“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”
In the last two posts, we discussed the problems that allow the lack of diversity in law firms to persist and why we should care. It’s clear that they are largely entrenched systemic issues. To many, that might be enough to shrug and concede, thinking that the problems are too big and too immovable.
You know what I love about problems, though? No matter how complex and challenging, there is always a solution if you make the effort to find it. That’s what I want to do in this post. Find and discuss the solutions that I think more law firms need to not just think about, but enact.
First, it’s important we acknowledge that no single firm can bring about change at an industry scale. If that’s how we approach diversity initiatives, failure is inevitable. At that point, the problem is too big. But, if we focus on our own firms, and make changes to the way we do things under our own roof, that can be powerful. The more firms that make similar changes, the more the industry will change. So, start small.
Second thing before I get to specific solutions is, you don’t have to make every single change all at once and immediately. Yes, I think the need for changes in this area, in my industry, are urgent, but if we don’t do it right all of our efforts will be counter-productive. Focus on the solutions that you think can really work for your firm, plan the roll out of different initiatives well, and commit to seeing them through. Rushing this process helps no one as does approaching this as a sprint, quick fix or solely for compliance or PR reasons. This requires a long-term sustained commitment.
Now, what can your firm do to embrace diversity?
Understand that it all starts with culture. This is probably the biggest challenge, right? There’s a way you do things, those processes work, and you’ve enjoyed success doing things a certain way. In some ways (at least in the short-term, opening up to diversity can seem like a solution in need of a problem. I understand that mindset. I own my own firm, so I know exactly what’s at stake. Even so, there’s always room for growth and change in the short-run and over even the medium term you will lose ground if you don’t keep up with what the market increasingly demands. While adding diversity and inclusion to your firm’s core values is great, it is not close to enough. Doing so only sends a powerful message to current associates and partners, as well as candidates and clients if your firm lives those values and they permeate all that you do. It also lays the foundation for a culture that is open, respectful, and inclusive.
Prioritize diversity when hiring. The kneejerk reaction to this suggestion for many is to recoil at the notion of preferential treatment. Yet, that’s already what’s going on across the industry, except minorities are rarely on the receiving end of that preference. Many just don’t realize this because of in-group, often unconscious bias. There are studies showing that the same exact resume with a black sounding name gets significantly fewer interview opportunities than one with a white-sounding name. You may not even realize that you are discriminating – that is the nature of unconscious bias. Consciously making diversity a priority when hiring is a first step towards equity, and challenges the rigid objectivity so many claim to lionize above all else when reviewing candidates, which rigidity does not account for unconscious bias.
Prioritize inclusion when onboarding (and always). What’s more, you can’t treat new hires like quotas. They need to be onboarded with the idea that they will be valued, long-term members of your team. Creating support programs, providing regular feedback, and trusting new hires with meaningful work are all things we can do to develop a sustained culture of diversity and inclusion that benefits all. And more importantly, a culture of diversity that doesn’t stop at HR.
Make time for authentic conversations about differences. This is a place many companies are unwilling to go, but it is crucial – true diversity and inclusion will not be achieved without it. Diversity and inclusion cannot be a performative salve for the close-minded. That only perpetuates feelings of division and otherness. Rather, view this as an exercise about sharing the lived experiences and perspectives of all team members. If you make authentic conversations about differences a part of your best practices, not only will diversity feel natural, but a lack of diversity would be noticeable and uncomfortable. If you need a framework to support authentic conversations about difference, at Authentic Enterprises we have some great materials available for free download that can help you personally to start having the right conversations immediately: http://www.authenticconversationsaboutrace.com/. As a leader, use those materials to deepen your understanding and experience and so that you can model what you want your team to do. Those free materials are for individual use only, though. If you would like to train your team using Authentic Conversation About Difference, contact us. We can help.
If you’re able to implement some of these changes to your firm, I’m confident that you’ll notice the positive impact. The hardest part is always getting started, but we now understand the fundamental problem, the mechanisms that entrench the problem, and most importantly, we’ve identified solutions. If you have read this three-part blog series, it seems to me like you’ve already started. Now it’s time to take bold action!