“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” —Max De Pree
For too long, an invisible wall has defined the legal profession. It is a wall that limits advancement and promotion by basing them on race, ethnicity, color, cultural differences, gender identification, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, geography, and age. This wall has turned the legal profession into an anachronism in an increasingly diverse society. While efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession are sincere, they have not been inclusive enough, ambitious enough or robust enough.
In March 2016, The Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and Vault released the annual Vault/MCAA Law Firm Diversity Survey. This survey is the legal industry’s most comprehensive tool for measuring law firm diversity. It showed that despite progress in the recruitment of diverse attorneys, attrition and promotion at law firms remain high, and advancement opportunities are still limited. It is time for the legal profession to recognize and alter stereotypical thinking by first imagining new approaches, and then developing the necessary tools to make constructive hiring and promotion decisions.
Develop More Effective Hiring Strategies
Although diversity efforts reflect statistics and percentages in hiring underrepresented groups of people, we must do more than “check the box” when making a diversity hire. Diversity hiring efforts must go hand-in-hand with inclusiveness initiatives. Creating checks and balances in the review of qualifications for hiring will establish a system that overrides implicit and explicit biases. This strategy will produce a measurement matrix that will monitor and evaluate progress. Evaluation will demonstrate where improvement is still needed and show where goals have been achieved. Organizations should create a list of target inclusion goals and make these transparent to allow for accountability. These procedures will build an inclusive environment to recruit, retain and promote diverse talent. Diversity hiring without inclusivity leads to a segregated workplace in which individuals feel isolated and unable to thrive. This in turn creates a revolving door resulting in high attrition rates among underrepresented attorneys.
Create Inclusiveness Within Our Organizations
Integrating inclusiveness within our organizations and into external relationships and communications can stop this continuous cycle. In addition to recruiting and hiring diverse professionals, we must ensure that they are welcomed, respected and included in the work environment. It is essential that all attorneys in our organizations feel part of the community, and are valued and respected for the unique viewpoints they contribute. Inclusion creates an environment in which people want to stay and succeed. Retaining and advancing these professionals makes the case for the success of diversity in the workplace. To achieve inclusion, we must go beyond making diversity hires. We must retain and promote diverse attorneys by underscoring the messages: “Your talents are invited.” “You have a seat at the table.” “You have access to the same opportunities.” “You are valued.”
Foster A Sense of Belonging
Diversity without inclusion creates invisibility, resulting in exclusion, anger, fear, and contempt. In a diverse community that is inclusive, a sense of belonging fosters an environment in which each person can grow and develop his or her unique talent and creativity. When the voices, ideas and visions of a diverse community are valued and visible, advancement accelerates and new leaders are formed. Inclusivity requires creating an environment in which different perspectives are valued and incorporated into the community.
Walk the Talk
Saying your organization has a commitment to inclusion does not create, by itself, an inclusive community. To achieve inclusion, leadership must identify solutions for change and demonstrate their commitment by following through with a plan of action. The plan should include protocols ensuring that all attorneys have equal access to work (in quality and quantity), client exposure, and business development opportunities to effectively advance their careers. The plan must be supported by continuing education encouragement, mentoring initiatives and professional development opportunities.
Continuing Legal Education (CLE) is a key component in creating change and awareness regarding diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. CLE programs work toward eliminating bias and advocating for diversity and inclusion through education. All organizations should be encouraged to incorporate into their educational curriculums CLE programs that teach these principals.
In February 2016, the American Bar Association (ABA) Adopted Resolution 107, which “encourages all state, territorial and trial courts, bar associations and other licensing and regulatory authorities that have mandatory or minimum continuing legal education requirements (MCLE) to modify their rules to include as a separate credit, programs regarding diversity and inclusion for the legal profession of all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disabilities, and programs regarding the elimination of bias.”
Diversity and inclusion CLE programs will change explicit and implicit bias within our profession. There is no more important time to educate our legal professionals than now.
Mentoring in our organizations is essential to developing the unique strengths, talents, and skills of each individual in the work community. The ability of diverse attorneys to thrive in the law firm culture is dependent on the guidance of a skilled mentor leader. The mentoring relationship works best when both mentee and mentor believe in the benefits to both the individual and the organization.
Professional Development programs create inclusion by developing the talent of diverse attorneys, helping them to grow and advance professionally. The Fellows Program of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) is a program designed to connect high-potential attorneys from preeminent organizations to a yearlong professional development series that focuses on leadership and relationship building.
The mission statement of the LCLD is a powerful reminder of how law firms should be thinking about (and acting on) diversity and inclusion. The focus on leadership, action and results puts the focus where it should be—making concrete progress on “building a more open and diverse legal profession.”
Without the buy-in of your organization’s leadership, diversity and inclusion initiatives will fail. Best Best & Krieger has implemented and followed through with diversity and inclusion practices that have ranked the firm in 2016 as one of the Top Five Firms For Women In Law by the National Law Journal survey. Law firms that beat the average credit leadership.
About the Author
Stephanie J. Ball is the director of attorney development and recruiting at Best Best & Krieger LLP. She can be reached at 213.787.2571 or Stephanie.Ball@BBKLaw.com.
(Feature Image Credit: ShutterStock)