As the conversation on race continues, legal organizations looking to make strides in this area are likely turning to their legal managers to lead the effort. Perhaps you’re considering hiring someone for this role, such as a diversity and inclusion manager or director. There are some factors to consider as you weigh this option. Here’s where you can begin.
WHY ARE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IMPORTANT?
Ryan Whitacre is a Partner at Bridge Partners LLC, an executive search firm that specializes in inclusive searches. He points out that law firms struggle with attracting and retaining women and lawyers of color. In fact, women make up less than 20% of equity partners in large firms, and people of color make up less than 7% of equity partners in large firms, according to a National Association for Law Placement (NALP) study from 2019.
Aside from being the right thing to do, research shows that diversity and inclusion can be highly beneficial to a company — and its bottom line. According to McKinsey, companies with more ethnically and culturally diverse boards of directors are 43% more likely to achieve higher profits than their competitors.
“Do not get discouraged and think that you need to take big leaps and bounds right from the start in order for it to be successful. It’s OK to start small, even with informal programs, and work your way to having a permanent committee or dedicated DE&I position. The most important thing is that you start.”
“These companies know that having a variety of perspectives around the table leads to innovation, creative problem-solving and progressive decision-making, and they are reaping the rewards for such thinking,” says Whitacre.
Ellen R. Clinton, SHRM-SCP, Regional Administrative Manager at Kutak Rock LLP and Vice Chair of ALA’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee (DEIA), says that diversity and inclusion can increase a firm’s client base.
“In order to attract new and retain existing clients, firms should strive to be demographically representative of the population,” she says. “Clients that value diversity expect their law firms to do so as well. Clients want a law firm who they feel comfortable with and can relate to. Clients recognize that those firms [that] show a reflection of the diverse society as a whole will be better able to serve them. Many clients are going a step further and are mandating that firms be diverse.”
LOOKING AT THE FIRM’S BUDGET
Before hiring a diversity and inclusion manager, it’s important to look at the law firm’s budget since this may not be realistic — especially during COVID-19 when layoffs and salary cuts are occurring, according to Jessica L. Mazzeo, Chief Executive Officer at Griesing Law and Chair of ALA’s DEIA Committee.
“[A more achievable goal] is to form an official firm committee that’s comprised of staff, attorneys and management which focuses on implementing diverse, equitable and inclusive initiatives, programs and hiring practices (among other areas) — both within the firm itself and also in the surrounding community,” says Mazzeo. “Of course, if the firm budget permits, then I would definitely suggest hiring a dedicated diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) professional as it sends a clear message both internally and externally that this is a priority for your firm.”
Another option is to hire a consultant, according to Clinton, noting this is the best approach to understand the firm’s deficiencies in this area and their impact on overall firm performance.
ENCOURAGING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION ALL AROUND
Even if firms have a diversity and inclusion manager, the burden shouldn’t fall on one person. According to The Wall Street Journal, there is high turnover for Chief Diversity Officers because of a lack of resources and action at organizations.
“It is a cycle that leads to frequent exits by frustrated DEI professionals who see organizations talking big games but failing to deliver in terms of real or sustained change,” says Whitacre. “Bringing on a Chief Diversity Officer may be good for a firm, but prior work needs to be done to ensure there is buy-in from the top and that time, attention — and yes, money — are committed for this leader to be set up for success.”
In addition to hiring a diversity and inclusion manager, firms can also conduct engagement surveys and focus groups and training in order to uncover implicit bias in hiring and behavior, says Tracey McIntyre, Rivkin Radler’s Director of Legal Talent.
“Firms can form Employee Resource Groups to celebrate diversity and discuss areas to focus on in order to support their diverse populations,” says McIntyre. “Those responsible for recruiting can represent their firm at job fairs conducted by historically Black colleges or share their job openings with affinity organizations, such as bar associations. Firms can find ways to celebrate differences, including special programs celebrating holidays of other cultures.”
No matter which route law firms choose to take — whether it’s hiring a diversity and inclusion manager, reaching out to diverse candidates, uncovering bias or conducting employee surveys — it’s important to initiate that first step.
“Do not get discouraged and think that you need to take big leaps and bounds right from the start in order for it to be successful,” says Mazzeo. “It’s OK to start small, even with informal programs, and work your way to having a permanent committee or dedicated DE&I position. The most important thing is that you start.”