The topics of diversity and inclusion (commonly referred to as "D&I") in law firms have been discussed, at some level, for many years. However, just creating policies and programs is not enough. The reality is that the composition of the legal industry remains populated by largely homogeneous racial and gender groups. The statistics speak for themselves – 4.3% of lawyers in Ontario who identify as women were partners as of 2018, compared to 12.4% who identify as men.
In order to break the chain and bring more diversity and inclusivity into your legal department, it is crucial to understand the many reasons why these concepts should matter to you and your company.
A LACK OF DIVERSITY IS A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Having a diverse workforce is good for your company's success. Diversity brings new experiences and perspectives to the table, allowing your business to process things in a new way. This fresh perspective might be exactly what your legal department needs. In order to determine how diverse your legal department is, conduct an internal audit of the team and company, including leadership roles. This will help you recognize if you are missing diversity in your department and executive teams.
Furthermore, a lack of diversity can be bad for your business. Yes, there is a brand reputation aspect to this as well. To begin with, diversity does not only mean having people of different races, ethnicities, and genders within your team or department. This diversity needs to be shown in your leadership teams as well, thereby realizing the "inclusion" component of "diversity and inclusion".
Lack of diversity in your leadership team can be bad for your business because, as mentioned above, your leadership team could be lacking some crucial experience and perspectives that people with diverse backgrounds can bring to the fold. Consequently, new talent may not feel seen or heard in a company that lacks diversity in the top executive teams.
DIVERSITY MAKES TEAMS MORE INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE
Engaging with colleagues who come from different backgrounds can help team members broaden their own outlooks and imaginations, helping them think of new ideas. This can result in more creative processes and innovative solutions for your legal department and foster a more collaborative and dynamic team environment.
DIVERSITY IS AN INVESTMENT IN TALENT – NOT A CHARITABLE EXPENSE
The way your legal department ought to think about diversity and inclusion should come from a place of self-awareness, understanding that each may have privilege, and taking the responsibility of making a change to the system. It is not a charitable expense to hire someone solely to use the words "diversity and inclusion" to qualify your company.
This is possible only by creating a culture of diversity, equality, and inclusion in your legal department and company. This can be done by having conversations around mitigating bias, engaging in new perspectives, making a commitment to inclusion, being transparent, and being an ally. It also helps to conduct internal audits and talk to employees about their views on how diverse and inclusive your department is and how you can work collectively to bring about a change.
INCLUSIVE FIRMS ARE MORE EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT
According to McKinsey, companies with the most ethnic diversity were 36% more likely to generate above-average profitability. Having a diverse range of talent in your legal department helps boost innovation, resulting in unique solutions. Moreover, diverse talent can have experience from various regions, bringing in new ideas about processes that are effective and efficient.
A diverse group of teammates also help your legal department formulate fresh ideas and legal options. This comes from a cultivated understanding of people and cultures that a diverse pool can best possess.
TOP TALENT WANTS TO WORK IN DIVERSE ENVIRONMENTS
According to Glassdoor, "more than 3 out of 4 job seekers and employees (76%) report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers." A diverse work environment always attracts new and top talent, as people want to work in a department or company that makes them feel seen and heard. Remember, while it is important to have a diverse team, it is equally important to help the employees grow and reach leadership roles.
To summarize, a diverse workforce, including the leadership team, will help attract more talent, increase productivity and innovation, and make processes more efficient and effective. This change starts with you, as a legal department and company, by self-reflecting, understanding that you may have privilege at your position, taking the responsibility of making a change, and starting a conversation to bring about this change.
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