that drive diversity and inclusion.

Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Logo_sociology.svg

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