Although events are still playing out nationally through protests and political engagement, what’s clear to many law firms is the need to proactively implement change. Businesses, institutions, and organizations have thrown their weight behind discussions of how they can contribute to dismantling systemic racism in our country.
The legal field remains among the least inclusive industries. There’s much that law firms can do to begin creating a culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Here are a few places to get started.
Actions, not statements
One of the themes that have resonated across all discussions taking place right now is that actions, not statements, are important. Platitudes, especially in the fast-as-the-speed-of-light age of social media, are easy. Taking action is much more time-consuming.
Making a specific and measurable pledge to increase Black representation at all levels of the legal industry is key to relieving the imbalances in the field. Among the most important actions that firms can take?
- Immediately remedying the well-documented pay gap
- Supporting the inclusion of Black and POC employees within senior and leadership positions
- Working internally to develop an actionable diversity plan for your firm
- Create, fund, and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Black and POC employees
Other important actions to take include the following.
Broaden hiring specifications
Recruitment is often limited to the top-tier law schools, yet these schools are behind the curve in diversity because of the prohibitive cost of attending them. So how can you improve your diversity if you only hire from those schools?
Get serious about employee retention
Diversity doesn’t happen overnight. To build a culture of diversity and inclusion, your firm needs to focus on retaining employees that contribute to this goal. Provide growth opportunities, equal compensation, leadership pathways, and mentorship for Black and POC employees. Don’t forget, your recruitment candidates are going to be looking closely at the mid-level and senior associates and partners as a predictor for their own prospects.
Support a culture of transparency and accountability
The legal industry also needs to foster transparency and accountability regarding diversity. It’s not enough to recruit one or two “diverse” hires in the name of inclusiveness. That practice puts an unfair burden on those attorneys and doesn’t especially move the needle on racism.
Your staff, your shareholders, and your clients should have access to your diversity plan – a meaningful one. Think hard about what your commitment is to diversity.
What success have you had? What support does your firm offer? Personalizing your plan is more compelling and more effective than a boilerplate plan that contains no substance.
Moreover, as part of that, you should track and report diversity data annually. And this goes beyond your firm – this data can help create accountability within the legal industry as well.
Further, you should make a practice of auditing your policies to determine whether your firm measures up to standards of equity and inclusion. To learn more about how to create and evaluate policies that support diversity in the legal profession, the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity has a number of excellent resources.
Listen to what is being asked
A refrain that has been heard over the past few weeks is “we are listening.” When creating a diversity policy, however, it’s important to center the voices of Black and POC employees. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to miss the mark and fail to legitimize the very real discrimination that is present in the legal field.
How do you do this as an organization? Establishing a diversity panel or committee can act as a check to policies and practices that are culturally insensitive or damaging. This group should have a voice in recruiting activities, strategic planning, and operational reviews.
Bring in the bosses
However, partners and others in leadership roles should also work closely with these groups. Diversity initiatives too often become the burden of “diverse” employees, not their employers. While Black and POC employees need to have their voices recognized and heard, it isn’t their responsibility to remedy problems – it’s the law firm’s.
Addressing the lack of diversity and inclusiveness in the legal field won’t happen overnight, but it can happen. What has your firm done to take action against these problems? We’d love to hear your ideas and your successes!
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