March is Women’s History Month! In addition to celebrating the women in your life, it’s also a great time to consider how your law firm can work to be more inclusive and supportive of under-represented team members.
If asked, most lawyers would say they want their firms to be diverse. But how do you put those ideas into practice?
Diversity can impact your firm’s success
First, it’s worth recognizing that not everyone wants to talk about diversity—including gender diversity—for a whole host of reasons, including because acknowledging privilege can make people feel guilty.
Yet, in the proper context, discomfort can help us all grow. And well-considered diversity initiatives can help your team move past guilt toward more fulfilling outcomes and real change.
So, how do you put diversity initiatives into place?
Get a member of your team to research why diversity will improve your firm’s performance and finances. Then have them present this information to everyone else.
Understanding the business argument behind diversity can help the whole team recognize the value of inclusivity—rather than feeling that it’s being forced on them because their firm doesn’t want to be perceived as biased.
It may even be worth looking through the firm’s hiring records to analyze past hires and retention rates. If you can identify patterns, issues may be easier to address.
Bias is a prejudice either for or against a group of people. One of the most significant challenges to combating bias is the fact that it’s taught and reinforced socially in subtle ways.
People sometimes interpret being asked to attend diversity education as a personal criticism, but they’ve been taking in prejudice—and having prejudiced ways of thinking reinforced— their whole lives.
Even if you’re part of a group with less power, you may still be unconsciously biased against other members of your group. For instance, women can easily perceive other women as “bossy” in situations where they consider a man saying the same thing to be “confident.”
In short, we’re all susceptible to bias. And one of the best ways to combat that is through continued education. Diversity education can help people recognize behavior patterns—and give them the tools to talk about these issues.
Diversity education should include the whole team, especially the partners, who must lead by example. And it’s not a one-and-done situation. We all take in subtle ways in which our social systems support prejudice every day—so education countering that must be ongoing.
What is your firm’s policy for dealing with issues around diversity? To whom are problems reported? What are the next steps?
Having a set policy in place can go a long way toward guiding your firm through a challenging moment, should it occur. In particular, individual factors can complicate and skew our responses to situations that could seem more clear-cut if we were reading about them in a textbook.
Life is messy—so have a policy in place to refer to. And make sure your staff knows who they can turn to if there’s a problem.
Likewise, take a moment to look at barriers to retention. Do you offer maternity and paternity leave? Are you willing to be flexible about letting a staff member work from home if their child is sick?
Commit to growth
At the end of the day, if you want to hire and retain diverse staff, they need to be welcomed and supported at your firm. Having policies and team-wide education in place can go a long way toward creating a more positively balanced diverse workspace.